Wool growing heavyweights, TA Field Estates and Paraway Pastoral, will make their presence felt at this year’s Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) annual general meeting in Sydney.
The duo will have representatives attend the AGM in person to cast their votes.
Their intentions will throw up a serious challenge for the status quo of the AWI board given these big players represent an estimated 10,000 votes.
TA Field alone has about 3000 votes at its disposal, and while chairman Wal Merriman’s position is not open for replacement this year, Michael Field, of TA Field Estates, has indicated he will use his vote to encourage the board to select a new chairman.
He is unhappy about the lack of disclosure around how proxy votes have been directed – an issue also at the heart of the recent senate inquiry into AWI’s governance.
“Knowing Mr Merriman isn’t coming up for election until 2019, I’d recommend the board vote for a new chairman,” Mr Field said.
“There is so much pressure on not only the chairman, but the whole board to smarten their act up.”
Overthrowing the current chairman could only be achieved if the majority of the newly elected board did not support the resolution to appoint the chairman at the first board meeting.
There is so much pressure on not only the chairman, but the whole board to smarten their act up
In the 2011, Mr Merriman disclosed his voting intentions for undirected proxies in the notice of annual general meeting report, which former company secretary Sally Holmes wrote was “in the interests of transparency”.
Despite the recent shareholder unease, AWI failed to report the casting direction of proxy votes at this week’s election.
In the last contested election in 2013, only 18.6 per cent of the 1.1 million eligible votes were cast, with proxies tallying 98.8pc of votes received.
AWI received more than $60 million in woolgrower levy funds last financial year and $14.7m in federal government funding.
The industry group has lost 20 per cent of shareholder levy payers since 2010, falling from 29,347 in June, 2010, to 23,463 last financial year.
This news worried Mr Field, who said the declining volume needed “new blood” to reinvigorate supply.
Further protests have come from A.J. and P.A. McBride director, Robert McBride, who holds 4355 votes, and is also campaigning for a leadership spill. His favourite for the chair position is director Meredith Shiel.
“We’re looking for change in the sense that it is time for Mr Merriman to stand down,” Mr McBride said.
“Wal has burnt too many bridges across Australia, there is no way back from that.”
Mr McBride, also the chairman of Australian Woolgrowers Association, said it was hoped the election of Don Macdonald, Macdonald Woolbrokers, and incumbent board member Paul Cocking, would trigger a directors coup.
In response, Mr Merriman said his role was “up to the shareholders” and that he was “buoyed by support” from woolgrowers.
Despite recent media, Dr Shiel said the current board was of high skill and integrity, acting at all times with the best interest of the industry and was highly functional.
“The role requires great personal commitment, time and dedication, a deep connection with and understanding of all facets of the industry, as well as enormous personal resilience and strong majority based grower support.
“The current chairman has these essential qualities in spades.”
Dr Shiel credited the industry’s “remarkable turn-around” in fortune to difficult decisions made by the board.
“Neither has it been without errors and mis-steps, which AWI’s woolgrower shareholders and stakeholders are never backward in coming forward to raise with us,” she said.
“We look to address these wherever we are able, clearly all current issues and criticisms included.
“The matters AWI confronts inspire debate and so they should. Shareholders have every right to demand the best from the board and the company.”