The most extraordinary AGM we've seen

By Stephen Mayne
January 15, 2008

It was the very first time Stephen Mayne asked questions at an AGM and it was also the most dramatic meeting we've seen. Below is the coverage from The Daily Telegraph after the Energy Resources of Australia AGM on October 15, 1998.

Uranium chief drops a bombshell

One of Australia's leading businessmen made an extraordinary attack on a female protester during a tense meeting of uranium miner ERA yesterday.

As two burly security guards ejected the anti-uranium campaigner during the address by ERA chairman Campbell Anderson in Sydney, she screamed: "Don't you care about our children?"

Mr Anderson replied: "With a little bit of luck, you hopefully won't have any."

The comment sparked laughter and applause from the largely elderly pro-uranium ERA shareholders at the meeting.

But it drew an angry response from 20 protesters who gained access to the annual general meeting after buying a handful of ERA shares.
One activist labelled Mr Anderson "McShame", but the chairman refused to apologise and continued his strategy of countering interjections with a mixture of humour, parody, aggressive denunciation and a steady flow of evictions.

ERA's annual meeting is the one opportunity each year for protesters to directly confront the board, and the two sides jousted for two hours yesterday.

Some pro-uranium shareholders gave as good as they got, with one leaping to his feet defending the bombing of Hiroshima as a means of ending World War II.

As one activist was carried out, another prouranium shareholder said: "I am sure she has not had a man's arms around her for a long time."

ERA has battled a campaign against its Jabiluka mine, which in its more extreme moments has seen its Darwin office firebombed, death threats against staff and the puncturing of the lining of a tailings damn at its nearby Ranger mine in Kakadu.

Outside, 200 protesters screamed at shareholders as they entered, labelling some of them murderers.

Mr Anderson said it was the rowdiest meeting he had chaired in five years, and while lamenting the "brainless" chanting, he thanked both sides for a thorough debate.

The picketers outside the meeting, from a range of environmental and Aboriginal support groups, were demanding an end to uranium mining in Kakadu, but Mr Anderson said ERA was determined to proceed on a project that would generate an estimated $3.8 billion over 28 years.

Gabrielle McIntosh said she and a group of protesters bought six shares each so they could disrupt the meeting with slogans such as "Muruoa", "Three Mile Island" and "Death".

ERA shares have fallen over the seven-year battle it has waged to start the mine, which is 20km from Ranger.

Comparing News Corp's silence with ERA

The contrast could not have been greater. In Adelaide, Rupert Murdoch remains something of a home town hero for the estimated 200 shareholders who attended the News Corp annual meeting on Tuesday.

As usual, the News Corp chairman and chief executive rattled through the official agenda in 20 minutes with not a murmer from the floor.
News is Australia's biggest company but shareholders have asked less than five questions in the past decade despite the various issues which arise across the group's sprawling interests.

The shareholders came to listen, support and not question, which is in stark contrast to the ERA annual meeting in Sydney on Thursday.
Anti-uranium protestors dominated the agenda starting with chanting during the address to shareholders by chairman Campbell Anderson.

Anderson's tactic was to charm, mimic and confront his long-time and vocal opponents, making this the most entertaining annual meeting I've attended in 10 years.

As he rejected the suggestion by one protestor that he was overly defensive, Anderson ducked and weaved like a boxer. When agitators shouted "Hiroshima", he shouted "Hiroshima" back, louder.

Most of the chanters were carried out screaming during his official address, the most farcical parting gibe being that ERA caused "death, cancer, everything". As Anderson pointed out, the activists are unusual shareholders as they want ERA to fail.

Yesterday they closed at $1.90: 10 years ago they were $13.

While the chanting stole the headlines, once 10 activists were ejected the meeting turned into an interesting two hour debate on uranium.
On points, I thought Anderson won the debating, in spite of his foolish retort that he hoped one female protestor would never have children.

His assertion that Jabiluka's impact on Kakadu is the equivalent to two football ovals in Israel was eloquently rebuffed by the analogy that "it was only a small cigarette burn on the Mona Lisa". However, when it came to the facts, Anderson held firm in the face of the onslaught and shot down what he called the "lies" and "half-truths" pushed by the agitators.

The company passed every environmental test, was the most regulated mine in the world, nuclear power reduces greenhouse problems, the Ranger mine predated Kakadu National Park and no worker had sued it for radiation damage over the 18 year life of the mine, were just some of his retorts.

The protestors made their best points on marginal matters such as poor staff morale at ERA and the cost of building a separate mill at Jabiluka rather than trucking ore 20km to the Ranger mill.

Despite most of the confrontation during the meeting -and preceding dramas such as firebombings, death threats and the stabbing of wall lining at a Jabiluka retention pond the attitude was civil after the meeting as most of the activists not ejected joined the directors for tea and pastries.