Internal war comes to a head at CBH meeting

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeCountryman
CBH will hold a special general meeting today.
Camera IconCBH will hold a special general meeting today. Credit: Cally Dupe

Australia’s biggest grain handler will mark a turning point in its corporate governance history when it holds a special general meeting today in an attempt to kick a director off its board.

Pingrup farmer Trevor Badger will speak during the meeting to make his case to farmers in a bid to sway those that have voted for a board motion put forward to remove him.

Mr Badger has vehemently defended allegations he breached confidentiality and has been fighting to retain his seat on the board.

If he speaks at the meeting, which Mr Badger has indicated he will do, the meeting will be adjourned to enable growers to change their vote.

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CBH has not revelled just how long the meeting could be adjourned for, but Countryman understands it could be anywhere from a few days to a week.

The 10am meeting, which will be held online due to COVID-19 restrictions, will be available for growers to stream online or through a teleconference phone number.

It is a historic, albeit turbulent, time for the board of a $4 billion company scrambling to restore its corporate governance after a topsy turvy few months.

It is the first time in CBH’s 87 year history its board has asked its members to vote on the future of a grower director, after Mr Badger refused to resign earlier this year.

While marking a historic point in CBH’s history, it also comes at an historic time for the world — as the company tries to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

CBH chair Simon Stead has described it as a “watershed moment” for the board, as it tries to and set a precedence for current and future directors.

Mr Stead plans to hold a question and answer session during the meeting.

He will be one of the 10 people physically in the room during the meeting, which has a 10-person physical attendance quota due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The timing of the meeting has raised eyebrows in some farming circles, as grain farmers approach the halfway point in their seeding programs — with Mr Badger believing it would is unlikely many farmers to actually pull up their tractors and tune in.

Restrictions on gatherings which mean only 10 people can be in the same room, so farmers potentially not tech-savvy or hard of hearing will not be able to physically attend.

The reasons for the meeting focus on a long-running dispute revolving around allegations of sexism and alleged corporate governance breaches.

Mr Badger has been accused of breaching board confidentiality, but he denies those claims.

The lead up to today’s meeting took a turn this week when WAFarmers issued an apology to Mr Badger after unauthorised emails and text messages supporting his ousting were sent to its members by one of its zone coordinators.

The email, obtained by Countryman, was written by CBH director and Bruce Rock farmer Kevin Fuchsbichler and originally sent to Lake King farmer Bob Iffla, who instructed the Corrigin-Lake Grace Zone secretary Sonia Tipton to forward it to contacts in the WAFarmers database.

WAFarmers, which considers itself apolitical in such matters, has previously declined to weigh into fierce debate over the future of the CBH board.

In the 240-word email, Mr Fuchsbichler, who was part of the three-person governance committee that investigated Mr Badger’s alleged breaches and subsequently asked him to resign, made various allegations, including that the board had “no option but to request his resignation”.

Mr Badger, who believes the email was “slanderous”, contacted WAFarmers after learning of the email and said it was an “abuse of WAFarmers process”.

WAFarmers president Rhys Turton, who farms at York, released a statement to media on Tuesday which labelled the broad distribution of the email as “inappropriate”.

“WAFarmers is disappointed that the organisation’s zone contacts have been used in this instance and it is unfortunate that our organisation has been caught up in a CBH dispute,” he said.

Mr Stead said the original the email was destined for Mr Fuchsbichler’s “personal contacts” only, and was not intended to be distributed more broadly.

Today’s meeting will start at 10am.

Mr Stead will chair the meeting, do housekeeping, and Mr Badger will be invited to speak to the resolution, before a question and answer session.

Questions can be asked in advance, through a form sent to growers, or they can ask through a text message system during the meeting.

The meeting will then be adjourned, allowing growers to change their vote, with the adjournment period to be set today.

For more information, including how to log in, visit the CBH website.

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