Nicholl backs AWB objections

15 Jan, 2008 09:00 PM

WA’S only AWB board nominee Colin Nicholl has backed moves from the WAFarmers grains council and the Wheat Growers Association (WGA) to thwart the AWB’s plans to reform its constitution and normalise its share structure.

Mr Nicholl said the unanimous views expressed last week by the farm lobby groups — both of which he is a member of — urging growers to retain their existing control over the AWB Ltd, were justified and in wheat growers’ best interests.

The AWB is seeking shareholder approval to amend its constitution to change it from being a legislated wheat export monopoly to a more competitive player under the Federal Government’s wheat marketing policy due to be implemented for the next harvest.

The AWB’s proposed constitutional changes will be voted on at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on February 12 in Melbourne, needing approval from 75pc of shareholders.

The proposal includes reducing the board from 12 to seven members while cutting the number of A Class, or grower elected directors, from seven to two.

When the AGM notice was released a week ago, AWB Ltd chairman Brendan Stewart said the constitutional reforms would benefit both wheat growers and shareholders.

Mr Stewart said the AWB had worked hard to maximise returns for growers as manager of the single desk during the past 70 years and it aimed to be the best wheat exporter in the new environment.

“To be the best wheat exporter in the future, the AWB needs to keep up with the times and adapt its constitution and governance and operating structures to a more competitive wheat export market,” Mr Stewart said.

But Mr Nicholl, a staunch single desk supporter who nominated for the board of the AWB in December, did not agree.

He said his primary concern was to salvage or maintain a wheat marketing system that worked in the best interests of wheat growers.

He said the basic mechanics of this system were spelled out in the AWB’s constitution and he warned against making any changes.

“We can’t afford to have these items taken out of AWB’s constitution,” he said.

“I can’t see any advantages in wheat growers handing over control of the company to investors.

“I have yet to be shown the evidence that would compel me to vote for these changes.”

But the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) said attempts to block the AWB’s plans to normalise its share-structure were backward steps.

PGA grains policy director Slade Brockman said the PGA was not making any recommendations to its members on how to vote.

However, Mr Brockman said he was concerned by the actions of any groups which opposed the AWB’s constitutional reform, in light of the changes confronting the industry and the inevitable loss of the single desk under the Government’s reinvigorated wheat marketing policy.

“It is clear the agri-political stranglehold that groups like WAFF, NSWFarmers and the WGA have attempted to exercise over AWB, has played a significant part in the chaos in the industry in the past few years,” Mr Brockman said.

“Boards should be selected based on business skills and experience not because an agri-politician can say ‘single desk’ the most times.

“In an open, competitive wheat marketing environment, which will be in place in a few short months, the AWB’s dual class structure stands out as an anachronism justified only by those seeking to live in the past.”



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