CBH growers vote “no” to changing its board structure

Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
CBH chair Simon Stead.
Camera IconCBH chair Simon Stead. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman, Cally Dupe Picture: Cally Dupe

Grain growers controlling Australia’s biggest co-operative have voted against improvements to its governance structure, which would have led to the biggest board shake-up in its 88-year history.

Co-operative Bulk Handling’s 3900 grain grower members were asked to vote at today’s annual general meeting on a suite of changes to its governance structure, which were recommended following a review last year that was triggered by a turbulent period of board infighting.

The proposed changes required a two thirds majority to pass.

It was recommended the board be reduced from 12 to 10 by eliminating four grower positions elected at a district level, and replacing them with two statewide grower-director roles. But members voted against changes to the board’s size and composition.

A recommendation to impose limits to tenure — meaning directors could still serve for nine years — was also rejected.

CBH chairman Simon Stead said successful co-operatives regularly reviewed and tested their governance structures and processes to ensure they were meeting the needs of their members.

“These were important proposals for our members to discuss and understand,” he said.

“The beauty of our collective ownership of the co-operative is that the final decision on the resolutions was with our members, and, on behalf of the board, we respect their views on these resolutions.”

Infighting and turbulence at CBH started last year with leaked information about a whistleblower complaint of alleged inappropriate language by former chairman Wally Newman, a Newdegate farmer.

That issue was followed by a highly publicised board rift over allegations former director, Pingrup farmer Trevor Badger, disclosed confidential information about the identity of the woman involved.

As a result, Mr Badger — who denied breaching confidentiality — was narrowly voted off the board by CBH members at a special general meeting in May, dividing CBH’s 3900 members who own and control the co-operative.

Other recommendations from the governance review — conducted by Churchill Consulting — did not require a vote at the AGM, and were introduced following extensive grower engagement.

These include a candidate assessment panel for member director elections, introduction of an electioneering code of conduct, and a requirement that all directors graduate from the Australian Institute of Company Directors course within their first term.

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