Research and Development

AWI voting delays as election letters prompt war of words

Terry Sim, November 10, 2021

POSTAL delays have led to some wool growers not yet receiving ballot papers for the 2021 Australian Wool Innovation director elections, with proxy voting due to close in a week’s time.

AWI shareholders have been encouraged to use their shareholder reference number or SRN to vote online before proxy voting closes at 10am AEDT Wednesday 17th November, 48 hours before the AWI annual general meeting on 19 November.

However, there are concerns that the delayed AWI paper postal deliveries and the more complicated online voting process might lead to some growers not voting in the election.

The AWI voting paper issues have arisen as a war of words erupted around a letter to the editor by former AWI chairman Wal Merriman, who is concerned at the impact of board changes if new candidates are elected.

WA grower is concerned about complexity of online voting

Western Australian grower Sam Higham said today he had not received his AWI AGM voting papers, although the WoolPoll ballot papers arrived in plenty of time for them to be completed and returned by mail.

Mr Higham said he will be looking at using the online option to vote to in the director election and on resolutions to limit director tenure to 10 years and the board size to seven directors.

“But a lot of growers around me are of a different generation and have been in the game for a longer time, and they just might not get the opportunity to cast a vote if we don’t receive anything soon.

“It’s a bit of concern.”

Mr Higham said the election is “very critical”.

“I think the WoolPoll process was very smooth, everything was quite timely in that the paperwork, the voting sheets were sent out with plewnty of time to return them.

“I just think if they followed that same process with the director voting for the AGM… they’ve got a pretty good blueprint there with the WoolPoll,” he said.

“I just feel that if they followed the blueprint that they had with the WoolPoll, I don’t think there would be any issues.”

AWI late last week issued advice that time is running out to vote in the upcoming AGM and it encouraged all shareholders to participate either by voting with the form mailed to shareholders last month or via lodging a proxy online.

To do this, AWI said eligible shareholders should follow these steps –

  • Go to the share registry website at www.linkmarketservices.com.au
  • Then go to Shareholder log in
  • Select Single Holding and complete the details requested. The issuer is AWI.
  • Shareholders will need their Security Reference Number (SRN). This is the 11 digit number commencing i400 which appears on all personalised correspondence from AWI.
  • Then select the voting option.

If shareholders have any difficulties, they can contact AWI on (02) 8295 3100 for further assistance.

Peak wool grower body, WoolProducers Australia also this week urged shareholders who have not voted in this year’s director election to get online and have their say.

WoolProducers said it is continuing to field complaints that AGM papers have not been received by growers in a number of states.

WoolProducers president Ed Storey said it is also worthwhile growers checking their emails as they may be receiving their papers electronically. Shareholders were sent their AGM papers on 12 October.

“It really is important that shareholders take the time to vote in this important election, even if that does require picking up the phone to receive your SRN, as this is your opportunity to have your say in the future direction of AWI.”

AWI has said “who shareholders choose to appoint as a proxy is entirely a matter for them”, but WoolProducers reminded growers not to leave their proxies undirected.

The grower body is recommending shareholders consider voting for three of the following candidates, current AWI chairman Jock Laurie, current director Don Macdonald, retail executive Georgia Hack, wool exporter Steven Read or NSW grower Michael Field. The other candidates in the election are NSW grower Chick Olsson and South Australian grower Sydney Lawrie.

Think before you vote – Merriman

In a letter to Farmonline on 4 November, former AWI chairman Wal Merriman referred to the “expensive and slick” campaign of the Read/Field/Macdonald ticket to gain seats on the AWI board.

“This ticket will not only deliver unparalleled power to the brokers and early stage processors (who pay no levies), but it also instructs shareholders to vote against marketing candidate Georgia Hack and the experienced chairman Jock Laurie.

“This would leave us with no experience in the chair and no marketing oversight, causing a lack of gender, knowledge and independent diversity on the board,” he wrote.

“This group have also brought the ‘against’ vote into play, which now means you must vote against those you do not want so to protect your ‘for’ vote.

“Think carefully or we could end up with a broker and processor controlled board,” Mr Merriman warned.

Mr Merriman had the support of AWI candidate Chick Olsson, who also released a statement lamenting the Read/Field/Macdonald ticket’s recommendation for growers to use the ‘No’ vote option on the AWI proxy form.

“I have no concerns if people want to recommend a NO vote against my Pro Mulesing stance, as my candidacy is highly controversial. I understand this and accept this gladly,” Mr Olsson said.

“However, for a proxy form to be mailed out clearly indicating people to vote NO against new and young directors who have genuinely thrown their hat in the ring with good intentions, I find this pathetically distasteful and further diminishes the entire industry’s good will future successful potential.

“Our industry deserves much better and I now strongly and openly support Ms Georgia Hack and Mr Sid Lawrie, two wonderful and aspiring candidates, to whom I shall be giving any proxies I am given, and wish to send them my sincere congratulations for having a go.”

NSW breeder and grower defend AWI candidates

Mr Merriman’s comments also prompted an answering letter to the editor from NSW Merino breeder Chad Taylor Chad Taylor, who wrote that the Field/Read/Macdonald ticket “strikes me more as modern and professional, a true reflection of our candidates’ quality.”

“To suggest these candidates are somehow less suitable for this position due to their profession is simply misleading.

“The combined skills of this trio cover not only wool growing, on a significant scale (which means wool levy’s), but also a thorough understanding, & connection to, not just early stage processing but all stages right through to our customer,” Mr Taylor wrote.

“They bring an extensive & proven record of corporate governance & a desperately needed contemporary vision for our industry.

“The hallmarks of previous boards saw growers vote to reduce the grower levy by 25%, with a further reduction still on the cards,” he said.

“Could any less confidence be shown?! Field, Read & Macdonald are our chance to restore some confidence in our peak body, to re-engage with Sheep Genetics & encourage a science based industry that growers want to contribute to,” Mr Taylor said.

“We can no longer pretend that science has nothing new to teach young growers about breeding better sheep.

If Mr Merriman & I can finally agree on one thing it’s that growers certainly must think before we vote.”

Fellow NSW grower, David Greig at Tottenham, wrote that “unlike the negative sentiment expressed in Mr Merriman’s letter, I am excited for change!”

“Excited to have candidates running for the board of AWI with such diverse interests in the wool industry.

“Excited that we have the likes of Messrs Field, Read and Macdonald with which to entrust our vote,” he said in a letter to Sheep Central.

“As sheep producers we are evolving.

“We’re willing to meet the challenges that lie ahead, and adapt our business to meet the requests of our customer, or changes in our environment,” he said.

“Our R&D Corporation too, must change to keep pace with an evolving wool industry.

“Positive, progressive candidates like Field, Read and Macdonald have all had hands on experience in meeting the challenges of running a business that has evolved to meet a changing climate,” Mr Greig said.

“Couple this with their many years of directorial experience and I see welcome change coming for the AWI board.

“So when faced with the option of extinction or evolution, I encourage all modern Merino breeders to think before you vote.”

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Comments

  1. Don Mudford, November 10, 2021

    The wool industry needs to mature and realise the world has moved on, some time ago. Consumers are demanding not only that wool come from non-mulesed sheep, but also that lambs for meat production are not mulesed.
    Australia will lose big time if the wool industry doesn’t rid itself of the shackles of past practices. Think carefully before voting in this very important wool industry election. It also affects our lamb enterprises and that’s where the larger share of commercial growers’ income is derived.

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