WOOLPRODUCERS Australia has again questioned the independence of Australian Wool Innovation’s board nomination committee and process as the peak grower body named its preferred candidates in the 2023 AWI election.
The WPA board has recommended growers consider voting for former WPA president and New South Wales grower Edward Storey, former WPA director and Western Australian grower Steve McGuire and South Australian stud Merino breeder and grower George Millington.
WoolProducers president Steve Harrison has said WoolProducers considered the three candidates will complement the existing skill set on the current AWI board.
AWI’s board nomination committee, that includes two retiring board members – David Webster from Western Australia and James Morgan from South Australia — last week recommended Mr Millington, WA grower and Merino breeder Neil Jackson and AgriDigital chief executive officer Emma Weston to shareholders.
The AWI board has resolved that open proxies directed to the AWI chair will be voted in favour of Mr Millington, Mr Jackson and Ms Weston.
Mr McGuire and Mr Storey did not receive the recommendation of the BNC nor of the AWI board, and were accorded abbreviated descriptions in the BNC media release circulated this week.
BNC process is not independent – WPA
WPA chief executive officer Jo Hall said the AWI BNC is not independent and the process is “a stacked deck from the word go.”
“Concerns over the composition of this BNC were raised at the Wool Industry Consultative Panel earlier this year with some groups pointing out that the inclusion of two outgoing directors was not in line with good governance practice as those directors would be backwards facing rather than future facing, nor would they be able to critically assess any skills gaps that existed on the board with their departure,” she said.
“While WoolProducers called for the implementation of an independent BNC given politicking of previous iterations and this was a key recommendation from the 2018 Independent Review of Performance of AWI; however, the composition of the BNC now as compared to how it was stipulated in the ROP report are very different and does not lend itself to being independent.”
Ms Hall said the independence of AWI’s BNC could be improved.
“It’s very hard for the BNC to be deemed independent when AWI appoint two candidates to work with the WICP appointed candidate to select the international search firm, it’s a stacked deck from the word go.”
Ms Hall said the disparity between the lengths of the candidate bios and the opportunity to highlight their personal credentials is obvious.
Responses sought on key issues
WoolProducers sought responses from the election candidates on key industry issues, including governance, RD&M priorities, stakeholder engagement, collaboration with WoolProducers and industry opportunities and threats, to gain an understanding of the candidate’s views on these important issues, Mr Harrison said.
In considering the suitability of candidates, WoolProducers said it also took a principled and merit-based approach to this decision, with consideration given to industry and supply-chain knowledge, corporate governance and business acumen skills.
“With three vacancies to be filled, this year’s election provides an opportunity for board renewal and cultural change, which WoolProducers believes is still needed,” Mr Harrison said.
“We are pleased to see this opportunity for board renewal to ensure that the AWI Board evolves to keep pace to take our industry forward whilst making our industry research and development corporation accountable and transparent.”
WoolProducers said it believes that its recommended candidates offer different perspectives and skills that will help position the industry into the future, including working towards whole of industry good outcomes.
Ms Hall said Mr Storey and Mr McGuire’s experience in the wool industry is quite vast and they have a track record of working in the interests of delivering whole of industry good outcomes; a key factor in the WoolProducers Board’s determination of backing these two candidates, along with George Millington who brings impressive business acumen skills.
“Mr Storey has not only been the WoolProducers President but was also a director of numerous other industry boards including AWEX, AWTA and the Sheep Sustainability Framework, coupled with his professional relationships and networks which would be second to none.
“While Mr McGuire’s experience as a director of many state and federal boards and committees across a vast range of industry issues also places him as a well-qualified director with many producer and post farmgate networks,” she said.
“In recent times Mr McGuire has been a tireless campaigner on behalf of growers to retain live sheep exports.
“By backing these candidates WoolProducers are recommending a change of board culture to deliver outcomes for all wool growers.”
WoolProducers calls for no undirected proxies
WoolProducers is also calling on all AWI shareholders to vote in this year’s director elections and not leave proxies undirected.
“This is your opportunity as a grower to vote for who you think will best serve the wool industry in the challenging and evolving environment that the industry is currently operating in, and it’s too important to leave to someone else to direct your vote”. Mr Harrison said.
AWI BNC chair Julie Cox had no comment to make on the committee’s independence, but an AWI spokesman said: “The majority of the BNC are independent members including the chairman, a nominee from the WICP and a representative from an executive recruitment firm.”
AWI will hold its 2019 Annual General Meeting at 10 am (AEDT) on Friday 17 November 2021 at the Swissotel Sydney 68 Market Street, Sydney, NSW 2000 and online. More details related to the election of directors, together with the nomination form, consent to nomination form and AWI’s rules and procedures governing the election of directors are available from AWI’s website at www.wool.com/agm.
AWI election ballot papers have been made available to registered shareholders. WoolProducers said any shareholder having difficulties during the voting process, including not receiving papers, should contact Link Marketing Services on 1800 113 373.