Woolies anti-pokies campaign speech, Manningham mayor boxes on, campaigning for women, Bob Brown, pokies forum, HTVs, Rich List and then some

November 18, 2010

Dear Mayne Report Readers,

Firstly, check out this missive which went out to a smallish group yesterday canvassing for feedback on our newspaper advertising and how to vote card material. The deadline for HTV registration is tomorrow and Paula would love your feedback to Paula@maynereport.com.

And we do hope you enjoy this video shot in front of the historic Fitzroy Town Hall explaining how we're trying to encourage various councils in the Northern Metropolitan region be more open and transparent.

The Victorian election is getting down to the business end of proceedings and today we're heading to Brisbane on the campaign trail.

As an external candidate for the Woolworths board, I'll be invited onto the stage at the State Library of Queensland and intend to give this first ever written speech at almost 400 AGMs:

Speech explaining "no pokies" candidacy to shareholders and directors at Woolworths AGM

Thanks Mr Chairman,

Good morning shareholders. As you might have gathered I'm involved with Senator Nick Xenophon, Tim Costello, Paul Bendat from pokiewatch.org and others in an ongoing campaign to end Australia's status as the world's biggest gamblers.

In addition to running for this board, I'm also a councillor in the City of Manningham, in Melbourne's east, where five of our 7 pokies venues are associated with this company. Our 116,000 citizens lose almost $70 million a year on the pokies – more than they pay in rates. Our council is considering quadrupling the miserly rates Woolworths' pokies venues pay us each year.

Woolworths is the biggest pokies operator in Victoria with about 40% of the revenue from losses in hotels. Victoria has the most lucrative machines in Australia and the worst prevalence of problem gambling. Woolworths somehow gets customers to lose about 30% more on their machines than the state average.

I believe we need more directors in tune with the global focus on corporate social responsibility. In particular, I am concerned about potential damage to the Woolworths brand and franchise from its operation of more than 12,000 pokies through the ALH joint venture with Bruce Mathieson. Woolworths is the only major retailer in the world to have built a large gambling business. I believe Woolworths should exit the pokies business or, at the very least, manage its 12,000 pokies in a sustainable and responsible manner.

In addition to the harm sustained by the Australian community from more than $10 billion lost each year on the pokies, existing ALH pokies have seen our pokies venues become a soft target for violent crime. There is also a reported government investigation into management practices at our Richmond Tavern and Aces Sporting Club relating to a defunct basketball and social clubs.

The company's junior pokies partner, Mr Mathieson, is also reportedly able to grant pokie licenses in favour of his preferred AFL club, Carlton.

Woolworths must show leadership, without waiting for prescriptive legislation from the Federal Government, by embracing full pre-commitment as detailed in the final report of the Productivity Commission. This is paragraph 7.5 of the agreement between Andrew Wilkie and Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

This leadership can be demonstrated by publicly pledging to implement a system of compulsory, non-transferable and binding pre-commitment for gamblers in our associated pokies venues. While such a pledge would reduce Woolworths' gambling income derived from addicted gamblers, if not undertaken, Woolworths risks significant damage to shareholder and brand equity. Ultimately, in this era of greater corporate social responsibility, it also risks being unfavourably screened by professional investors who are signatories to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment.

I've just read you substantially what I submitted as a platform before the Woolworths censors to my right stepped in and removed it from the notice of meeting distributed to all shareholders. They whittled it back to a miserable 68 words, whilst Ian McFarlane got more than double that allocation.

I guess I'm perplexed why this once-great Australian company remains so resolutely determined to bleed gambling addicts dry more efficiently than any other pokies operator in Australia.

Woolies are at times a brutally efficient operation and if that means taking an approach of “if it's legal, we'll do it” then so be it.

Dick McIlwain is a man well known to many Queenslanders. He was appointed CEO of Unitab in 1989 and is now the CEO of Tatts Group in Melbourne.

When the Victorian Government kicked Tatts and Tabcorp out of the pokies business and decided to let venue owners like Woolies become pokies operators, Dick McIlwain publically said the following in April this year:

''I am not unhappy to be getting out of the poker machine business; they are not the sort of business I want to be in long term and they're on the nose all around the world.''

I asked Dick McIlwain to clarify his comments at the recent Tatts Group AGM in Melbourne and he said the following:

"The comment about being on the nose, when you look anywhere around the world, and look in Victoria and everywhere else. Pokie machines attract an inordinate amount of attention from people who are concerned about gambling problems. As a result, there is a persistent, continued attempt, certainly successful in most places, to constrain the way you operate pokie machines - and that's the genesis and the basis of the comment."

In other words, Dick McIlwain accepted the argument. Contrast that with Bruce Mathieson's comments to 774 ABC Melbourne presenter Jon Faine earlier this year when he described Tim Costello, Nick Xenophon and Paul Bendat as “the three imbeciles”.

The Woolworths approach – certainly with Mr Mathieson directly running the pokies business – seems to be particularly hard-line.

The Financial Review's Street Talk column flagged the possibility of Woolies exiting the pokies business in February when it reported and I quote:

"The latest talk of separation comes as a result of Woolworths' discomfort at being tagged as Australia's largest pokies operation.”

Ten months later, still no movement.

Can't you directors smell? Your pokies business stinks. It's on the nose. It's destroying lives.

Chairman and directors – I hope you're feeling particularly uncomfortable.

I hope there won't be the need to go through this again next year.

I'm also running in the Victorian election as an independent candidate on a "no pokies" platform and I invite Mr Mathieson and the Melbourne-based directors to come along to a forum being held next Tuesday with Tim Costello, Nick Xenophon, the Gaming Minister and various other players. You might learn something about the level of community concern.

Shareholders, I ask for your support to send a message to the board that it returns to the basics of providing every day value for Australian consumers, rather than running this huge gambling business which deluges misery on tens of thousands of vulnerable Australians.

I'd like to finish with the story of Theresa Lawson – she used to work at Woolworths Supermarkets as a payroll officer.

In 2004, Theresa was jailed for a minimum of 4 years after stealing $2.7 million from our company to feed her pokies addition.

There are hundreds of Australians who've done the same thing since 2004. They've stolen many tens of millions from their employers – and the biggest beneficiary has been our company – the biggest pokies operator in Australia. Most of these people are first time criminals - because they are victims of an addiction to an extremely dangerous product. A product that this great company should not be associated with.

I thank you for the opportunity to address you.

Police throw out Manningham mayor's assault claim, now for the civil claim

Things looked to be settling down a bit at Manningham in recent weeks, but then mayor Charles Pick decided to threaten another council with civil assault charges on the front page of our local paper. Oh dear. Here we go again. Writing this gives me no joy but given the Northern Metropolitan platform includes a promise to "keep Labor-dominated councils honest", the timing is quite appropriate. Read on.

City of Manningham councillors often hang out late on a Tuesday night after the weekly briefing session to check out what the local Murdoch newspaper is saying about them.

Mayor Charles Pick, who remains in the job on full pay, failed to show up on Tuesday night as he campaigns for votes as the Labor candidate in the state seat of Doncaster against Liberal incumbent Mary Wooldridge.

However, his Victorian election campaign certainly won't be helped by this dramatic front page splash, "Pick case gets chop", in yesterday's edition of Manningham Leader.

It was first reported in June about the racism claims flying thick and fast at Manningham between Greens councillor David Ellis and two of his Labor opponents.

It all came to a head when Mayor Pick and his mate Ivan Reid, the Labor candidate in the neighbouring seat of Bulleen, went to the cops claiming Cr Ellis had assaulted the mayor in the car park with a “karate chop”.

The cops have now said there was not enough evidence to take action and Cr Ellis has maintained his line that “the allegation was a concoction from start to finish”.

Both gentlemen are former boxers but Mayor Pick has surprised many yesterday by declaring he will box on and is considering civil litigation against his colleague. Talk about pouring fuel on the fire!

The most intriguing element of yesterday's story is that the mayor actually pushed the record button on his mobile phone before he went chasing after Cr Ellis in the car park. However, the cops have said this vital piece of evidence proved to have no value.

The alleged confrontation occurred just minutes after several councillors saw Mayor Pick goading Cr Ellis in the chamber several times, saying “hit me, go on, hit me”.

This entire unedifying spectacle won't help Crs Pick and Reid achieve any sort of swing in Doncaster and Bulleen respectively, especially with the Greens running open tickets. But the bigger question is whether their factional sponsor Brian Tee, an upper house power broker for the Socialist Left faction, will become collateral damage.

Manningham is based on Kevin Andrews' Federal seat of Menzies, which is now the safest Liberal seat in Melbourne on a margin of 8.72%.

The locals have been horrified by the unprecedented factionalism and infighting which has engulfed the council and now have an opportunity to take it out on Brian Tee, who used to employ Mayor Pick as his press secretary.

The mayor is secretary of the Manningham ALP branch and branch meetings are held at Brian Tee's local electorate office.

Tee is second on the Labor ticket for the Eastern Metropolitan upper house region and pundits are predicting the 5th and final spot will go down to the wire.

Old governments are often judged by the quality of talent that surfaces in the third or fourth term and the Labor Party's gene pool in Manningham doesn't exactly inspire.

In one of Mayor Pick's finer moments, he managed to drive the Mayoral car away from a petrol station at 3am with the bowser still attached. As if the substantial damage wasn't enough, the 27-year-old leader of our 116,000-strong community later discovered he was unlicensed to drive at the time.

Amidst this on-going circus, the ever loyal Brian Tee stuck by his mate through thick and thin.

But with 10 days to go until the state election, the wagons are circling.

Bruce Atkinson, a former mayor of Nunawading and upper house Liberal member for Eastern Metropolitan, yesterday said he was concerned about Brian Tee's close involvement with Mayor Pick.

“I have real concerns about the influence state Labor MPs have on local councils,” Atkinson said. “Does Mayor Pick have the interests of the community first or the interests of the ALP and his career prospects?”

The Greens are represented in Eastern Metropolitan by Damian Magner, who defeated Cr Ellis in a preselection contest.

With negligible preference support, he'll need a primary vote that is close to the 16.7% quota, which is a big ask given the Greens polled 10.17% in 2006.

However, the Green vote in Menzies jumped by 4.46% in the Federal election and some observers believe all these council shenanigans will give it a further boost on Saturday week. But will it be enough?

Councillors and candidates alike are already holding their breath for next week's copy of the all powerful Manningham Leader.

Tales from Northern Metropolitan - save the State Library

A concerned academic who lives in Northern Metropolitan writes:

I saw you recording that pokies video on Johnson and Nicholson the other day. Didn't disturb you but noticed a few motorists breaking the recording!

Thought you might be interested in this spray at the State Library.

Would love someone to pursue this politically. I think I could get 500 signatures from writers and academics within Victoria's many centres and universities to co-author another piece.

Questioning Bob Brown about surging state debt at the Press Club

Like many former Liberal wets, I don't mind parts of the Greens social agenda and hope they do well on November 27. However, the most troubling aspect of their platform is financial management and industrial relations. They are just too left wing, it seems.

Whilst it wasn't hostile, check out this quite pointed question I asked Bob Brown at the Melbourne Press Club on Friday about debt management. Click on the image below to watch or read the following transcript:

Stephen Mayne:
Stephen Mayne Bob, I'm an independent candidate in Northern metro, we are swapping preferences to try and knock off the Labor number 3, so thanks for that.

Bob Brown: did you get them?

Stephen Mayne:
yes, I am doing preferences with the Greens.

Bob Brown: I think somebody made a good decision there.

Stephen Mayne: In a former life I was the press secretary to a Liberal Treasurer here, when the state was close to being broke, and massive debts. We are potentially about to have a change of government, and debt in Victoria is rising at $4 billion a year, in the next few months it will go past the peak of the Kirner government. A lot of people look at the Greens and like your social agenda, but to say, financial management - it's not there. Does it worry you the debt is projected to rise by $4 billion a year, and is projected in the forward estimates to hit $39 billion by 2013, and in a minority government would you focus on that and try to stop the massive escalation of massive debt in Victoria?

Bob Brown: That is a very good question. One of the reasons why I would immediately review the desalination plant, it maybe that it's past the point of no return. i think debt always needs to be reviewed.

One of the things that you can do once you've become elected into parliament is request, and always get, a proper briefing from the Treasury, so that you open the door on what is happening with debt and debt projections.

We're not averse to the debt, but we like to see the books on the main and economic cycle in balance, and we are very aware that the private sector is as good at running up debt as the public sector.

So we are not a party that says public debt is anathema. If it is in the public interest - fine, but that is a matter where you will get far greater debate if you have 3 major parties on the floor of the parliament - rather than two. Two of which hold some responsibility for the debt which has accumulated.

I'm very aware, as you will be. You are a better brain than me on this, that debt also comes with it, a drain on the potential investment into public health, hospitals, schools and so on - a two-edged sword.

So I'm sorry I'm not giving you an exact answer there - because I don't know, but I believe what you say with the exact Victorian circumstances.

But if you put the Greens in on the house of parliament, you've got a much better chance of opening the books and getting a good debate on, not just that you've got a worse debt than ours, but how the economy should be handled with all the checks and balances.

But you can't turn your back on, for example, the question of whether private enterprise has properly and adequately managed public transport in this state. Was that a good move? Was that move to cut back the debt. Has that presented a dividend to government?

Also this question. Why is it that the government should be seen, the public sector should be seen as unable to manage? We need good management. It is not second to the private sector. It is a challenge to all of us, and when you get into parliament, you have to take that responsibility on your shoulder.

Tim Costello and Nick Xenophon urge everyone to attend pokies public forum on November 23

Check out this video shot by Tim Costello, Nick Xenophon and a range of other participants involved in an upcoming pokies forum in Melbourne for the state election. Gaming Minister Tony Robinson and his shadow Michael O'Brien have been invited and the details are as follows:

Date: Tuesday 23rd November
Time: 9am – 11am
Venue: Cathedral Room
Cardinal Knox Centre
383 Albert St
East Melbourne

Around the grounds on the pokies

Check this out from the Victorian Local Governance Association:

Major parties must make pokies and online gambling safe

State election platform

Launch speech

Check out this package of past encounters and details on the 2010 board tilt with pokies giant Woolworths.

Check out this interview with Senator Nick Xenophon about why the pokies matter in this state election.

We've been twittering like mad so click below to get on board

Spend $50 for a season's ticket that helps keeps the directors and pollies honest

The coming weeks will be a very interesting time with the Australian AGM season and the Victorian election but things like contesting the state election and flying to New York to tackle Rupert Murdoch don't come cheap.

Therefore, why not sign up for a $50 AGM season ticket and you will get exclusive email updates on the various battles as 1600 Australian public companies hold their AGMs and the Victorian election unfolds.

Alternatively, email Paula@maynereport.com and offer to volunteer to hand out on election day and you'll receive a free subscription.

If you'd like to support robust political and shareholder activism and get an inside look at what should be a fascinating period, click here to purchase your season ticket that will take you through until the end of 2010.

The Cornwall collection

Former Fairfax and Crikey cartoonist Mark Cornwall has been contributing to The Mayne Report since March 2009. Here is a collection of his best cartoons and check out his latest animation:


Support our long term tailor Kumar Advani

The Mayne Report Rich List

BRW magazine does a great job with its various Australian Rich Lists but we've broadened their efforts to track any Australian who has ever been worth more than $10 million. We began the process of building the list in early 2008 where we had an initial 327 names. Now, after much research, we've got more than 1500 names with those who've fallen back below $10 million italicised.

It was also heartening to be told at the Fairfax AGM last week that BRW still makes money. Doubt it makes much, but that Rich List franchise remains popular.

Even during the state election, the 1500 names on our Rich List is often the most popular page on our site. We love your tips coming through on Richies and if you want to be discreet, click below and use the anonymous option:

Blokes shouldn't campaign for women

Was quite surprised to read this email from "Tania" earlier in the week:

Hi Stephen, I'm puzzled why you are championing the rights of women. Shouldn't a woman be doing that? I thought the feminist movement has empowered women to pursue their dreams, whatever that may be. Why should a man be telling us what we should be doing?

If you want to help women, train one to do your role, to then tell the chairman /CEOs that they should put more women on their boards.

Best stick to campaigning against the poker machines. I'll support you on that one.

Regards, Tania.

Paula and I have been debating whether to include "Keep campaigning to empower women" on the how to vote card, but we've now taken it out.

Also, I got quite appropriate ticked off for describing Carol Schwartz as "Marc Besen's daughter" in this recent edition. Carol has indeed achieved an enormous amount in her own right so apologies for that.

Donate to help keep us going

The Mayne Report costs almost $100,000 a year to run so if you fancy giving us a hand to help fund our activism and keep us going on the political and AGM circuit, just click on the image below:

That's all for now.

Do ya best, Stephen Mayne

* The Mayne Report is a multi-media governance website published by shareholder activist, local government councillor, Crikey founder and political candidate Stephen Mayne with regular email editions. This email was authorised by Paula Piccinini of 205 William St, Melbourne 3000. To unsubscribe from the free emails click here.