MIL board bust-up
A furore has erupted over a letter sent to Murray Irrigation Ltd shareholders from the company’s Board which is trying to influence the current election.
The letter, signed by three members of the seven-member Board, says the Board does not endorse James Sides’ candidature for the company’s Board of Directors.
However, fellow director Chris Brooks has come out strongly supporting Mr Sides and two other candidates seeking a seat on the Board, effectively snubbing the chairman Bruce Simpson and fellow director Tim McKindlay.
Mr Brooks says in a letter to the Pastoral Times: ‘‘I want it known that I am not at all in support of this statement (from the Board), and do not support what I believe to be a flawed process, or in my opinion a breach of confidentiality and unity of a board of management’’.
The controversial decision and subsequent letter, which is signed by MIL deputy chairman Ben Barlow, is unprecedented at the company.
Mr Sides is one of three sitting board members seeking reelection, and one of five candidates in total.
The MIL letter says, ‘‘The Board declined to endorse the candidature of Mr Sides whose conduct, in the Board’s view, has failed to meet the minimum requirements of a Director of the Company. The Board is constrained from commenting further on Mr Sides’ performance’’.
The letter lists current chairman Bruce Simpson and director Tim McKindlay as its ‘‘endorsed candidates’’, and says it has welcomed the candidature of first-time candidates Waander van Beek and Phillip Snowden.
Speaking to the Pastoral Times on Wednesday, Mr Sides said he was not interested in engaging in the motives of the letter ‘‘that was distributed by some members of the Murray Irrigation Board’’.
‘‘My interest in Murray Irrigation Ltd is serving the shareholders of a business whose job and purpose is delivering consumptive water to the farmgate of our irrigator shareholders,’’ he said.
‘‘I believe as a grassroots director that I can provide a vital and transparent conduit on behalf of the shareholders of Murray Irrigation to the MIL board room and I now seek endorsement from the MIL shareholders in what should be a democratic election process.
‘‘I endorse and support a democratic election process and trust that the shareholders of MIL will vote according to their own convictions and elect three directors who will best suit the future of the company and most importantly support the shareholders and beneficiaries of such and the communities that rely on a productive and vibrant irrigation community.’’
Mr Sides said he did not want to make any further comment on the matter.
In a media statement authorised by Murray Irrigation executive manager corporate affairs Pete Smith, the company said it had chosen to endorse only Mr Simpson and Mr McKindlay.
‘‘In setting its governance practices the board is guided by the Australian Securities Exchange Corporate Governance Guidelines which recommends that a board disclose whether it supports the reelection of a director,’’ the statement read.
‘‘The Board did not endorse the re-election of Mr Sides because directors did not believe his conduct met the minimum requirements of a director of the company.
‘‘The Board took the decision after reviewing the findings of both an internal assessment of performance and an external review of governance.
‘‘Directors subject to re-election abstained from discussing or voting on the matter.’’
In his letter published in today’s Pastoral Times, Mr Brooks said he was not present at the meeting when the decision against Mr Sides was made.
‘‘Furthermore, because of this unacceptable attempt to distort the democratic election process, I am happy to throw my full support behind the re-election of James Sides and the two new candidates, Waander van Beek and Phil Snowden.’’
Mr Smith said while he could not comment on specific reasons as to why Mr Sides was not endorsed, he said ‘‘the company’s core business cannot be distracted by the dynamics and tensions of the Board’’.
‘‘There are currently director elections underway, and it is critical that our shareholders participate in the process and make an informed decision,’’ he said.
‘‘This company exists for one critical reason — to deliver water on time, in full and at a price that won’t send the company broke.
‘‘It is not unreasonable to suggest that there are people who target the company as a surrogate for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the Murray Darling Basin Authority.
‘‘The company must put its customers first and foremost and operate with the hand it is dealt.
‘‘We’re not a political activist body — we’re a water delivery company and rather than be distracted by policy and politics, it’s likely that 95 per cent of our customers want us to focus on that critical task.
‘‘You get the sense that there are some people who would rather grind their teeth at night and chew gravel than see the company excel and perform well to the benefit of our farmers.’’
Ballots for the MIL election must be returned by 5pm on October 24. Those elected to the MIL board will start their term from the conclusion of the AGM, to be held November 16.