catherine-brenner
Former AMP chair Catherine Brenner (Image: AAP/Daniel Munoz)

As if long-suffering AMP shareholders don’t have enough to worry about as the new board and management continue to blow up the company, now comes news that former chair Catherine Brenner is threatening to resuscitate her corporate career.

Not that she will be returning to the scene of her officially now not a crime, but she didn’t waste any time getting her revenge.

Yesterday, Brenner revealed that the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) had sent her a letter informing her that they had dropped their investigation of her role in the allegations arising out the Hayne banking royal commission.

She was quick to give numerous media interviews disingenuously claiming she didn’t want to comment on AMP’s specific current issues, but then proceeding to chide them over corporate culture problems. Culture problems, she noted continuously, that she had tried to address during her two year tenure as chairman and eight years on the board, both of which were brought to an ignominious end after sensational revelations before the commission.

Before the Brenner as corporate martyr and gender victim narrative becomes too entrenched, perhaps there’s time to just catch up on the facts. Although when talking about AMP currently it is more like an update on the latest episodes of a bad soap opera.

Let us not forget the appalling admissions that came from AMP’s own employees during the early days of the royal commission which led to the demise of the CEO, the general counsel and finally Brenner.

There was everything from the fees for no service scandal to the sensational claims that a so-called “independent” report into AMP by Clayton Utz went through 25 drafts and involved 700 emails between the company and the law firm.

It was Brenners’ role in the “independent” report issue that was the final straw leading to her resignation in April 2018.

Surely we have not so quickly forgotten the widespread anger and disgust at the board and management of AMP, with her resignation being welcomed by everyone from the then prime minister and fellow Sydney business figure Malcolm Turnbull to Labor’s Tanya Plibersek.

In Hayne’s final report a year later he wrote: “AMP accepted that it was open to the commission to find that the fees for no service conduct was attributable, at least in part, to the culture and governance practices within AMP. I make that finding.”

ASIC has now revealed that it still has five separate probes against others but nothing on the former chairman.

While Brenner was understandably quick to publicise the decision, she didn’t miss the opportunity to take a swipe at the woes currently engulfing AMP.

And there are plenty since our last look.

Last week the head of AMP Australia, Alex Wade, suddenly disappeared from the company with no explanation, though it has now been alleged  there had been a litany of complaints from female staff about his inappropriate behaviour including photos.

When the leadership team called an emergency meeting to discuss the latest crisis there was some irony they had to drag the head of AMP Capital out of a board meeting for his participation. That would be one Boe Pahari, whose recent elevation to that job sparked an internal revolt from female staff over the finding of inappropriate conduct against him in 2017.

In another irony, that independent report which led to his censure and fine was during the time Brenner was AMP’s overall chair, though it has never been alleged she was involved in this particular report nor whether she was even aware of it at the time.

Yesterday her quotes included: “When I was there the culture of AMP was something that the focus on was huge.”

“There is still clearly a lot that needs to be done, it’s an ongoing journey,” she told Nine papers, adding for good measure “there is absolutely no room for harassment of any sort”.

The lack of female directors has not gone unnoticed as the current dinosaurs on the hapless David Murray-led board lurch from crisis to crisis, even though they are only there because of AMP’s desperation post-Brenner.

Whatever happens, Brenner’s own role in the ultimate demise of AMP should not be forgotten.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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