The Telstra AGM on 14 November in Sydney will happen smack bang in the middle of the T3 sale process, which makes this year’s public debate and board elections far more sensitive than usual.

Sadly, it appears the government’s deal with Telstra to muzzle criticism has been extended to the board election process because a letter arrived from company secretary Douglas Gration this morning outlining some quite outrageous censorship of my platform.

Here is what I asked to be distributed to shareholders with the censored bit in bold:

Stephen Mayne, age 37. Bcom (Melb). Stephen Mayne is a Walkley Award-winning business journalist and Australia’s leading retail corporate governance campaigner. He founded www.crikey.com.au, Australia’s best known independent ezine, and is also a co-founder of People Power, a new political party which campaigns for greater accountability in public life. Stephen is standing on a platform that the Telstra board adopt a less combative approach with government and regulators. However, he also passionately believes that the government should not vote its controlling interest in Telstra on every director election, giving it effective control over 100% of the board.

Doug’s letter explained the censorship on the following grounds: “Telstra’s policy is to provide only biographical materials on candidates”.

This is the second time I’ve copped censorship from Telstra. In 2000, the platform was opposing Steve Vizard’s conflicts of interest but the board refused to distribute the following:

He is offering himself as an alternative to Mr Steve Vizard who, in Mr Mayne’s opinion, has some conflicting external commercial relationships through Sportsview.com, MultiEmedia.com Ltd and Virtual Communities that make him unsuitable to continue as a Telstra director.

Thankfully, Vizard resigned a few days after the nomination was lodged, presumably to avoid an embarrassing debate at the AGM.

The other rort that Telstra has pulled this time is to try and charge me $24,864 for an electronic copy of the share register. Lots of companies have tried this trick before but Telstra’s price sets a new record.

In political elections, of course, all candidates get an electronic copy of the electoral roll for free. I’d love to see the Australian Electoral Commission attempt to charge John Howard $24,864 for an electronic version of enrolled voters in the seat of Bennelong.

Corporate elections in Australia are a complete joke. It really is time the AEC or the various state-based electoral commissions took over – just as occurs with union elections.

Peter Fray

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