Aspiring AWI director Olsson to contest election signatures ruling

Terry Sim, September 25, 2019

Former Australian Wool Innovation director Chick Olsson. Image – Medical Ethics.

ASPIRING former Australian Wool Innovation director Chick Olsson is contesting a ruling that he is ineligible to stand in the 2019 election after it was claimed he failed to produce 100 eligible shareholder signatures supporting his nomination.

The New South Wales businessman and wool grower is calling for an investigation into the AWI director nominee signature validation process.

Prospective candidates in the 2019 AWI director election, apart from re-standing directors, had until 5pm Eastern Standard Time yesterday had to produce more than 99 eligible shareholder signatures supporting their nomination.

Up to ten people are believed to have collected signatures for the 2019 election, aiming to be candidates for three director positions falling vacant and currently held by former chairman Wal Merriman, Western Australian director David Webster and New South Wales director Meredith Sheil. Mr Merriman and Mr Webster are believed to be standing for re-election. Ms Sheil has confirmed she will be not seeking re-election.

The interviewing of successful nominees by the restructured AWI Board Nomination Committee, led by new chair Mary Corbett, started today.

Individual nominees have had up to 60 signatures knocked back by Link Market Services and AWI this year for various reasons, including because signatories were not registered shareholders or had listed name or company details on nomination forms that did not match the AWI voting shareholder registry.

Mr Olsson and his team offered up 137 signatures for validation, but he was told by AWI company secretary Jim Story yesterday evening that only 97 of them were approved, meaning he had not met the nomination requirement by the cut-off time.

“Accordingly, you are not eligible to stand as a candidate in the election of directors at the 2019 AGM,” Mr Story wrote.

Mr Olsson’s signatures included one deemed a non-voting shareholder, 20 who were invalid but eligible levy payers, 4 who were non-voting levy papers, 5 who were duplicates and 10 whose holding was not found.

It’s the system’s fault – Olsson

Mr Olsson is now researching whether at least five disallowed signatories who had sent in company details and addresses overnight were registered shareholders and should have been declared valid because they were on nomination forms presented before the deadline.

He believes that there was a strong possibility that some of the supposedly invalid signatories had filled in the nomination form using their personal name rather than their company name which was listed on the AWI shareholder registry. At least two signatories who had done this were subsequently validated as acceptable by AWI and Link, Mr Olsson said.

“That’s always been the case – we’ve had to work through every name with them and prove that they were wrong.

“We’ve had names knocked back and we’ve had to go in and prove that they were valid.”

He said Link Market Services did work for a lot of companies and if a name is not on their list, they knock it back.

“It is probably not AWI’s fault, it’s the system’s fault.”

Although Mr Olsson now maintains that more checking of names against companies registered on the AWI shareholder registry should have been done before Mr Story told him he had not met the signature requirement.

Mr Olsson is hoping to contest his third AWI election this year and said prospective candidates traditionally just collected more signatures when they had one knocked back by AWI and Link.

“But I’m saying there are many cases where names are put on nomination forms, rather than company names, and registered shareholders are not being recognised.

“It is really a problem with the whole voting system.”

Mr Olsson said if AWI and the Federal Government is serious about governance at AWI, the signature collection and validation process has to be opened up for investigation.

“I’m very happy to accept the outcome if I’m not there, but for anyone else standing, the fact you have to collect 150 signatures is insane.”

Mr Olsson also said all levy payers should be able to automatically vote in an AWI election.

“They are eligible for WoolPoll, they are already there.”

Mr Olsson also controversially was told by Mr Story last month that he could no longer collect signatures on a multiple candidate nomination form, as has been allowed in previous elections.

“They made it difficult for me to start with when they changed the rules.

“If that was allowed, I would be across the line now,” he said.

“This whole thing needs an investigation as to whether there has been interference in electoral processes.”

Mr Olsson is a director of the Australian Wool Growers Association which called for a Senate inquiry after he was told he could not apply supporting grower signatures to a multiple candidate ‘ticket’, despite the practice being initially approved by Mr Story and used in previous AWI elections.

The Ernst Young review of AWI’s performance and governance last year recommended the deletion of the rule in the AWI Constitution specifying board candidates obtain 100 eligible shareholder signatures required to seek nomination. The review also recommended that the constitution be amended so that any shareholder can nominate a person to be elected as director.

However, under a consensus agreement with AWI, peak grower body WoolProducers Australia agreed that the 100 shareholder signature requirement for board candidates not needing BNC approval would be retained for the 2019 annual general meeting. Individual shareholders without the signatures would have to go through the BNC process, but this would require constitutional change and go as a resolution to the 2019 AGM with board support, WPA president Ed Storey said in March this year.

AWI defends signature validation process

And AWI spokesperson said AWI has not been advised by Mr Olsson that he is contesting the validation process.

“The situation described is part of the standard shareholder validation process undertaken for AWI director candidate nominations each election year by our independent share registry services provider, Link Market Services.

“While the gathering of the more than 99 eligible shareholder signatures remains the responsibility of the candidate, AWI has had a policy of endeavouring to assist candidates equally by offering a service to validate nominations as they are collected,” the spokesperson said.

“AWI engages Link Market Services to carry out this work independently.

“In this process, every courtesy is offered to candidates and AWI works with each of them and Link Market Services to provide support in meeting the requirements of their nomination.”

The spokesperson said in Mr Olsson’s case, additional and ongoing support was provided to him which was over and above the support required or requested by other candidates.

“Link Market Services needs to be sure that every shareholder on a nomination form matches an actual shareholder on the AWI share register.

“Reasons for candidates receiving an initial “holding not found” response from Link may be as simple as the shareholder being listed on the register under a slightly different name, under a spouse’s name or under a property name or trading entity,’ the AWI spokesperson said.

“Candidates can use the information from Link to go back to the nominator to get further information that allows Link Market Services to match them to an eligible shareholder on the share register.

“Link Market Services assisted all candidates – with validation of their nominations up until the closing time to lodge a completed nomination which was 5pm (Sydney time) on Tuesday the 24th of September.”

The spokesperson said Mr Olsson was advised his nomination had not fulfilled the requirements of a completed nomination following the closure of the nomination period.


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