In his speech at yesterday’s Annual General Meeting, outgoing Ardent Leisure chairman Neil Balnaves said it was unfortunate yesterday’s company’s annual meeting could not be delayed in the wake of the Dreamworld tragedy. He said it was “a statutory meeting, and in accordance with the constitution of the company we are required to convene the meeting as planned”.

That’s not quite true, though — the chairman could have convened the meeting, then adjourned it to a date to be fixed (cost shouldn’t have been a cause for continuing with the meeting). All chairs of meetings, corporate or otherwise, have the power to adjourn meetings. The Ardent board should have agreed on this course of action before the meeting started. Matters from the company’s 2015-16 financial year were minor compared to the tragedy. Crikey founder and shareholder activist Stephen Mayne can tell you how easy it is for company annual meetings to be adjourned by chairs — he’s had it done to him numerous times.

No one would have objected to the meeting being adjourned (no one wants to be that guy). The chairman should then have apologised to everyone, asked for their understanding, but pointed out that simple respect demanded the meeting not be held and more important matters looked at.

The chairman and CEO Deborah Thomas could have then held a news conference and spoken to media and shareholders, but it probably wouldn’t have have stopped Thomas putting both feet in her mouth and biting hard. Coronial inquiries do not prohibit comment and discussion of events — that is a legal stratagem and looked like it yesterday. The question of her donation of part of her bonus should have been announced from the start, and donations from the rest of the board and senior management and also announced. All this should have been sorted out before the meeting started. The company was poorly advised and looked all at sea, as it was.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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