Denton hijacks BHP in 2003

By Stephen Mayne
January 14, 2008

Published in Crikey on Nov 13, 2003

Stephen Mayne and Andrew Denton teamed up to hit BHP-Billiton chairman Don Argus at the 2003 AGM.

Poor old Don Argus, he really just should have retired with a net worth of $30 million after a career with National Australia Bank. Instead, he's become a tainted and divisive professional chairman with a two-thirds failure record.

After putting up with plenty of abuse, Don't Argue shoe-horned the Business Council of Australia into developing a code of conduct for AGMs which is based on the template developed within BHP-Billiton.

Fellow BHP-Billiton director and outgoing BCA President John Schubert then ran the loud campaign about containing ferals at AGMs.

Lo and behold, the BHP-Billiton AGM got hijacked yesterday by more special interest groups than any other AGM this season, with the possible exception of Boral.

Crikey did a hit and run, bailing out after a brief stoush with Don't Argue to come home and put the edition together. However, it was good to read this morning that Denton backed up our criticism of BHP for failing to properly explain why Brian Gilbertson was sacked.

At the end of the day, BHP Billiton is just too large to pin down. Don't Argue knows this, and he uses the demagogic power of the Chairman's platform to smother dissent at every turn.

The company's so big it even has two AGMs. And ginger groups know this gives them two opportunities to push their causes in a very public venue. Yesterday's Australian AGM, help appropriately deep underground in the Melbourne Concert Hall, had it all: celebrities; old fashioned shareholders, unionists, greenies – even the occasional miner.

A group called the Mineral Policy Institute did its homework, launching a co-ordinated assault on BHP-Billiton's desire to extract nickel from Indonesia's Gag Island.

A smart brunette lawyer, Techa Beaumont, led the attack, supported by folk singer David Bridie, and Andrew Denton. And they won big coverage from a star-struck Barry FitzGerald in The Age, yesterday, and today.

It is fair to say that if BHP did have any desires to exploit the nickel deposit on Gag Island it received a major setback yesterday, although getting it listed as a World Heritage area would obviously seal the matter once and for all.

News Ltd rarely gets behind an environmental campaign so Denton naturally got a lesser run in Rupert's papers. There was also the IR angle, with unionists trying to squeeze better work deals out of the company.

Andrew Denton has just been interviewed by Liam Bartlett on ABC Perth. He dubbed Don Argus as Don't Answer instead of Don't Argue, specifically for not answering Crikey's Gilbertson question.