Businessman and company director Richard Goyer has told the $2.9 billion superannuation sector to “stiffen up” against activists and instead get behind businesses investing for jobs and growth.
Mr Goyder, the chairman of Qantas and Woodside, also encouraged a reduced focus onexecutive paybecause it mattered less than other factors, such as a strong balance sheet and quality board.
Citing a Qantas AGM in Adelaide last week, which he said had been hijacked by activists campaigning on asylum seeker issues, Mr Goyder said super funds should “stiffen up”.
While it was valid for the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility and others to engage in political causes, the AGMs of public companies were not the right place to do so, he said.
ACCR has targeted Qantas because it wants the airline to stop transporting and deporting asylum seekers.
Mr Goyder said super funds, as the dominant institutional investors, had a responsibility to discourage activists hijacking AGMs.
“Companies are unfairly being targeted by activists to prosecute a political message,” Mr Goyder told an Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia conference in Melbourne on Wednesday.
“I think you have a responsibility to work with us on this and say, ‘actually that is not the business of a public company and we’re not going to entertain those sort of things at an AGM’.”
The government has fuelled debate about activists bypromising new lawsto protect businesses from environmental “anarchists”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has highlighted what he calls a “worrying” trend for groups targeting businesses associated with the mining industry in particular.
$40 billion in new projects
Mr Goyder urged super funds toget behind Woodsideand its partners, which planned to invest an estimated $40 billion in new projects in Australia and overseas in coming years.
He said he wanted the super industry to sit down with the company to discuss a long-term plan to manage emissions associated with those projects.
“Woodside is a hydrocarbon company. We produce LNG among other things,” he said.
“We think LNG is a critical fuel to reduce C02 emissions over the long term and for Australia and indeed the world to meet the Paris obligations.
“We’re going to be after support from our shareholders – you – to go ahead with these projects.”
Mr Goyder said Woodside and super funds had the same goal – investing responsibly to drive long-term returns.
“One of the things I think we need to do is sit down with you and say ‘this is our roadmap on what we think our C02 emissions are going to look like, and we want your support’.
“In other words, please don’t come back to us in five years’ time and say, ‘oh, we can’t invest in you anymore because the goalposts have changed’.”
Mr Goyder also took a swipe at what he said was a tendency to focus on executive remuneration.
“I think it is overdone as an issue,” he said.
“I’m not saying that it’s not important. Clearly it’s important but I think it’s overdone compared to the other things that are incredibly important in the success of a public company.
“They are things like industry structure, the capability of a CEO and the senior executive team [and] the quality of the balance sheet or cash flows, [which] in my view, are more important than what the CEO may or may not be paid.”
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