Pressure forces Newman to defend CBH

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
CBH chairman Wally Newman.
Camera IconCBH chairman Wally Newman. Credit: The West Australian

CBH chairman Wally Newman will use part of his address at the annual meeting today to defend the board after recent criticism of its ability to guide Australia’s biggest co-operative.

Mr Newman faces an acid test of his leadership at the meeting with CBH under pressure to respond to Australian Grains Champion and its GrainCorp-backed bid to corporatise the co-operative. His speech to members will cite recent investments in fertiliser sales, oats processing and accumulating grain in Russia as examples of the board’s progressive approach.

Mr Newman will touch on the best and the worst of the board over the past decade before concluding that it has the right mix of farming, strategic and commercial skill.

The board will convene in the hours before the meeting to discuss the AGC proposal and its response to growers.

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Some of the AGC leaders briefed about 100 farmers, consultants and other stakeholders on their plans at Perth Zoo yesterday while others were in Canberra to lobby politicians.

AGC encouraged supporters of its plan, which promises growers a cash windfall and shares in a listed company controlling WA’s grain supply chain and other CBH assets, to spread the word in the Wheatbelt.

The private company, formed by former CBH directors Clancy Michael and Samantha Tough with prominent growers as shareholders, is pressing CBH to sign a process agreement by March 18. The agreement sets out a timetable to put the AGC proposal to a grower vote by October. A 75 per cent majority is needed for it to succeed.

AGC has warned that it could call an extraordinary general meeting if CBH does not commit by March 18. It would need the support of 10 per cent of CBH’s 4145 members to call the meeting aimed at forcing a vote.

Other options being considered by AGC include a protest outside CBH headquarters and withdrawing its proposal.

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