26. Big Phil Burgess is my bro
By Stephen Mayne
A couple of hacks who turned up to yesterday's "Is the AGM dead?" symposium in Melbourne warned Telstra's regulatory boss Phil Burgess that he was about to get a public flogging from yours truly when we shared the podium with Lateline host Tony Jones for 90 minutes.
As it turned out, nothing could be further from the truth. Phil either hadn't read or didn't mind being called Telstra's "regulatory lame duck" in Crikey last week as we ended up getting on so well that he asked for a card and suggested we catch up some time.
Quite a few of the delegates in Melbourne seemed almost stunned by Phil's free wheeling approach as he gloated about his "intentional" tactic of running the "I wouldn't tell my mum to buy Telstra shares" line to draw more attention to the regulatory regime supposedly hobbling Telstra.
He also said Telstra was spending 80% of its budget on managing communications it couldn't control (ie an army of spindoctors to influence media coverage) but this was now being reduced as the focus shifted to controllable, more direct forms of contact with shareholders.
To this end, Phil went into quite a rave about Telstra's new nowwearetalking website with its open dialogue, cartoonist and various bloggers.
He even bragged that site visitors had jumped from 4,600 to 5,800 last month (38,000 if you include all the visits to the blogs). Given that Crikey had 848,836 visits in February, I suggested Phil rename his site nooneisvisitingus.com and offered to give him a helping hand through a link.
Let's see if the Crikey Army can make Phil's month by doubling the visits to what is clearly a unique web offering by any Australian company.
The really big man was quite derisory of the Howard Government for being so precious about the criticisms of regulation by Sol Trujillo and his team. And he made a very interesting point that Australia lacks "third party engagement". The lack of a consumer or shareholder culture of pressure is something that Crikey has been banging on about for years and good ole Phil Burgess agrees.
When it came to the 15-point plan that I circulated for improving AGMs, Phil came out agreeing with many of the suggestions, such as keeping proxy voting open until the day after an AGM to eliminate the "dead rubber" effect and keep boards on tenterhooks during the public debate.
Poor old Phil has been black-balled by the Howard Government so he's now merely a rather expensive (for Telstra) and active participant on the talk circuit who is having great fun stirring the pot. And he's not bad at it either. We're repeating the double act in Sydney today so we'll let you know how it goes tomorrow, plus link to the extended version of his controversial paper when it is finally posted on the web. Back to Top
27. The 24 times 100 shareholder signatures have been gathered
By Stephen Mayne
We were all in agreement at yesterday's Chartered Secretaries Association "Is the AGM dead?" governance symposium in Melbourne that the annual gathering of shareholders is in a pretty sick way with falling attendances and woeful debate.
True, a booming share market has mitigated much of the normal heat but some big companies are worried that unions are about to redouble their focus on AGMs because of their reduced power under John Howard's new IR laws.
Unions will just fill the gap from vacating retail shareholders fed up with the Jack Tilburns of the world but if shareholder participation is really what companies want there is one simple reform that would dramatically improve AGMs: introduce the US requirement that a shareholder can get a resolution on the notice paper with just $2,000 worth of shares.
The main reason that I run for boards is that it is just too hard to gather the 100 shareholder signatures necessary to get a resolution on the notice paper. History shows that only green groups, unions, the various factions of the NRMA and the Australian Shareholders' Association have been able to gather them.
Whilst the Americans deal with hundreds of resolutions from individual shareholders each year, this has seemingly never happened in Australia.
Here's a list of the 24 occasions that 100 signatures have been gathered. The majority were for EGMs or resolutions but the s249p statements favoured by the ASA are just a spiel that gets distributed to shareholders with no accompanying resolution to vote on.
BHP: mid-1990s over Ok Tedi
James Hardie: mid-1990s over asbestos
Amcor: late 1990s over green issues
Wesfarmers: 1999 EGM called by greenies who mostly held just one share and got 2% support for their eight resolutions
North Ltd: Wilderness Society EGM with three resolutions supported by just 3-5% of shares voted
Boral: Green resolution in 1999 supported by 6.4% of the vote
Rio Tinto: Two union resolutions over international labour standards and independent directors in 2000 got 17% and 20% respectively
Pacific Dunlop: ASA s249p statement on poor performance in 2000
IAG: EGM with resolution proposing shareholders approve director payouts. Supported by 45.8% as Whitlam was on the nose
Lend Lease: ASA s249p statement on poor performance in 2001
Orica: ASA s249p statement in 2001 calling for board cull after poor performance
Telstra: ASA s249p statement in 2001 on falling share price
CBA: Wilderness Society on old growth logging in 2002 (23% support)
NAB: Wilderness Society on old growth logging in 2002 (21% support)
David Jones: ASA s249p statement in 2002 on poor performance
Coles Myer: ASA s249p statement in 2002 which added to the clutter around the Solly Lew eviction
Gunns: Wilderness Society resolution at EGM supported by just 0.4% of shares voted
Boral: Green resolutions in 2003 (11.2%), plus six TWU resolutions ranging from board pay (4.3%) to safety targets (18.8%)
ANZ: Union rep Joy Buckland had s249p statement from FSU supporting her board tilt in 2003 but got just 5.1% support
Foster's: s249p statement from ASA in 2003 on three bad years
NAB: ASA resolution in 2004 calling for Geoff Tomlinson to be sacked with s249p statement in support that delivered 39.7% support
Bluescope: Five Australian Workers Union resolutions on pay and board issues in 2004 were not supported by a statement and got 11-13%
CBA: Finance Sector Union resolution on restructuring in 2004 supported by s249p statement which delivered only 11.8% support
Paperlinx: ASA s249p statement on poor performance at 2005 AGM Back to Top