Whilst executive chairman John Gay is the ugly and public face of Tasmanian pulp mill proponent Gunns Ltd, the pressure is about to start spreading to a few more well-known institutions.

Bob Brown targeted Labor’s candidate in Wentworth, George Newhouse, in The Australian today, but it would make more sense for the Greens to take the debate to the institutional shareholders and bankers of the tree-lopping giant.

ANZ has had plenty of attention in recent days and is susceptible to a consumer boycott, although most bank customers are so entangled with their bank that it is just too much effort to change. However, ANZ won’t be holdings its AGM before the federal election and they are scampering off to Perth for the mid-December gathering.

This makes Perpetual a better target because the funds management giant is the largest Gunns shareholder with 14.78% after it profitably spent another $30 million lifting its stake last month.

Bob Brown hasn’t made his presence felt at a public company shareholders meeting since various green groups called an extraordinary meeting of North Ltd to complain about uranium mining in 1999. However, if he wants to re-enter that field the October 30 AGM of Perpetual in Sydney is the perfect opportunity.

The meetings start at 11am at the Westin, so if Bob bought seven shares at yesterday’s close of $77.34, he‘d have the $500-plus marketable parcel and be in. A few anti-mill types doing the same could make it very interesting.

Perpetual portfolio manager Matt Williams emailed me a few months ago to say “we fully support Gunns and their operations in Tasmania”.

The man in the hot seat at Perpetual is equities boss John Sevior who is married to a journalist and worked for The Age and The SMH himself in the early 1990s. Therefore, Sevior understands PR very well, so he’s the obvious person for the anti-mill protestors to target. Maybe a few of them have already thought to email [email protected] and tell him what’s on their mind.

Perpetual chairman Bob Savage, the former CEO of IBM Australia, is perhaps the most vulnerable because he is up for re-election at the AGM and also doubles as chairman of David Jones.

All those doctors wives in Sydney’s eastern suburbs should stroll into David Jones, hand back their DJs credit card and loudly proclaim to as many staff as possible: “I can’t possibly shop here any more – your chairman is the chairman of Perpetual, the biggest shareholder in Gunns, and they’ve never said boo about anything those tree-lopping Tasmanian cowboys get up to.”

David Jones is a huge advertiser and Savage is also a Fairfax director so don’t expect to read this sort of stuff in the mainstream press.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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