Endorsement for MLA as protest push fizzles

James Nason and Jon Condon, 15/11/2012

MLA chairman Rob Anderson addresses yesterday's MLA AGM in Fremantle.Meat & Livestock Australia received solid endorsements for its “back to basics” approach at yesterday’s Annual General Meeting in Fremantle, as a planned campaign to register a protest against industry structures by voting down board candidates fizzled out.

The AGM saw new candidates John McKillop and Christine Gilbertson elected to the Meat & Livestock Australia board and Greg Harper and Peter Trefort re-elected for another term.

The election results were:

• 79.98pc votes cast in favour of the election of Dr Greg Harper

• 73.55pc votes cast in favour of the election of Peter Trefort

• 67.45pc votes cast in favour of the election of Christine Gilbertson

• 72.41pc votes cast in favour of the election of John McKillop.

The degree of endorsement of directors was low, by historical standards, with no candidate reaching 80pc in favour of votes cast, suggesting there was some residual levy payer support for the protest vote movement.

In the case of Christine Gilbertson, who received a two-thirds majority, it was the lowest boardmember endorsement seen since the politically-charged election of former CCA president, John Wyld, about 15 years ago.
Ms Gilbertson is a member of the Gilbertson processing family which was prominent in southern meat processing during the 1980s and 90s. The family sold its processing interests in 1997, and has concentrated on land development since.

Despite the fact that Ms Gilbertson was nominated to the board because of her considerable financial management expertise, some processor-levy payers are known to have voted against her election, based on her family’s 15 year absence from the industry.    

As revealed on Beef Central yesterday a group of large-scale beef industry stakeholders had been soliciting support in recent weeks for a planned protest vote designed to draw attention to broader industry structural problems.

However the campaign failed to win the support of some of the largest shareholders, with Australian Agricultural Company chief executive David Farley confirming that despite being lobbied by ‘many people’ the company would not support the push.

“The problem is not with MLA,” Mr Farley told Beef Central ahead of yesterday’s AGM. “The problem is how Cattle Council of Australia is structured, and how grassroots producers are represented.”

“To use some form of protest vote at the AGM is not the right forum to get those messages across to government and industry.”

This year’s AGM again exposed the high degree of producer apathy evident towards the voting process. Of the 47,000 MLA members, just 3500 exercised their right to participate in the vote. However, that sits within the 7-12pc range commonly seen in shareholder participation in publicly listed companies.

Producers applied for full voting entitlements representing about 22 million votes, however only about nine million votes were cast, suggesting more than half did not take the trouble to exercise their vote entitlement.

The lack of any ‘controversial’ motions at this year’s AGM may have contributed to that result.  

The day of the AGM may have begun with knowledge of a planned protest vote, but it ended with several ringing endorsements for MLA and the “back to basics” approach its board has taken in the past 12 months.

Former Australian Lot Feeders Association president Kevin Roberts, well known for his capacity to deliver withering fire-and-brimstone broadsides, conceded he may have mellowed somewhat before volunteered a strong message of support to the current board.

“I would like to congratulate yourself chairman (Rob Anderson) and your CEO Scott (Hansen) on the difficult change that I think MLA has made in getting out of the political side of things and sticking to being a service provider,” Mr Roberts said from the floor.

“I think previous MLA boards inadvertently got tied up in politics… but for you and Scott and the rest of the board to take us back – it is sometimes easier to be out there and to stick with the rough-and-tumble than it is to come back and concentrate on what’s important .”

Large-scale Central Queensland cattleman Graeme Acton, who was believed to have been part of the group seeking to register a protest vote but declined to discuss the issue with media, also used the forum to publicly endorse the current MLA board’s approach.

“I’d just like to congratulate you, Rob, and Scott, on the changes that have been made in the last 12 months with the MLA. I believe you have refocused it and are truly acting as a service delivery board and keeping to your knitting,” he said during the AGM.

Fellow Central Queensland and Northern Territory producer Peter Hughes added to the sentiment: “I would like to endorse the positive comments that have come through today,” he told the AGM. “I think this is one of the most positive AGMs we’ve had because we can concentrate on moving forward.”

In his managing director’s address Scott Hansen reflected on 2011-12 as a year of major change for the service provider company, with several new Board members, senior staff appointments, a new managing director and chairman.

“This has given us a great opportunity as a company to take a fresh look at how we operate and to sharpen our focus to continue delivering results to stakeholders,” Mr Hansen said.

“We focused on our role creating opportunities across the cattle, sheep and goat supply chains by optimising the return on collective investment in marketing and R&D.”

Mr Hansen discussed the effect of the high $A on producer returns since the AGM was last held in WA in 2003.



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