The official AGM season is over, but between now and Christmas three of Australia’s big four banks will hold their annual catch-ups with shareholders. One of the more interesting elements will be to see whether the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) gets any traction with the resolution it has put to ANZ shareholders seeking better disclosure of its carbon financing operations. ACCR research has revealed that ANZ is Australia’s biggest fossil fuel financier. Similarly, analysis by anti-pokies campaigner Paul Bendat has also showed that ANZ is easily the largest financier of Australia’s gambling industry, just as it was also the main financier to tree-lopping giant Gunns Ltd for all of those years. New ANZ chairman David Gonski is a master tactician and diplomat who is also used to AGM environmental debate through his long stint in the chair at Coca-Cola Amatil. It will be interesting to see how he handles resolution 5 at the December 18 AGM in Melbourne, which proposes the following change to the ANZ constitution:
"At the end of Clause 13 ‘Meetings of Members’ insert the following new sub-clause 13.13 'That, each year at about the time of the release of the Annual Report, at reasonable cost and omitting any proprietary information, the Directors report to shareholders their assessment of the quantum of greenhouse gas emissions we are responsible for financing calculated, for example, in accordance with Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol Guidance.'”
The ACCR has also rounded up the necessary 100 ANZ shareholders to include a 500-word statement in the notice of meeting expanding on its position. The bank has published a comprehensive 8000-word rebuttal, all of which is worth reading. Disappointingly, ANZ has repeated its effort from last year by constructing quite a biased ballot paper, which that will maximise the against vote. There should not be any segregation of the board-endorsed resolutions from those put up by shareholders, and nor should the ANZ board’s recommendation be allowed so close to the actual ballot boxes. In 2013, Andrew Bolt critic David Barrow nominated for the boards of ANZ, Westpac and NAB, and it was ANZ, then under the leadership of former chairman John Morschel, that produced the most unfair ballot paper of the three banks. The powerful proxy advisory firms -- ISS, Glass Lewis and Ownership Matters -- are very conservative when it comes to supporting candidates or resolutions that are not endorsed by the incumbent directors, so the likes of ANZ simply do not need to be this paranoid when designing ballot papers. After all, the Commonwealth Bank faced an identical ACCR-sponsored resolution at last month’s AGM calling for greater disclosure of its carbon financing. This was comfortably batted away with only 3.15% of the voted stock in favour. The CBA ballot paper was more reasonable than ANZ’s biased effort, although its rebuttal arguments in the notice of meeting were less comprehensive. Interestingly, Westpac and NAB have not been targeted by ACCR this season because they have been more forthcoming than ANZ about their fossil fuel exposures. With the recent agreement between China and the United States there is a real possibility the world will take action to reduce fossil fuel production. What will that mean for the fossil fuels that ANZ is financing? Australia has long lagged the United States in shareholder activism, where support for climate resolutions averaged around 22% in 2013. ANZ shareholders won’t get anywhere near that, but if Australia had US-style disclosure of institutional voting we would at least be able to see which major super funds and fund managers are voting not to have greater carbon disclosure from the biggest financier of fossil fuels in the economy with the world’s largest amount of coal production. *Stephen Mayne will be voting and speaking in favour of the ACCR resolution at next week’s ANZ AGM.