Can Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) president John Coates really be defeated at the AGM in Sydney on May 6?

A strong case for change has clearly been made, but it is never easy removing a chairman at an AGM, and it has never happened at an ASX 200 company.

Indeed, even non-independent or controversial public company chairs find they rarely suffer big protest votes because shareholders are reluctant to move on a leader without an alternative to support.

Here are 10 examples from the past decade of extraordinarily strong voting support received by prominent, long-serving, non-independent Australian chairs who arguably should have been replaced by independent chairs if we were following best practice corporate governance:

Frank Lowy, Westfield AGM 2016: 98.56%
Chris Morris, Computershare AGM 2015: 94.7%
Kerry Stokes, Seven West Media AGM, 2015: 95.17%
Solomon Lew, Premier Investments AGM 2014: 99.2%
James Packer, Crown Resorts AGM 2013: 99.6%
Gerry Harvey, Harvey Norman AGM 2014: 95%
David Clarke, Macquarie Group AGM 2010: 98.1%
John Gay, Gunns AGM 2009: 97.7%
Jim Babcock, Babcock & Brown AGM 2008: 97.1%
Nick Falloon, Ten Network Holdings AGM 2007: 99.8%

An interesting feature of all these AGMs, with the possible exception of Gunns, was that they were open to both the general public and the media.

The same should apply at the AOC AGM, which may need to be moved to a bigger venue than what is available at the Museum of Contemporary Arts.

If Olympic athletes, federal politicians or even the local hockey club president want to go along and observe how Australia’s future Olympic leadership is being decided, they should be free to do so. Sport is owned by the people, and its governing bodies should be accessible and transparent when making major decisions.

The format of the AGM is one of the issues that should be on the agenda at tonight’s emergency telephone hook-up of the existing AOC committee.

In terms of moving against veteran media director Mike Tancred over allegations of bullying, there has been media talk that John Coates should not chair this element of the meeting because he is too close to Tancred and arguably has a conflict of interest.

There’s a strong argument for extending this theory to the running of the AGM proper on May 6, when Coates will have a significant advantage as chairman of the meeting.

[Mayne: another 5 men who should retire, including John Coates]

An independent person — Q&A host Tony Jones would fit the bill perfectly — should be brought in to chair the entire meeting and also facilitate a lengthy question-and-answer session.

The various summer and winter sports that get to determine the outcome will almost certainly have made up their minds and probably cast their vote before the AGM gets underway.

This is regrettable because the best way to determine who should get their vote would come from observing how each candidate handles the tough questions in an AGM setting.

Challenger Danni Roche was interviewed for this Matt Peacock story on Monday’s 7.30 program, and John Coates has agreed to be interviewed by 7.30 host Leigh Sales before the May 6 vote.

But the two candidates will not have gone head to head in a proper debate outlining their qualifications, platforms, allegiances, networks and plans before the AGM.

This is where the sports themselves need to step up and request an AGM format that is fair, transparent and facilitates an informative and insightful debate.

For instance, Athletics Australia should authorise perhaps three representatives to attend the AGM and then have these individuals determine the final voting position after listening to the AGM debate and also talking to other sports representatives at the AGM.

Danni Roche told 7.30 the voting outcome would be extremely close. This is not desirable, as you want the winning candidate to have a solid mandate and the various sport should work together to ensure this happens.

Other steps should also be taken to ensure voting delegates are given a secret ballot and candidates should be allowed to appoint their own scrutineers to observe the count, which should be conducted by one of the big four accounting firms that doesn’t have an existing relationship with the AOC.

Whether any of this AGM and democratic best practice comes to pass is another matter, but here’s hoping it is at least being requested by some of the players.

*Stephen Mayne is an independent commentator who has had no contact with any of the players in this fight. Listen to this NewsRadio interview on the AOC situation, which followed this Crikey piece on Monday.

Peter Fray

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