ONE of the bigger boardroom bunfights is taking place at the Australian Securities Exchange, where RiskMetrics has been seeking a protest vote against director Russell Aboud for the claimed poor performance of ASX in combating insider trading.
That backdrop made the ASX annual meeting in Sydney an interesting affair, with serial boardroom agitator Stephen Mayne on hand to stir the pot.
Mayne wanted to know if incoming ASX chairman David Gonski had acted as an adviser to Westfield‘s Peter Lowy – the man who recently pleaded the fifth amendment in a US tax probe.
Lowy, son of Westfield shopping centre mogul Frank Lowy, appeared before the US Senate’s probe on tax haven banks but, instead of assisting the investigation, Lowy declined to answer the panel’s questions. Lowy, a US citizen who runs Westfield’s American operations, asserted his fifth amendment right under the US constitution to refuse to answer a question as his answer might incriminate him.
Mayne wondered whether providing advice to Lowy was befitting for a man seeking the esteemed job of ASX chairman. In defending himself, we are not sure whether Gonski was confirming or denying the suggestion. Indeed, we are completely puzzled by the answer.
"When we’re talking about the affairs of somebody else I don’t feel I should comment," Gonski told the ASX annual meeting. "There was, in a number of newspapers, a comment that I was in a meeting. That may or may not be the case – this is not the place to negotiate it."
Which sounds a lot like one of George Bush‘s poorer public speaking moments.
It was downhill from there: "But it was left suggested that I did advise on those things, nor that there were things. So, it’s again a little bit of a trump-up having said that."
By which time people were recalling Donald Rumsfeld‘s "we also know there are known unknowns" speech.