Transparency concern ahead of AWI board election

Headshot of Bob Garnant
Bob GarnantCountryman
Kojonup sheep producer and woolgrower Steve McGuire.
Camera IconKojonup sheep producer and woolgrower Steve McGuire. Credit: Bob Garnant

Concerns have been raised about the transparency and independence of Australian Wool Innovation’s board nomination committee and its approach to screening board candidates.

WAFarmers vice-president and wool spokesman Steve McGuire said AWI’s board nomination committee was incorporating recommendations from a government-ordered review of performance for AWI, which mandated a 10-year cap on director’s board tenure.

Ernst & Young wrapped up a lengthy review of AWI’s performance and governance last year after being ordered to complete the review by then-Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.

It made 82 recommendations for change, including a 10-year cap on board tenure and improving the independence of the committee that selected preferred director candidates.

Australian woolgrowers will take to the polls in November to vote in three AWI directors, with eight candidates nominating.

The AWI board this month recommended four candidates for three director positions — including former chairman Wal Merriman and WA-based David Webster.

The board has determined undirected proxy votes will be shared equally between three candidates, including Mr Merriman and Mr Webster, and new candidate Michelle Humphries.

Mr McGuire questioned the nomination committee’s recommendation of candidates. “The committee has recommended both incumbents, who have been board members for 15 years and 10 years respectively,” he said.

“It appears that a few continue to exercise control, and levy payers are continuing to question the process.”

WoolProducers Australia has also slammed the decision to endorse the former directors, with president Ed Storey alleging it lacked transparency.

Mr McGuire said AWI levy payers were expecting cultural change.

“AWI needs to realise that many levy payers are continually dissatisfied by the lack of transparency and this needs to be addressed,” he said.

“We will look to the Federal Agricultural Minister Bridget McKenzie’s response to whether the board nomination committee has delivered the E&Y recommendations.”

Countryman contacted the minster’s office, which said that the AWI was an independent company and the election of the board was a matter for AWI and its shareholders.

“I would encourage AWI shareholders who are wool levy payers to actively engage in exercising their shareholder rights and obligations to help shape the future of the company and ensure their expectations about due process are met,” Ms McKenzie said.

As part of AWI’s democratic process, all shareholders will have the opportunity to vote — either in person or by proxy — at the AGM, which is scheduled for November 22 in Sydney.

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