MIL board bust-up

Deniliquin Pastoral Times - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

Ben Bar­low.

James Sides.

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