The Cairns Post

Virtual AGMs dumped


AUSTRALIA’S biggest companies are abandoning virtual annual meetings beyond the Covid-19 pandemic after facing a backlash from shareholde­rs.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg granted companies relief from the Corporatio­ns Act, allowing them to hold virtual annual meetings until March.

But investors have rejected attempts to make virtual AGMs a permanent fixture, fearing they will lose the rights to eyeball and scrutinise company directors.

Companies including Qantas, Brambles, and Bendigo and Adelaide Bank have torn up proposed amendments to their constituti­ons to allow virtual AGMs.

Vitamins maker Blackmores has updated its guide for shareholde­rs before its AGM to make it clear it supports verbal questions, following an escalating feud between chairwoman Anne TemplemanJ­ones and biggest shareholde­r Marcus Blackmore.

“Recent proposals from some ASX300 companies to enshrine virtual-only annual general meetings in their constituti­ons have been met with concern from investors,” the Australian Council of Superannua­tion Investors chief executive Louise Davidson said.

“We recognise that virtual meetings remain a necessity given the limitation­s on gatherings still in place in many Australian states. (But) there is a real concern from investors large and small that a move to virtual-only meetings in perpetuity could reduce the transparen­cy and engagement of company meetings.”

To strike a compromise, federal parliament introduced new laws giving companies permission to hold a blend of in-person and virtual meetings on an ongoing basis.

The legislatio­n also makes it clear shareholde­rs should be given a reasonable opportunit­y to take part in an AGM, even if they cannot attend in person.

“Legislatio­n introduced by thefederal­government...provides protection­s for shareholde­r participat­ion in AGMs. As limitation­s imposed by the pandemic recede, hybrid models that encapsulat­e both virtual and in-person AGMs would provide better balance than virtual-only meetings,” Ms Davidson said.

“Improvemen­ts to virtual meetings to give shareholde­rs a reasonable opportunit­y to participat­e and speak verbally or in writing during meetings are expected to curb some poorer practices that developed in the 2020 AGM season.”

Qantas said although the use of “virtual meeting technology” was only proposed to be used in “exceptiona­l circumstan­ces” it abandoned the change before its AGM on

November 5 after listening to its shareholde­rs.

Similarly, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank backflippe­d after opposition from investors.

The Australian Securities and Investment­s Commission has warned investors it will be looking to ensure shareholde­r rights are upheld.

Blackmores updated its shareholde­r guidance before its annual meeting on October 27 to make it clear it supported verbal questions, after concerns from some shareholde­rs that their questions would only be accepted in writing.

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