The PR fiasco over John Howard’s insistence that his controversial mate Geoffrey Cousins be imposed on an unwilling Telstra board continued this morning when the launch of the T3 prospectus was delayed.

The bells and whistles event with Finance Minister Nick Minchin and the Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie was meant to kick off at 10am in Sydney but the Government was still brawling with the board over the wording of the prospectus late this morning and proceedings finally kicked off at 12.15pm.

The heart of the dispute remains Geoffrey Cousins. The Telstra board is refusing to endorse his imposition and the government has been threatening to vote against incumbents Charles Macek and John Stocker if the board doesn’t bend.

The parties have simply agreed to disagree in the prospectus so all the haggling only delivered a stalemate anyway.

The pig-headedness of John Howard really is quite extraordinary. John Durie summed it up nicely on the back page of The Weekend Fin when he wrote:

John Howard is doing his best to trash the stock through his disgraceful display of basic vindictiveness. This extraordinary character flaw and arrogant contempt for both basic governance principle and Telstra shareholders was shown, of course, through his disgraceful intervention in the management of the company by nominating a director, Geoffrey Cousins, to the board against its wishes.

Having aired its opposition to Cousins on 25 September in the notice of meeting for the 14 November AGM, Howard wanted the Telstra board to change its tune in the prospectus when everything we’ve heard about Cousins over recent weeks just confirms how utterly inappropriate and conflicted he is.

The solution is very simple if the government wants to maximise T3 proceeds and have a functional board going forward – Geoffrey Cousins should withdraw his nomination and if he won’t then the government should do it for him.

We really are seeing an interesting insight into the PM’s arrogance as he seeks a fifth term. The bloke just doesn’t know when to back down. You can also see it with Iraq, media laws, anti-terror laws and even the changes to the WorkChoices legislation was marginal. Is it any surprise the government now finds itself behind on the primary vote for the first time in a while?

Peter Fray

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