Getting behind the AWB reform caravan

By Stephen Mayne
November 28, 2008

The AWB AGM is on next Tuesday and it should be a cracker with the board boldly proposing huge and necessary constitutional reform that will probably get knocked off by the 18,000 grain grower shareholders who are being asked to relinquish control.

I co-hosted from 4-6pm with Lindy Burns on 774 ABC Melbourne last week as part of a special outside broadcast from what passes for an ASX headquarters in Melbourne these days. AWB managing director Gordon Davies, a cleanskin recruited from Orica to clean up the mess after the $300 million Saddam bribery scandal, dropped by for an interesting interview which you can listen to here.

Gordon has his work cut out because he needs 75% of farmers - many of whom are Cold War warriors still fighting yesterday's battle to retain the single desk - to approve the move to a more conventional board rather than the current circus which mandates that seven of the 11 directors have to be grain growers.

This ridiculous structure was put together by former National Party leader John Anderson but the Iraqi bribes scandal, Cole commission and change of government have all conspired to strip AWB of its single desk monopoly.

The share price is hovering at a record low near $2 as the market frets that bone-headed farmers will knock off constitutional reform and then the Government will come down even harder with its new laws on wheat marketing after June 30.

It's an interesting situation because the constitutional reform would immediately sweep all the farmers off the board. Three of the seven are retiring anyway, but if another three anti-reform challengers get up, then the fragile consensus which led to next week's proposal could be lost.

While we're seeing unlikely Liberals such as Shane Stone and Bill Heffernan come out in support of saying "sorry" over the Stolen Generation, it really is time that the likes of John Anderson and Tim Fischer publicly endorsed change at next week's AWB AGM. Having created the messy structure, they owe it the company to help fix it up and that means arm-twisting farmers to surrender board control.

Relevent AWB links

Check out this account of last year's AWB AGM in Crikey. We'll be telling Mayne Report subscribers first and fast about all the developments next Tuesday afternoon in a special edition. Click here for the transcript of our exchanges with the chairman during last year AWB AGM.

The full video of the recent 774 ABC Melbourne outside broadcast interview with AWB CEO Gordon Davis is available here.

We're also produced this video, although the tennis outfit and head band really is very daggy.

Click here to read an interesting article published in The Australian about AWB.

And click here to watch Stephen's appearance on Sky News Business Channel talking about AWB.