The Gunns Ltd AGM in Launceston this morning was one of the most extraordinary I’ve ever seen.

Cowboy executive chairman John Gay once again demonstrated how unfit he is to chair a major public company when he prematurely closed the meeting to avoid further questioning without dealing with resolutions four and five – resolutions involving a pay rise for directors and approving the recent issue of 25.7 million new shares.

After I protested about missing resolution five, he consulted lawyers and then re-opened the meeting two minutes later and dealt with that – but the recording of the meeting which ASIC will have to inspect will show that the $300,000 pay rise for directors was never mentioned.

The meeting was just the latest PR disaster for Gunns, with even institutional investors voting against resolutions for the first time.

The remuneration report received 142 million proxies in favour and 49 million against, meaning at least one of Perpetual (52.5 million), Concord Capital (43.4 million), Capital Group (21.6 million) or Schroders (21.3 million) voted against.

The longest serving director, 69-year-old Richard Holyman who has been on the board since 1983, also received only 158 million votes in favour and a hefty 37 million against – the biggest ever protest against a Gunns director.

Former Tasmanian Premier Robin Gray was better supported with 190 million in favour and only 5 million against but even the newest director, Mr Millar, copped a protest vote of 15 million shares, probably because he’s a local car dealer who provided $367,000 worth of goods and services to the company in the 5 months to 30 June after joining the board in January this year.

The Gunns board is Australia’s oldest and most entrenched – six blokes in their sixties, with a collective 92 years of service and an average of 14 years on the board.

They all sit back and let Australia’s most inarticulate chairman run the joint like it’s his own company.

John Gay even needed five executives up the front to answer most of the 20 different questions from anti pulp mill shareholders and proxies.

The five pro-speakers were also an embarrassment, with one bloke Harry Stockpoole claiming Tamar Valley locals “won’t even notice the mill is there” and another talking about remembering the protestors like war veterans remembers Japanese beheaders during World War 2.

Most of the questions were quite specific and politely posed and most of the answers were short but also quite civil. About 80 of the 100 attendees who got through the boom gates and tight security were Gunns loyalists but the cat-calling was limited to a few “sit down” and “what’s the question” type interjections.

It was only when Gay shut down questions after 70 minutes that it got rowdy as another 3-4 Greens wanted to ask some more. Gay then panicked and prematurely shut the meeting and the status of that board pay rise will now be an interesting question for ASIC.

Mayne Report subscribers will receive a more detailed report and access to some of the extraordinary audio later today.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.