MAV President tilt, disclosure competition breaks out, APN board fight, Alumina, pokies, Rich List, debt, unfunded super and plenty more

February 19, 2013

Dear Readers,

Welcome to this first edition of The Mayne Report for 2013. Apologies it has been 7 weeks since our last bumper email edition on December 28, which included a detailed examination of various governance and planning matters in local government.

Plenty has happened since then, but if you'd rather not receive these supposedly monthly email newsletters, click here to unsubscribe.

Fairfax Media's business commentator Michael Pascoe wrote this lengthy column for The Age and The SMH websites about our last edition, focusing on the question of local government disclosure.

The Pascoe column has had a big impact and the race is now on for greater local government disclosure across Australia.

The City of Holdfast Bay in South Australia, which includes the popular Adelaide beachside suburb of Glenelg, got off to a flyer when councillors approved the following motion put up by Cr Tim Looker on January 22:

Moved Cr Looker, that Council compile a lease register to be publicly available on the City's website as a downloadable PDF spreadsheet detailing Council's properties and lease arrangements to community groups. Headings would include property address/site; lessee; approved use; lease commencement and time; annual rental/license fee; valuation; annual holding cost to council including depreciation opportunity cost on investment, other incidental costs to council. Updates should be made annually in line with renewed leases and revaluations.


The early results are right here on the Holdfast Bay website with this comprehensive lease register recently disclosed. There's more to come and congratulations to Cr Looker. Who will be next?

Australia's most transparent council?

We're paddling hard at the City of Melbourne with our goal to overtake Manningham as Australia's most open and transparent council. An expansion of public question time is in the offing. So is audio recordings of Council and Future Melbourne Committee meetings being placed on our website, although this is subject to a forthcoming vote.

At last week's meeting we also pulled an insurance broking tender result out of confidential and dealt with it in open session. Go to pages 2 and 5 of the draft minutes to see the lifting of confidentiality and then a summary of the debate.

For reasons partly to do with its capital city structure, limited officer delegations and historical councillor interest in specific funding applications, City of Melbourne had more confidential items than any other Victorian council in recent years. It looks like that might steadily change in the period ahead as the sun increasingly shines in.

Running for MAV President

On February 7, I sent this missive to the 79 council delegates of the Municipal Association of Victoria unveiling an unexpected tilt at the Presidency held by veteran incumbent Bill McArthur. There's more than enough information in this missive to explain the full background and context but let's for a moment think about Australia's record at amending the most important document in our democracy.

It is a crying shame that Australia's key governance document - the national constitution - is so hard to amend and update.

The Indigenous community was so fearful of failure and discouraged by the febrile political environment of the past two years that they requested Julia Gillard abandon her promised referendum on Indigenous recognition which was originally slated for the 2013 election.

That still leaves the promise to ask Australians to recognise local government in the constitution.

The run at the MAV Presidency is partly about putting some urgency back into the sector's advocacy for the referendum to proceed. Victoria is traditionally a leader on governance reform but on this one we've dropped the ball.

Unfortunately, the current MAV board has too many referendum skeptics on it and if they are returned, it's more likely the Gillard government will break another promise and not deliver on the referendum.

And if the MAV is all about advocacy to state and federal government, how did it come to pass that Victoria was one of only two states (along with the secessionists in WA) to formally oppose constitutional recognition of local government? Where were our networks into Spring Street to get the Baillieu Government on board this long overdue recognition?

I well remember my first major local government conference in December 2008 when then ALGA President Geoff Lake presided for 3 days over a summit in Melbourne which came up with a resolution to get this issue sorted. All the detail is here.

If you're a governance campaigner, the first thing to do is overcome the defeatist attitude when it comes to even asking for change to our most important governing document. Don't listen to these skeptics with their "not the right time" weasel words.

At a time of squeezed council budgets, ever-increasing cost-shifting and on-going High Court challenges, our sector needs the certainty of direct federal funding. We also need an expanded slice of Federal revenues. With virtually all states in structural deficit, less than 1% won't cut it going forward.

And if local government can chalk up a referendum win on September 14 then it will blaze the trail for Indigenous recognition during the next term.

Given that Tony Abbott has pledged Bipartisan support on the question of financial recognition of local government to provide certainty of funding, the necessary "Yes" vote should be forthcoming provided the major parties endorse it on their how to vote cards. Local government needs to get united and pressure their Federal colleagues into delivering on this agenda.

Hitting the road for Presidential debates

The MAV does democracy well and we had the first of three Presidential debates in Stawell last night, so it was a big day with 6 hours spent on the road.

The Shire of Northern Grampians were great hosts and it was terrific to hear about the proposed open cut gold mine in Stawell, plus the current dual carriage way construction program between Ballarat and Stawell. The South Australians have done their bit from Adelaide to the Victorian border, but the Victorian and federal government still need to find about $1 billion to finish the last leg from Stawell to the SA border, accommodating those 1600 daily truck movements along the main Adelaide-to-Melbourne route. This truck capacity is expected to double by 2030, a small example of the huge infrastructure task ahead of Australia to cope with burgeoning freight movement.

We had 5 councillors attend the Stawell forum which was an interesting 100 minute dry run on the bigger debate tonight from 5pm at the MAV's Collins Street office, which will be webcast. We then head up to Benalla for the final debate on Wednesday. All participants debated cordially and in good spirits last night under the watchful eye of MAV CEO Rob Spence and you can expect more of the same tonight and tomorrow.

Extraordinary times at APN News & Media

It was a busy and diverse day yesterday. After spending an hour with Richmond Football Club CEO Brendan Gale at the newly revamped Punt Rd facility, it was down to the ABC for an interview with Neil Woolrich for The Business.

The topic was yesterday's board coup at APN News & Media and you can see what was broadcast on ABC1 here.

The papers are full of this issue today and it is pleasing to see major shareholders taking matters into their own hands.

Whilst the Irish major shareholder are clearly motivated by their own balance sheet challenges, fund manager Allan Gray could have supported a capital raising but has instead taken the opportunity to clean out a poorly performing board and CEO.

If only more fund managers were as gutsy as the big South African former rugby player, Simon Marais.

Get on board for 2013 ASA national conference

The Australian Shareholders' Association has put together a cracking program for its 2013 conference to be held at the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney from May 6-8.

Early bird registrations are being accepted up until the end of February, so get on board.

CEO exits as Australian Shareholders Association restructures

As some of you may have gathered from media reports, ASA CEO Vas Kolesnikoff departed earlier this month and the board has adopted a new structure with Silvana Eccles as national operations manager.

The full-time position of Research Manager is being currently advertised and the key points are as follows:

We are looking for a Research and Development Manager reporting to the ASA board who has a background in ASX-listed corporate research, financial analysis and governance to join our small, close-knit team. This role requires an enthusiastic individual who is able to manage a variety of tasks working closely with a dedicated team of volunteer company monitors and directors.

This stimulating full-time role comes with power, influence and prestige. You will engage with Australia's leading company chairs and CEOs and help determine how ASA votes more than $5 billion of undirected proxies from retail investors each year.

You will also represent ASA on important industry bodies such as the Financial Reporting Council and the ASX Corporate Governance Council.

If you are both a self-starter and a team player who can communicate well and wants to make a difference for Australia's 6 million retail shareholders, then this is your perfect job.

If you're in Sydney or Melbourne and fancy this job earning between 100k and 120k, then email your details to ASA chair by March 15 at the very latest.

My contract as ASA Policy and Engagement Coordinator runs until May 31, which will see us through the national conference, ASA's own AGM and the AGM mini-season for companies with December 31 balance sheets.

After that, we'll look at all the possibilities which could include re-joining the ASA board, taking another consultancy through the main AGM season in October-November or stepping back from shareholder advocacy to focus on politics for a couple of years, if that is what the MAV delegates want.

There is also plenty to get on with at City of Melbourne, especially as we finalise the 4 year council plan and work up our first annual budget, not to mention grappling with all the planning issues.

Campaign finance, the pokies, Richo and Eddie Obeid

Congratulations to everyone in Castlemaine who worked so hard on that victory (see The Age) against the Highlander Club proposal to build a pokies venue on state government land.

And speaking of the pokies, weren't those campaign finance figures released on February 1 interesting?

We gave the mainstream media a bit of a slap in Crikey for downplaying the story, but at least The Age splashed with the $1 million relative windfall that Julia Gillard's Wilkie promise delivered the Coalition.

Whilst Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle is quite rightly aggrieved with the amount of coverage The Age is giving his campaign finance issues versus the much bigger disclosure shortfalls and dollars involved at the state and federal level, I'm just happy to see any coverage of an issue which traditionally gets under-played.

If only Australia's biggest institutional powerhouse, Team Murdoch at News Ltd, went after campaign finance reform our democracy would be a lot cleaner and transparent.

Then again, the fact that Eddie Obeid's chief sponsor, Graham Richardson, remains a highly paid News Ltd contributor says it all really. And when will the ALP finally sell their 4 pokies venues in Canberra?

Finally, check out the latest from Paul Bendat's Pokieact website and this package of our past pokies coverage.

And try watching this 30 second anti-pokies ad made by Paul Bendat in 2010 featuring our daughter Alice, who was 6 at the time:

Curious capital raising by Alumina

It was disappointing to see Alumina last week do a selective $452 million placement to CITIC, an investment vehicle controlled by the Chinese Government.

At ASA we have a firm policy that capital raisings should be pro-rata and treat existing shareholders equally and fairly.

Allowing one strategic investor to get a rails run and go from nothing to being the largest shareholder overnight is poor practice, especially given the failure to negotiate a meaningful premium. If CITIC wanted a 13% stake they should have bought the stock on market, not be issued new shares by an obliging board.

Stand by for long-serving Alumina director Peter Hay to receive a substantial protest vote at the upcoming AGM, as will CITIC's proposed representative Chen Zeng.

Firing up our Youtube channel again

When The Mayne Report first launched in 2007 we were posting daily videos on our Youtube channel. Alas, the cost and time of in-house video production, plus the lack of any revenue, made this model unviable. Besides, daily videos wasn't necessarily the best way to campaign for better corporate and political governance.

In the end, it made more sense to channel our efforts into appearing on mainstream media video platforms. People watch Q&A, Inside Business and The Project.

However, when you look back at all the video we've got spanning our own productions, one-off interviews, profiles or lengthy interviews such as Nine's Sunday program or ABC TV's Talking Heads, the regular spot on Sky's Business View and webcasts of AGMs, it turns out we've got a rather large library of material, some of which is now available on our Youtube channel.

And some of the playlists on our video site including the following:

11 rounds with Rupert Murdoch

A few rounds with the Millionaires at Macquarie Group

Bye bye Babcock & Brown

The pokies

Gender equity and media trustworthiness in Intelligence Squared debates

Skewering Col Allan on Channel Nine's Sunday program

Australia's public debt soars as Vic councils maintain super funding

It was very strange to hear Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens make the following statement in 2010: "There is virtually no net public debt in the country at all in contrast to much of the developed world."

The Federal Government's own debt management website puts the gross debt figure at more than $260 billion and the bond issues are continuing at a rapid rate.

Both sides of politics try to quote a net debt figure which includes the $70 billion held by the Future Fund. But this is outrageous double counting because Future Fund reserves are specifically set aside to pay for public service superannuation liabilities which are still more than $60 billion unfunded.

Whilst the Victorian government has $29 billion in unfunded superannuation liabilities, Victoria's local government sector is currently grappling with a $450 million cash call which will return our closed defined benefit scheme to full funding.

The Federal and State Government impose this full funding obligation on us through separate legislative and regulatory burdens, which is a classic case of "do as I say, not as I do".

At the very least, the Federal Government should waive the $80 million contributions tax windfall it stands to pocket from the biggest nominal cash hit Victorian councils have ever faced.

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've got more than 1500 names with those who've fallen back below $10 million now italicised.

Tales from the talk circuit - an MAV connection

One of the pitches to the MAV delegates relates to public speaking and experience with the media. The sector needs a leader who can articulate the key issues to as big an audience as possible. Indeed, here is the 150 word spiel sent out by the VEC with the voting packs:

Shouldn't the MAV be led by a high profile independent councillor known nationally for embracing integrity and good governance? I'm the Walkley Award winning journalist who founded, pioneered Australian shareholder activism and has done thousands of media appearances. As your MAV President, I'll use this profile to run harder on constitutional recognition, campaign for better funding outcomes and champion Australia's best local government sector right here in Victoria.

A change at the top will also represent accountability for the $450 million superannuation hit. As chair of City of Melbourne's Finance and Governance committee and having also spent 3 years on Manningham's audit committee, I'll be strong and disciplined on financial management. My office is just 200 metres from the MAV, but I will visit all Victorian councils by 2015.

After 24 years in the public eye, I'm equipped to re-energise the MAV. Be bold delegates, vote for generational change.

If successful, it will mean loads more council-related speeches and much less activity on the corporate talk circuit, although we're currently locked into a few gigs over the coming months. Meanwhile, click here to read feedback after earlier speeches.

Sign up for campaign and governance Tweets

Click on the image above to join more than 14,000 followers on Twitter. We are regularly dropping out observations about journalism, politics, breaking stories, local government and shareholder activism and will endeavour to live tweet tonight's MAV Presidential debate from 5pm.

From the member edition archive

The Mayne Report email newsletter goes to almost 17,000 people but if you're a relatively new reader, here are links to some of the more interesting email editions sent out over the past five years.


Backing Rudd, Lachlan Murdoch, Bob Brown media debate, Manningham governance, Gunns, Darebin, Lend Lease and St Kilda AGM appearance
Monday, February 20, 2012

The OZ goes mad, Murdoch piracy, AFR, pokies double rate, Gina unfit for Ten, council super blowout, BoQ rip-off, power speech and AGM mini-season
Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Murdoch special, media inquiry, pokies, Manningham win, Zara, secretive Shortenite councillors and a Vodafone take-down
Thursday, September 15, 2011

Elected to ASA board, pokies, Rio, Santos, RHG, Hartigan, Manningham, capital raisings and Rich List
Thursday, May 19, 2011


Election wash-up, Mayne Report strategic review, Manningham, Ten, Gina, Falloon for Fairfax, Orica AGM, ABC year-ender, Cornwall, Rich List and then some
Friday, December 17, 2010

Woolies anti-pokies campaign speech, Manningham mayor boxes on, campaigning for women, Bob Brown, pokies forum, HTVs, Rich List and then some
Thursday, November 18, 2010

Paperlinx, Packer, Murdoch, Manningham, pokies, Rich ex wives, foreign takeovers and much more
Saturday, October 23, 2010

DJs, legislate women on boards, ex Lib goes no pokies, preferences, Pratt-Shorten, Labor's debt, AG's report, Manningham council audio and then some
August 3, 2010

Director rankings, Rio, Westfield, New Matilda, MAP, Manningham, Paatsch, state election, Darebin, Moreland, rich list, pokies and much more
June 9, 2010

Political donations, Stokes, Westfield tower, Richard Colless, Manningham nursing home, state debt, Rich List, Grand Prix and more
February 23, 2010


Woolies, Higgins, Manningham, upcoming elections, Fairfax, Centro, Rich List, Rams, Fitzie and much more
December 6, 2009

Seven AGM, crazy Perth visit, Fairfax, Telstra, Transfield, capital raisings and much more
November 9, 2009

News Corp AGM, Packer, Fairfax, James Strong, Woolies, Eastern Golf, Kohler-Gatto and much more
October 20, 2009

Bad Bendigo, Mark Day, Manningham, pokies, NAB, Asciano, Rich List, Paladin, hostile EGMs and much more
September 15, 2009

Macquarie AGM, Melbourne's decline, Asciano EGM, capital raisings, Goyder's pokies, speeches, fire, AGM diary and much more
July 28, 2009


Collingwood AGM, Rizzo survives, ANZ shareholders MIA and Qantas delusions
December 19, 2008

ABC Learning, CBA's Centro brutality, sworn in, pokies, PacBrands and SPP plays
December 10, 2008

After 37 straight defeats, the drought is broken
December 1, 2008

71% backing at Centro, $11bn backing at BHP and huge Qantas protest
November 28, 2008

BHP backflip after $7bn backed our tilt
November 26, 2008

Combank's $700m ABC Learning debacle
November 13, 2008

Computershare AGM, Seven wash-up, audio highlights and ABC Learning chair under pump at Lend Lease
November 11, 2008

Round 10 with James Packer, BBI, Allco and ABC Learning
November 6, 2008

Toll board skewered over $55m executive rort
October 30, 2008

Transurban shareholder revolution - chairman almost defeated
October 28, 2008

A huuuuge day for Australian corporate governance
October 22, 2008

Rupert's accountability dodge, Macquarie's Italian hit, Babcock funds revamp, and rich lists.
October 20, 2008

Rupert runs scared after just 3 of our 8 questions
October 20, 2008

BHP and Woolies tilts, AFIC push on Stan Wallis, ASX-Kohler yarn and new Rich Listers
September 26, 2008

Risk Metrics nails Macquarie and Babcock
September 18, 2008

AWB, Babcock, ANZ, Gunns, Hegarty...what a week
August 22, 2008

Brisconnections tanks with conflicts and spin everywhereJuly 31, 2008

Macquarie videos, Stokes raid, new board tilt, Oz Minerals, share trading and much more
July 25, 2008

Hegarty Payout rolled, history is made
July 18, 2008

Pratt, Macquarie, Babcock, insider trading, Futuris, Telstra gravy train, tax loss selling and Background Briefing
June 25, 2008

Babcock: Nosworthy video, Glover interview, EBB related deals, Leigh Hall and Stephen Loosely
June 13, 2008

Great debate at the Babcock AGM
May 30, 2008

Our liveliest edition yet
Thursday, May 8, 2008

Winning from the floor at Alumina
May 1, 2008

Margin calls, director dealings, Kohler and WA News
March 10, 2008

Burrows quits, Rupert, donations, long-serving directors and much more
January 31, 2008

Markets tumble, Rupert book deal, Centro, Rich List, Xenophon, AFR tips and our buying spree
January 17, 2008


Fortescue Metals AGM: time for Twiggy and FMG to grow up
Sunday, November 8, 2007, 10.30pm

How $5bn worth of votes backed us against Rupert's dodgy gerrymander
Saturday, 20 October, 2007, 7.20am

Mayne family news

Our three kids are all doing well.

Laura, 11, is loving being school captain and has decided to give AFL rather than soccer a go this winter, with the first training session on Thursday. Laura loves rebounding in basketball and given AFL is primarily an above the shoulders endeavour, she might be well suited to it, although there's plenty to learn on the skills front.

Alice, 10, made it through to the district swimming finals and has decided she wants to play in a band, so we've just invested in a base guitar and a rather large amplifier. She's already learning acoustic guitar at school but has cottoned onto the fact that bands are always looking for base players. Always a good sign to be aware of the percentages in life.

Philip, 8, worked hard on his speech and scored the gig of "environmental captain" of his class after promising to have short showers and encourage kids to bring nude food to school. Maybe this is because he loves being nude at home. He's now up to tennis two days a week and we're also looking at a switch from soccer to AFL this winter, reflecting a view that "variety is the spice of life".

Paula remains the martyr of the family, ploughing away as President of the School Council and an RACV director whilst still working 3 days a week as a family mediator. We had a lovely Valentines Dinner when the kids glammed up and waited the table with Barry White blasting in the background.

The summer holidays were fun as we got to Phillip Island, Sorrento, Canberra and Wombarra, a lovely little hamlet in the Illawarra escarpment 60 kms south of Sydney.

But all that seems an eternity ago with everything that is going on.

That's all for now.

If you fancy listening to an interesting political contest, go to the MAV website at 5pm tonight for the live webcast of the three way Presidential debate between incumbent Bill McArthur, yours truly and the Liberal mayor of Whitehorse, Andrew Munroe. The written pitch is here, but how will it hold up under sustained questioning?

Do ya best, Stephen Mayne

* The Mayne Report is a multi-media governance website published by Stephen Mayne with monthly email editions. To unsubscribe from the emails click here.