Pressure for transparency on AWI committee’s election picks

Terry Sim, October 16, 2019

AWI: no garment innovation focus.

PRESSURE is continuing on Australian Wool Innovation and its board nomination committee to release documents and information relating to a recommendation to re-elect former AWI chairman Wal Merriman and fellow director David Webster next month.

The AWI BNC recommendation to re-elect the two directors has been widely criticised this week and has prompted a call by peak grower group WoolProducers Australia for more transparency around the decision.

The two sitting directors were recommended for re-election along with two other candidates — Victorian producer Noel Henderson and New South Wales veterinarian Michelle Humphries.

Mr Webster has been on the board since 2008 and Mr Merriman has been a director since 2004 and chairman from 2008 to 2018, when he resigned after being at the centre of several industry controversies concerning his behaviour and AWI governance.

These included Mr Merriman covertly observing fellow breeders in a focus group behind a one-way mirror, swearing at an ABC reporter, appearances at several Senate Estimates hearings and questioning of his influence and independence in an EY review of AWI’s performance and governance.

Dr Mary Corbett this week defended the BNC’s recommendations as independent and non-binding to Australian Wool Innovation shareholders.

The government-appointed BNC chair said deliberations of the independent and expanded BNC for this year’s round of AWI board nominations were moulded by recommendation 1.12.3 in the Ernst & Young 2018 Review of Performance (ROP).

“In assessing each candidate, the BNC considered the required skill set identified in the Statutory Funding Agreement.

“Additionally, each candidate was discretely assessed with consideration to the gaps which would ensue with the three members retiring, the diversity of skills, gender, geographic location, the experience and knowledge of the wool industry and of the organisation, and their likely contribution to the board,” she said.

“Of importance to note is the objective and prudent process the committee followed which included the use of a weighted evaluation matrix, which quantified each candidate interview and explored candidate’s particular skill set, their motivation for applying to be on the board of AWI, their knowledge of the industry, the company and the company’s strategic plan, as well as their understanding of corporate governance.

“The BNC report has been accepted by the AWI board in its entirety and as previously indicated by AWI, the BNC’s full recommendations will be provided with the Notice of Meeting, which will be sent to AWI shareholders from October 21 ahead of the company’s AGM.”

An AWI spokesperson said the BNC’s report named four director candidates it believed have the optimal skills and experience to serve on the board of the company.

“The BNC is confident that the nominees recommended, individually and collectively, will provide the appropriate and necessary balance of skills required by the AWI board.

“The BNC also considers the nominations will deliver to the board a diverse composition of experience and outlook to enable the company to fulfil its responsibilities to shareholders and stakeholders and deliver the outcomes of the 2021 Strategic Plan.”

Dr Corbett has declined to answer further questions about the BNC process, including Sheep Central requests to:

– outline the skills gaps that the BNC thought would ensue with the three directors retiring

– release the weighted evaluation matrix and how each director candidate fared on that system. Especially how the four recommended candidates rated for motivation, knowledge of the industry, company and strategic plan, and understanding of corporate governance.

– disclose who devised the weighted evaluation matrix and provided it to the BNC.

– disclose whether the research and development skills of the director candidates were assessed and which of the four recommended candidates is regarded by the BNC as having skills in these areas.

– disclose why the BNC apparently ignored the various recommendations of the EY Review in regard to corporate governance, director independence and conflict of interest, and the former chairman’s prior BNC and election influence, and industry behaviour highlighted in several Senate Estimates hearings.

– disclose whether the report on the assessment of director’s independence was used by the BNC in its determinations

– disclose whether the BNC rated the candidates on their company and governance values and ethics.

More transparency needed – WoolProducers

WoolProducers Australia president Ed Storey said the geographical location of board candidates is “completely irrelevant and should not have been a consideration.”

“If gender was considered, how did they effect that, they have failed to meet gender diversity as a key criteria — explain that,” he said.

Mr Storey believed the weighted evaluation matrix needed to be released by AWI.

“Because it is very unusual for the ex-chairs to remain on boards for length periods of time and to explain the reason behind it, the BNC needs to be more open and transparent to justify it.

“And that requires commentary from the chair of the BNC, not AWI.”

WPA chief executive officer Jo Hall said she believed the four recommended candidates lacked the research and development skills needed by the board, while production skills was over-represented.

“Without the full knowledge of how they weighted skills in considering each of the candidates, a glaring omission seems to be research under the required skills matrix.”

“Where is the researcher on the research and development corporation board?”

WoolProducers is also still seeking the release of the report assessing each AWI director’s independence.

WAFarmers supports WoolProducers

WAFarmers said the function of the BNC was intended to incorporate recommendations following the Ernst Young (EY) Review and today supported WPA in questioning the independence of the BNC from AWI oversight.

WAFarmers wool spokesman Steve McGuire said the transparency that was expected in the BNC process did not appear to eventuate.

“As levy payers, we consider the implementation of the EY report a failed process as it appears AWI has effectively rejected the key recommendations of the review.

“We now await the federal agricultural minister’s response to this rejection of her and her predecessor’s, along with wool industry groups attempts to improve AWI board governance,” he said.

“The EY report recommended limiting board tenure to 10 years to encourage renewal, yet the BNC has recommended one candidate who has a current tenure of 16 years and the other with a current tenure of 10 years.

“With these candidates both up for board re-election, I find it hard to believe how they intend to address the required governance and cultural change AWI levy payers are expecting from their RDC,” Mr McGuire said.

“AWI needs to realise that many levy payers are continually dissatisfied by the lack of transparency and this needs to be addressed.

“It appears that a select few continue to pull the strings, and levy payers are continuing to question the process,” he said.


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  1. David Everist, October 16, 2019

    What a load of rot. Pressure for transparency on AWI committee’s election picks…. The commercial wool growers and even stud breeders I speak to do not care less. The headline is an absolute beat up. No wonder so many levy payers do not vote — they are sick and tired of the agri-politics and biased reporting. Just who is the pressure coming from? Oh yes a telephone box full of vested personal interests.

    • Jack Cleary, October 18, 2019

      I knew nothing particularly of David Everist until reading his response here. I reviewed the Senate inquiry. Why he would want payment for asking a question, or take it if offered? If that was the case, it is discrediting of a person amongst a group claiming to operate ‘in the public interest’. What’s so special about David Everist anyway, rhat anyone should give a toss about him or his questions? A question is a question no matter whence. That said, his response here is pretty eye-brow raising. He states vaguely about people whom he claims don’t care, are ‘sick of the agri-politics etc…and coming from a ‘telephone box full etc. Well then if David ‘did’ ask some question as in the Senate inquiry …was that not an attempt to bias? Who asked him to do it and by him in taking it up? I’m not him, far from it; however, I see emotional ‘rant’ in a case where he could be specific. David, I ask, would you be more specific about how you see the AWI and why? My intuitive is that well-qualified academics with a wealth of experience, but dedicated to the growers and graziers, not ‘organisations,’ ought to be sought out by rank and file and elected into board and CEO positions. What do others think?

    • Donald Cameron, October 17, 2019

      Last time AWI got the wobbles they had an inquiry…

      from The Senate 2004 Inquiry into AWI

      “4.64 The SFA prohibits use of the funds for ‘agri-political activity’ David Everist”

      “4.65 AWI paid David Everist, a freelance journalist, $638 to ask questions of Mr McLachlan (a WoolProducers candidate) at a Rural Press Club luncheon on 18 October 2002.”

      “In evidence Mr Dorber at first denied, but later admitted, that he had suggested particular questions.”

      One wonders what the next inquiry will bring to the light of day..

      • Jack Cleary, October 18, 2019

        Donald, would it be preferable that Senate inquiries on agriculture are never needed?

  2. Jack Cleary, October 16, 2019

    The kindest thing I can say is that just because one disapproves of a person’s behaviour, that the person cannot still well serve the dissenters. That said, bullies who curry favour, pulling strings, looking after power brokers, might be the types one sees at the head of so many organisations, including Australian parliaments and US presidencies to mention but two. Bullies abound throughout Asia and Africa and so many others. It’s an art. ALPA’s very peculiar, yet apparently adulated hierarchy and its forelock-tugging board, are a prime example. Look around you, agricultural people can be really difficult and two-faced I recall discussing ALPA and some events with the manager of one of the largest saleyards in Australia. The manager said ‘what you must always bear in mind(Jack) …is that stock and station agents are as a rule, very strange people with very strange ideas. In a business such as agribusiness, where strongly competing forces are at work and where duplicity abounds, I have seen it in the saleyards and elsewhere. Where people tolerate cruelty, but claim they don’t. A great variety of arguments and a great difficulty to truly be good people, demanding virtuous leadership and the transparency the AWI is denying levy payers, and others, you must lay down the law…or form a completely new and very competent organisation which absolutely rejects the behaviour you criticise.

    Mori wrote a book “In the Company of Cowards”, every much including John Howard. Could such a book be written about the complainers here…who just complain but do not act?

    Best of luck….I hope you make the bells ring fellers.

    Power -exercising and selective promotion is pretty well every-where… local church…local school…local members…our families. Those who dissent and see Merriman and anyone else as noxious or unsuited must call a general meeting under the ‘rules’ of the organisation and take steps to vote-out the problem or the entire Board. Meanwhile you have the work to do to find really ‘with it’ people to replace them…not just some noisy dissenter ‘leader’. Leadership is a lot more than making a lot of noise and gathering supporters…virtuous people Plato and Socrates argued should be forced to be leaders…there’s a lot to be said for that even in our disintegrating Australian ways culture and memories.

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