WOOL growers have started a campaign to assess the magnitude of unreceived Australian Wool Innovation pre-election voting papers and implement a full election audit.
Before the close of the AWI director ballot last week, growers from five states had complained their voting papers had arrived late or not at all and the AWI board at its 2017 annual general meeting on Friday said it would review the mail-out by share registry Link Market Services.
Sheep Central has been told supporters of ousted AWI director Paul Cocking are driving the search and tallying of voting intentions of shareholders who were unable to vote in last week’s election, before considering a legal challenge to the poll result.
The disappointed former AWI board member was the only re-standing director not to have the support of the AWI board and chairman Wal Merriman, but has been replaced by running mate, broker Don Macdonald. Re-standing AWI directors James Morgan and Colette Garnsey were re-elected.
The final vote tallies were Colette Garnsey 205,584 votes, Don Macdonald 136,384 votes, James Morgan 135,892 votes, Paul Cocking 128,608 votes and Will Wilson 74,308 votes. After the election, Mr Merriman was re-appointed by the board as its chairman.
AWI election did not have integrity
Australian Wool Growers Association president Robert McBride said with AWI shareholders in five states not receiving voting papers or getting them late the election did not have integrity.
“We need transparency and integrity – they are the two cornerstones of our industry.”
“We do need to get a full audit of all voting papers, who got to vote and who didn’t, and also how many proxies Wal Merriman got.”
Mr Merriman created outrage among growers when Sheep Central disclosed he was able to get voting progress reports from Link Market Services, and he told a Senate hearing he could hold up to half the potential votes in an AWI director election as proxies from wool grower shareholders.
Mr McBride supported any efforts by wool grower bodies and the state farming organisations to assess the number of votes unable to be cast in the election.
“We’ve also got to put pressure on Wal, to say ‘Ok, full and fair disclosure, how many shares di you have this time and where did you distribute those preferences.”
He said all directors should also have to disclose where they directed any proxies they held.
With James Morgan regaining his board seat by just 7284 votes, Mr McBride said any swing away from the board status quo — as recommended by the AWI board selection committee — might be reflected in the proxies and the voting intentions of those who didn’t received their papers.
“If that swing continued with those people who didn’t received their paperwork then maybe Paul Cocking should be on the AWI board.”
Cocking believes undirected proxies put him off the board
Mr Cocking believed he had polled strongly enough – in the top three direct vote receivers — to deserve a board seat.
“I believe that it was only undirected proxies that put me off the board.”
One of my biggest concerns about the whole election is how the chairman followed the voting throughout the process, used undirected proxies and did not declare where they were directed.
“It goes right against one of the Senators main concerns and this may put AWI under further audit pressure and jeopardise the matching R&D arrangement with the Federal Government.
“I still have a real passion for the industry and would hate to see anything negative happen to AWI and its funding.”
Mr Cocking believes there needs to be an examination of how many voting paper packs were not received by shareholders, how many votes they amounted to and what were the shareholdings’ voting intentions.
Mr Cocking said he was grateful for the support of wool growers in the election and from staff at the AGM and appreciated the passion the AWI workers had for the industry.
“I feel sorry they have been caught up in all of this.”
Problem is with Australia Post – Merriman
At the annual general meeting, WoolProducers Australian president Richard Halliday queried whether there would be a review of the voting pack mail-out and if growers would be informed of its findings.
AWI chairman Wal Merriman said he had heard the concerns.
“I’m particularly concerned on our board James Morgan didn’t get his for two weeks or if he even got it after two weeks.”
Mr Merriman said AWI’s share registry Link Market Services had assured the board that “everything went out on time”.
“It seems to be a problem in the post (Australia Post).
“I would suggest there would be problems with anyone on an email list with some change in the email – it’s only got to be a number that doesn’t compute,” he said.
“I think a lot of people think they are members (registered shareholders) of the company and haven’t gone and obtained membership, even though every year there is a letter sent to them.
“There will be a lot of factors in this.”
Mr Merriman said it was mooted yesterday that a board committee be established to consult with Link Market Services to try to get a better system for next time.
AWI chief executive officer Stuart McCullough urged shareholders to contact AWI if they heard of any cases of unreceived voting packs.
Mr Morgan later said his voting papers for his South Australian property Olary didn’t arrive and there were a lot of cases in New South Wales.
“It’s a problem.
“This has got to be an Australia Post issue, because Link have said they have sent them all out,” he said.
Australia Post told Sheep Central they would look into the mail-out issue.