You mightn’t have noticed yet, but about 200 public companies are holding their AGMs today. Watch the deluge of results here.

The last working day in November is always the busiest day of the year for AGMs as disorganised stragglers, the majority of which are based in Perth, struggle to get their key governance event completed within the maximum five months allowed after year end.

In terms of companies taking out the trash or getting walloped by shareholders, we won’t have a complete picture until the ASX company announcements platform closes for the day at 8.30pm. More on that next week.

However, we do have a pretty good handle on the AGM season that was, and here are a few governance highlights:

Cabcharge: director Rod Gilmour was defeated on the proxies although this was never publicly confirmed because he “resigned for personal reasons” to avoid the results being released. The last passively controlled ASX 300 company to see a board-endorsed director voted out was AMP with former Allco CEO David Clarke in 2010 — although we never saw the numbers as he too pre-empted the defeat by resigning. Cabcharge also suffered its seventh straight material remuneration report protest and the highest yet at 57.5%.

Harvey Norman: As proxy adviser Dean Paatsch told The Daily Telegraph: “Gerry Harvey has made a career out of ignoring shareholders”. However, a comprehensive 76.5% first strike against the remuneration report may finally bring the 75-year-old to the table, as usually happens when companies head into a second strike AGM, and the possibility of a board spill. Scandalously, Gerry never put the remuneration report to a poll and advised the ASX that it was “duly passed by a show of hands”.

Village Roadshow: at least Gerry Harvey followed the rules and didn’t vote his shares on the remuneration report, a legislative requirement that other billionaires like James Packer and Kerry Stokes also follow. The same can’t be said for the Kirby family at Village Roadshow, which once again voted their controlling stake in favour of the remuneration report, thereby narrowly avoiding a strike. ASIC is clearly asleep at the wheel on this one after media complaints about Village last year.

Rupert: the first time he has held back-to-back AGMs since the 21st Century Fox demerger from News Corp, and this produced plenty of lively exchanges. The really big news was the record protest vote against his News Corp gerrymander which appears to have included votes normally used by a Saudi Prince to support the Murdoch family’s control. Rupert also imposed the most restrictive regime yet on shareholder questions.

Slater & Gordon:  the world’s biggest listed law firm was lucky not to get a mainstream media shellacking after forgetting to put chairman John Skippen up for re-election when his three-year term expired in October 2013. A law firm that can’t count or follow the most basic of governance rules! This was solidly worked over at their AGM but no media attended.

Board challengers rejected: For all the noise made about the attempted coup at Karoon Gas, the challenging slate of directors were comfortably rejected with a peak vote of 24.2%. Proxy advisers and institutions are now well-drilled at rejecting virtually all outside challengers who emerge. Former Australian Institute of Company Directors CEO, Ian Dunlop, saw his BHP Billiton vote drop from 108 million shares or 3.74% last year to 65 million shares or 2.26% this year. My numbers were also pretty ordinary with 0.92% support at Fairfax Media, 2.25% at Cabcharge, 3.15% at Commonwealth Bank and 4.05% at Woolworths yesterday.

Newcrest Mining: The Australian Shareholders’ Association described the company’s chairman Peter Hay as being “clearly shaken” after a whopping 45% vote against its remuneration report. This was accompanied by a 45% vote against long-serving director Richard Knight, reflecting ongoing anger about the $6 billion write-down on the ill-fated Lihir Gold acquisition.

While main AGM season does finish today, December is still surprisingly busy with major company AGMs such as ANZ, Westpac, NAB, Premier Investments, Incitec Pivot, Dulux, Nufarm, Treasury Wine Estates, Ten, Graincorp and Elders.

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Peter Fray
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