Tinkler dominates agenda from afar

Tinkler dominates agenda from afar

Nathan Tinkler was not at Whitehaven's Coal annual meeting in Sydney but he dominated proceedings - he was the elephant not in the room.

It seems Singapore, where the highly geared former electrician resides, wasn't far enough away for two Whitehaven directors, Paul Flynn and Philip Christensen, who had been nominated to the board by Tinkler but were now desperate to distance themselves from their former employer and stand as full independents.

Unfortunately for them, Whitehaven likes to let director candidates speak to shareholders and even to take questions from the floor.

Which left plenty of room for Australian Shareholders Association representative Stephen Mayne to ask when did you stop being a Tinkler representative? Why?

Flynn tried stonewalling: he'd known Tinkler for many years, they had "some different views", there was a "parting of the ways", it was a "natural thing" that concluded at the end of September.

Both Flynn and Christensen were terminated when Tinkler's company Aston Resources shut its office before the merger with Whitehaven, and there had been minimal contact with Tinkler since.

Awkwardly, Mayne asked Christensen whether Tinkler had paid all his entitlements in full.

"I'd prefer not to answer that as I think the chairman said we could talk to you about that after this meeting but I don't think it's productive here," Christensen said.

Another: "Why has Mr Tinkler said about you, and not Paul, that you are 'like a piece of gum on the bottom of my shoe'?"

To which Christensen responded: "I suggest you ask Mr Tinkler that."

Chairman Mark Vaile was also haunted by the ghost of Tinkler, forced to defend his own relationship and history with the angry absentee.

"Do I feel embarrassment, or silly? No," said the former deputy prime minister, who pointed out he had "always enjoyed question time".

Turbulence ahead

A $5.57 million pay packet kept the Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce, flying high this year, unlike the passengers he grounded a year ago during a stoush with unions.

But it looks like the chief pilot is going to hit some turbulence at the airline's annual meeting today.

While institutional advisers ISS and CGI Glass Lewis have advised their big-end-of-town clients to hold their noses and vote for the remuneration report, the Australian Shareholders Association is voting its proxies against.

ASA's chief executive, Vas Kolesnikoff, told CBD there were problems with Joyce's performance rights and the structure of his long-term benefits.

"The bigger point is that if you look at Qantas over the past five years it's been a serial underperformer and there doesn't appear to be much light at the end of the tunnel," Kolesnikoff said. He said the ASA objected to the Flying Kangaroo's habit of basing executive remuneration on underlying profit, a measure "that bears no resemblance to the statutory profit based on accounting standards".

An underlying profit of $95 million somehow became a statutory loss of $244 million its first since it was privatised 17 years ago.

"Qantas is just a classic case for every year they find a new reason to exclude a bunch of payments from their underlying profit," he said.

"We see that as being a bad measure," he said.

Too many hats

It must be confusing being Alan Kohler. At a time in history when most men have abandoned headwear altogether, the finance guru's bonce is in turn occupied by one or the other of his two hats: as a presenter on the taxpayer-funded ABC, or as mini-media magnate through the Business Spectator group he runs for Uncle Rupert Murdoch.

In the past week or so Kohler has seemingly added another hat to his collection - running a campaign bagging Australia's superannuation industry through News Limited papers and his websites. The articles, which make entirely legitimate points about the high fees and poor performance of Aussie super, point to the Save Our Super website. There, readers can buy a guide on how to set up their own self-managed superannuation fund for just $12.95.

And on Wednesday, one of Kohler's Business Spectator super industry yarns also popped up on the ABC's Drum website, with a link at the bottom leading to his tipsheet Eureka Report (subscription a snip at $435 a year).

The ABC and Kohler say this is not a conflict of interest. Indeed, he told CBD it was not an extra hat at all.

"As agreed with the ABC, the piece that they get for the Drum is the same as I write for Business Spectator and always has been, so that's been going on for probably a couple of years now," Kohler said.

"It has for a couple of years had who I have and what I do at the bottom, with the link through to Business Spectator and Eureka Report."

An ABC spokeswoman said: "It didn't talk about the Save Our Super campaign, it didn't direct anyone to that website.

"In this instance there was no breach of the arrangement we have had in place with Alan Kohler over many years."

At least one subject of the Murdoch imperium thinks Kohler has a conflict of interest, even if it is one that is "just great for us in the News Ltd family" and "free advertising on your ABC".

That would be the Herald Sun columnist Terry McCrann, who in June wrote that "it is completely unacceptable for him [Kohler] to be the driver and the face of ABC TV's business coverage".

"He wrote that, I disagree with that," Kohler told CBD.


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