The furious debate over John Howard’s attempt to put his close mate Geoffrey Cousins on the Telstra board continues apace with the media pretty broadly split on the saga. The Weekend AFR produced one of the great corporate hatchet jobs of recent times when Katrina Nicholas unloaded on Cousins, although no-one put their name to any of these attacks:

“Geoff is probably one of the most unpleasant and rudest people I have ever encountered,” – anonymous former colleague.

“Cousins is never in doubt but frequently wrong,” – anonymous source.

“Terribly overbearing, hugely egotistical, pig-headed and dogged in his own views…he will not listen to reason,” – anonymous associate.

Nicholas herself came up with these gems:

Even Cousins’ own step-brother couldn’t stand him.

Friends have not been immune either. Cousins’ relationship with long-time colleague Michael Bungey ended abruptly after Bungey’s ex-wife, Darlene, married Cousins earlier this year.

The contrast was stark indeed with Terry McCrann’s offering in The Weekend Australian as he ripped into Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie for daring to reject the PM’s man.

McCrann is right that all previous Telstra directors were appointed in exactly the same way as Cousins – hand-picked by the government. However, he ignored the history of Bob Mansfield’s ousting in 2003-04 which was the moment the board went native and decided to stand up for shareholders.

McCrann seemingly thinks that Cousins is an appropriate director, despite his long record of board room wrecking, the vast sums he cost Telstra through the pay-TV wars and the huge conflict of interest caused by his political friendship with John Howard.

It really is remarkable that we now have press speculation that the Government will vote former CSIRO chief John Stocker and Charles Macek, the man who literally “wrote the book on corporate governance”, off the Telstra board at the AGM.

After reducing its stake to 33% through the T3 sell down, the government should be able to appoint three directors but not vote its stock on the other seven. Sadly, it seems hell-bent on having 100% control despite soon being a minority shareholder.

The Government is the only major shareholder in Australia which votes its stock in a poll at the end of the AGM. Maybe the PM should turn up on 14 November, listen to the debate for five hours and then tell his Finance department bureaucrats how to vote his controlling interest.