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Out of frying pan into fiery AGM

Out of frying pan into fiery AGM

Former Treasury head and wombat enthusiast Ken Henry was looking a little bemused on Wednesday. Remember how he used to rule the federal Treasury for more than a decade? He survived three prime ministers. He dispatched two treasurers. He designed an economic stimulus program that saved the country from certain ruin.

These things required dexterity of foot and mouth, and a thinking man's mind. So we can't help but wonder what he thinks of his new digs, as a director of the Australian Securities Exchange. The good doctor had to sit through his first AGM on Wednesday. It must have been slightly humbling.

There were rebukes from shareholders about the inadequate access to the auditorium. There were questions about the remuneration package of the chief executive. The weak connection to his microphone let his voice drop out at intervals, making him sound nervous.

"I was secretary of the Treasury for 10 years," Henry began.

"I believe that my skills and experience provide the ASX with insights and judgment to help the company navigate through what is likely to be an intense period of regulatory and policy development."

But it was obviously not good enough for some people - more than a million votes were cast against his appointment.

Abalone off menu

You don't need to mention a herpes-like virus to give abalone a wide berth, the smell or its sweet nutty flavour can be enough.

Just ask Victorian Supreme Court Justice David Beach. As the first witness took the stand in an $82 million class action against the Victorian government over the spread of a herpes-like virus that destroyed about a third of Australia's wild abalone industry, Justice Beach saw a familiar face.

Valerie Halliday, 82, was not a long-lost friend, but someone who had sat on the table beside him at Melbourne's Adina Hotel - his regular coffee haunt - on Tuesday morning. Halliday, who has lost almost everything except a worthless abalone licence, said she didn't recognise Justice Beach, but the lawman wasn't bothered. "That's all right," he said. "I'm going to have coffee somewhere else while Mrs Halliday is in Melbourne."

The plaintiff's counsel, David Curtain, joined the conversation: "There will be the distinct flavour of abalone at the Adina Hotel."

Replied Justice Beach: "Clearly, I'm going to go somewhere else for a while."

Fast turnaround

Like a great Stalinist plot to snuff out a rival and remove his image from history, the Treasury Wine Estates annual report features a picture of the new interim CEO after the night of the long knives claimed former boss David Dearie only three days earlier.

It reminded CBD of that classic photo of comrade Stalin sitting next to comrade leader Lenin. Many people believed it was faked to provide good PR for Stalin's hatchet job on his colleagues as he assumed total control of the people's Soviet.

In Treasury's report, gone was an image of Dearie (much like poor Leon "ice-pick-in-the-head" Trotsky) with Warwick Every-Burns now appearing.

Dearie was only squeezed out Sunday, so either the company has very fast printers or somewhere in a landfill are annual reports with Dearie's beaming face in them.

Chairman Paul Rayner explained to shareholders that after a write-down of excess US inventory announced in July it was decided that it was best for Dearie to spend more time with his family/seek other opportunities/spend time in Siberia.

Rayner thanked Dearie, as well as the company's inaugural chairman Max Ould. Every-Burns thanked his chairman. But no word from Dearie, believed to be in America, no doubt enjoying life outside the plotters' circle.

Women rising

With 95 per cent of it made up of men, Tony Abbott's cabinet makes Australian big business seem snaggy. The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors' latest look into board appointments finds that women accounted for almost a quarter of new appointments to the top 100 listed companies in 2012.

But like TV shows and Hugh Hefner's marriages, the men are old and the women less so.

"Female directors remain considerably younger than male directors, with the average female top 100 non-executive director at 57.6 years, nearly seven years younger than the average male," ACSI said.

Packed lunches

It was the who's who at Sydney eatery Rockpool on Wednesday when property group Trico Constructions held its VIP Boardroom Lunch.

The sought-after seats were occupied by Trico's Charles Mellick and Kevin O'Shea, Marshall Group's James Marshall, Rose Corp's Stuart Rose, Walker Corp's Blake Walker and Endeavour Property Advisory's Matthew Toohey and Andrew Gibbons.

Across town at Star City's ballroom, more than 700 business bods enjoyed a Melbourne tradition of a pre-AFL grand final lunch.

While many were sad not too be cheering the mighty Sydney Swans, they were nonetheless regaled with tales from legends such as Wayne Carey and ex-Hawthorn players Dermott Brereton and Robert DiPierdomenico.

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