A personal view The year of living contrarily Editorial

  • Date:01 Dec 2003
  • Type:CompanyDirectorMagazine
It has been a strange year of contrasts and contradictions on many levels. This being that time of the year for reflection, the following are some personal observations.

The year of living contrarily

It has been a strange year of contrasts and contradictions on many levels. This being that time of the year for reflection, the following are some personal observations.

The war of the weapons they couldn't find has now turned into the occupation they don't want to fund and haven't the intelligence to understand. Yet, ironically Iraq is becoming more like America everyday with the bulk of the population owning and carrying guns and religious fundamentalists trying to set the political agenda.

In trying to win the war for truth, justice and democracy, the US and Australia routinely violate the very principles they claim to be fighting for. Foreign policy, according to a former Australian diplomat Stephen Fitzgerald, now involves "extensive deceptions of the Australian people under the carpet of a contrived patriotism".

l The Federal Government has been very concerned about corporate governance and has thrown CLERP 9 into the parliamentary cesspit. What will emerge is far from clear.

l However, this did not stop one Sydney newspaper columnist from crying that the corporate sector had managed to coerce the new Parliamentary secretary, Ross Cameron into going soft on CLERP 9 simply because Cameron opined that there will be inevitable changes.

What is certain is that CLERP 9 regardless of any changes will produce yet another costly compliance burden for small to medium-sized companies and provide more work for lawyers, accountants and consultants.

While the Government has been trying to put the corporate governance squeeze on the nation's boardrooms, it is far less forthcoming about its own corporate governance procedures. The Uhrig Report into how government departments deal with corporate governance matters has been gathering dust for three months.

There was a time when we were afraid of becoming a nation of renters. Now we are homeowners and property investors who can't find renters but whose debts are bubbling away in the same dangerous way as the property boom.

This Christmas marks the 10th anniversary of the Offset Alpine fire which allowed a few close associates of Rene Rivkin, including the insurance company, to profit from the fortuitous blaze. Unfortunately this has generated excess heat for those "lucky" insiders.

Company profits including the banks all had a great year. Yet each time someone announces a profit the share price takes a tumble. Go figure.

Our economy is outperforming the rest of the world and the government deserves credit for not over-fiddling with monetary or fiscal policy.

If we take all the listed and unlisted companies in Australia, there are very conservatively around a million or more directors. According to ASIC's annual report, 336 enforcement staff investigated suspected breaches of the law and 29 criminals were jailed as part of 43 people convicted from briefs prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. ASIC undertook 67 civil proceedings, resulting in orders against 151 people or companies, $121 million in recoveries and compensation orders.

This is hardly a crime wave yet all directors suffer in terms of reputation from the actions of a few and the media makes no attempt to balance its reporting of the director community.

Directors are routinely described as self-serving by the media but if you want some uplifting examples of how determination and hard work can surmount obstacles than listen to the accounts of the Tales from the Corporate Battlefield presented at the latest AICD conference. The catamaran builder in Tasmania recounts his battle with the banks; the Lend Lease executive in New York responsible for cleaning up the aftermath of September 11; and the Australian CEO of the Norwegian shipping line who had to navigate the political shoals of the Tampa affair. Audiotapes of their talks are available at sales@quickopy.com.au

And finally, on behalf of the entire Company Director team, I would like to extend a warm thanks to all those members who phoned or e-mailed seeking information or wanting to have stories published. We only have so much space but we welcome your contributions. Above all have a safe Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

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