Research and Development

Minister Littleproud bows out of Olsson-AWI election dispute

Terry Sim, December 2, 2020

Australian Wool Growers Association director Chick Olsson.

NEW South Wales wool grower Chick Olsson has been told federal Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud will not get involved in the grower’s dispute with Australian Wool Innovation over his 2019 election nomination.

But the wool grower has called out Mr Littleproud as being “respectfully wrong”, believing the Minister has overlooked what Mr Olsson believes has been ‘agri-political activity’ by AWI.

Mr Olsson recently wrote to Mr Littleproud seeking a Federal Government review of his rejected 2019 nomination for the AWI board elections.

The former AWI board member and current director of the Australian Wool Growers Association  last year had his nomination form rejected by AWI due to inadequate shareholder signatures, but he believes he was obstructed by the research, development and marketing body.

In a letter last month, Mr Littleproud told Mr Olsson it was disappointing to hear of “the frustrations your raise.”

“It is my expectation that the officeholders of AWI will exercise their powers and discharge their duties in compliance with the Corporations Act 2001.”

Mr Littlproud said AWI is a corporate entity that operates independently of government and is accountable to its shareholders through its constitution under the Act.

“There are no powers afforded to me as Minister, under legislation or in AWI’s funding agreement with the Commonwealth, that would allow me to resolve or otherwise become involves in a dispute between AWI and other parties.”

Mr Littleproud suggested Mr Olsson may wish to contact the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, the agency responsible for administering the Corporations Act 2001 – “for information and guidance.”

The Minister also said the Australian Government is also not able to provide Mr Olsson with legal advice and he may wish to seek professional legal advice.

Mr Olsson feels he was obstructed in standing due to his large base of wool grower support and a previously joint nomination ticket, initially allowed by AWI company secretary Jim Story and then disallowed. AWI. He believes he had 99 verified signatures of the 100 required but had his nomination prematurely rejected without verification of further shareholders among the 134 who had supported his candidature.

However, Mr Story has said Mr Olsson did not supply all the information required under the company’s Rules and Procedures, including the full name and address of at least 100 nominating shareholders as they appear in the register of shareholders to AWI by the deadline of 5pm on 24 September 2019.

Olsson cites ‘agri-political activity’

Mr Olsson today disputed Mr Littleproud’s position, claiming he could act on the election nomination dispute, because the government’s statutory funding agreement with AWI precluded ‘agri-political activity.’

Mr Olsson believes his treatment by AWI during the 2019 election candidate nomination constituted ‘agri-political activity’ as specified in the SFA.

The past and current SFA states that AWI must not engage in agri-political activity, which is defined “as activities that involve engaging in, or financing with levy funds or matching payments, any form of external or internal political influencing.” The SFA also stipulates that the Commonwealth “may issue a notice requiring AWI to take action to address agri-political activities.”

“I would question whether this judgment came from the Minister or from someone in the department,” Mr Olsson said.

“I’m very interested as to why the Minister is not interested in this, because it goes to the heart of all AWI’s problems.”

On the suggestion to approach ASIC, Mr Olsson said AWI is not a public company in any sense.

“There are no shares, no shareholders, there are just levy entitlements.

“They’ve completely misread what AWI is, it does not fall under ASIC,” he said.

“It’s a government-instituted levy body – it’s actually a government company.

“I should be able to sell my share if I am not happy,” he said.

“And if I don’t pay levies for more than three years, I lose all my entitlements.”

Mr Olsson said Mr Story changing his mind twice on the issue of Mr Olsson running a joint nomination ticket with other candidates constituted “political influencing.”

“Was it his opinion, or was he influenced by the board?”

Mr Olsson said he would be asking members of the Senate to look at the issue in AWI Senate Estimates next year.

“It requires Senate scrutiny now.”

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