Lobby groups gatecrash annual meetings

The “tall poppy” syndrome is largely an Australian phenomenon. Doing well makes you a big target and there’s no shortage of people who’ll happily try to take you down.
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Recently, that mood has extended to corporate Australia – or more specifically to AGM season, where interest groups try to use those meetings to advance their agendas.

Sure, we’ve always had vocal critics at annual general meetings, many who just try to push their own agendas.

Sometimes, they are even relevant.

AGMs are the new battleground

But now shareholder activism has taken a new turn. The AGM has become guerrilla marketing for lobby groups and their causes. Even when there’s literally no chance of a resolution being passed, just putting the motion to the company’s shareholders is enough to garner media attention for the cause. More so if the company is large or widely held by retail investors.

We saw exactly that this week with the resolution put to Woolworths (ASX: WOW) shareholders which would have – if passed – put limits on the company’s operation of poker machines.

Bear in mind, these are legal, highly regulated gaming machines. They are operated by many, many hotel and club proprietors across the country, not to mention the listed casino operators. They are also in competition for the gambling dollar with lotteries providers and bookies, both listed and private.

And yet, a small group of shareholders decided to try to nobble their own company.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that this was a marketing exercise on behalf of the lobbyists. If it’s not, I’ll look forward to the same motion being put to each and every ASX-listed business with exposure to gambling every year from here on.

I won’t hold my breath.

A problem – but the wrong solution

To be clear, I’m not advocating for or against greater restrictions on poker machines. I think problem gambling is an important social issue that needs to be confronted and dealt with. Too many families are being affected by gambling addiction every day.

I am criticising the practice of targeting single companies as a proxy for an industry and in pursuit of a goal that is clearly out of reach. It is an abuse of the process.

Even if the motion was carried, the only outcome would have been to handicap Woolworths’ business, with precious little impact on the industry as a whole.

Socially responsible or just ‘feel good’?

I have no problem with investors who decide not to invest in companies who have gambling businesses.

However, socially responsible investing requires a personal ethical decision on what you are prepared to invest in – and it’s a nuanced issue.

Sure, most of us can agree that cigarettes and guns probably fall outside the boundaries of socially responsible investing, but what about retailers that sell cigarettes. If pollution is bad (I think it’s a safe assumption), then do we avoid all companies which aren’t carbon neutral? Some don’t invest in mining companies, yet happily put their money into companies that use the processed materials.

On the surface, it seems easy to make “ethical” investment decisions, but the reality is much more complicated.

Over before it began

The issue is that the resolution, as put, was never, ever going to pass. The proposers knew that, the company knew that, and yet it has earned thousands of words of reporting and commentary.

Mission accomplished for the lobby group in question – because the mission was essentially a guerrilla marketing exercise. The issue was raised and talked about, and all on Woolworths’ dime, after it was forced to hold an extraordinary general meeting to deal with the resolution.

For the record, the motion only garnered 2.5 per cent support.

Of course, much of the commentary that followed has focused on the vote and Woolies’ handling of the issue.

By virtue of the motion being raised, the company is now dealing with the distraction. Meanwhile casinos, pubs, TABs and bookies across the country continue to ply their trade unaffected.

Foolish takeaway

If you want to genuinely affect social or regulatory change, it’s a legislative and social issue. At the very least, a genuine effort would see the same approach taken to all listed companies in the same space – from Woolworths to Wesfarmers (ASX: WES), Crown (ASX: CWN) and Tatts Group (ASX: TTS), and only when those shareholders had garnered enough support to give the motion a fair chance to succeed.

Anything less is simply a PR exercise, with the “tall poppies” forced to foot the bill.

The Motley Fool has just released a brand NEW special free report. BusinessDay readers can  click here to receive a copy of The Motley Fool’s Top Stock for 2012-13.

Scott Phillips is a Motley Fool investment analyst. He owns shares in Woolworths.

You can follow Scott on Twitter @TMFGilla. The Motley Fool’s purpose is to educate, amuse and enrich investors. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691).

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

HOME: Seemingly afloat at Marks Point

Some of Newcastle’s most significant and beautiful buildings were raised from the ground by a Davis: Newcastle’s graceful Town Hall, the much-loved David Jones in Hunter Street, and Belmont Hotel circa 1957 are all examples.
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In fact, three generations of the Davis family – grandfather, father, and son – all of them called Charles, have built throughout the area. The son, the current Charles Davis (Charlie to his mates), is now semi-retired. He and wife Barbara, Belmont Citi Centre’s manager for 18 years, have built a few houses for themselves over the years, but none have they loved as much as the older home they found in Marks Point three years ago. They were living in a home Charlie had built in Redhead and weren’t actually planning a move.

But a chance sighting of a waterfront property in an agent’s window was enough to warrant an inspection.

From there, as the saying goes, ‘‘One look was all it took.’’

Three years on and quite a bit of work later, they love it even more.

‘‘It is not a mansion, but you could just not replace this spot no matter where you went,’’ Barbara says.

The ‘‘spot’’ is on the sought-after northern side of Marks Point, with gun-barrel views across the bay to Belmont Hospital and the Belmont 16-Footers Club.

As if that isn’t enough, the view stretches the full 180degrees east to Belmont South and west to the Watagans. Uninterrupted and never to be built out, it’s definitely as good as you could get – anywhere.

The house itself was in good condition but not quite to their liking. They decided to modernise it – including the addition of plenty of storage.

Charlie has done all of the building work for which, ironically, their furniture has provided the incentive.

‘‘Everywhere we have lived, I have built around the furniture,’’ Charlie says.

The first step was to reinvent an existing workshop and a garage to create a formal entry leading to a dining and lounge room on the lower level.

These formal spaces, overlooking the pool and the bay, provided the right setting for some of Barbara’s inherited treasures, such as a graceful green velvet lounge suite.

A bedroom on this level was also given a modern feel with additional wardrobe storage and the en suite was renovated to their taste. The centre piece is an unusual green glass vanity.

The bedroom itself has a large picture window allowing the occupant to wake to a water view every morning.

The pool area also received a revamp – a new deck with landscaping, new lawns and a water feature. There is also a slipway into the bay.

Upstairs, a new granite kitchen was installed, including a walk-in pantry. It is easily accessed from the living room, which has wall to wall windows looking straight at the view.

In fact, from the kitchen you can’t see anything but water, giving the distinct impression you are on a boat, rather than land. For Charlie this space is the best part of the house.

‘‘I sit up there for my half hour of meditation each morning. We get some beautiful sunsets over the Watagans and of a night when the moon comes up what it does on the water is just beautiful.

‘‘In the middle of winter you can live in that room and not even need a fire on. I’ve built a heap of houses for myself and you just have to have a north-east aspect.’’

Barbara agrees: ‘‘I can’t believe the lifestyle we’ve got and only be two minutes from Belmont. You never feel like you are on your own because on the water, there is always someone coming or going.

‘‘It is very much like being on holidays all of the time. You can’t beat waking up to this.’’

Do you know a house we could feature?

Email [email protected]南京夜网.au

Picture: Simone De Peak

Picture: Simone De Peak

Picture: Simone De Peak

Picture: Simone De Peak

Picture: Simone De Peak

Picture: Simone De Peak

Picture: Simone De Peak

Television: Tune into rude health

It never ceases to amaze me what people will do to achieve their precious 15 minutes of fame.
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Or, in the case of not-for-the-squeamish UK television program Embarrassing Bodies, free medical treatment.

The patients featured on the show have to be getting free medical advice or treatment to compensate for the humiliation of having their private parts displayed, full screen, in high definition, don’t they?

Watching an episode of Embarrassing Bodies is akin to staring at the sun. You know it’s causing damage, and that you shouldn’t do it, but you can’t look away. It is utterly, and revoltingly, compelling.

(I’d like to take the opportunity, at this point, to assert that I do not watch the show regularly. If I happen to see the start, however, there’s a good chance I’ll be transfixed until the end. That is partly due to the humorous social media exchanges occurring as my friends and I watch.)

The show’s mantra is ‘‘No shame, we’re all the same’’. Doctors Christian, Dawn and Pixie will have you believe that the show exists, purely and simply, to aid people suffering from ailments that they are too embarrassed to show their GP.

Hmmm. I will address this point shortly.

The show’s website claims the program can also help viewers ‘‘self-diagnose at home without attending a doctor’s appointment’’.

This is marginally more believable, but also risky for a patient.

Self-diagnosis is fine until you decide to self-medicate, or start to ignore medical treatment altogether.

But trying to justify the show’s existence by saying people who are too embarrassed to see their GP about an ailment would rather it was dealt with on television, to an audience of millions worldwide? Puh-lease.

Whatever its medical worth, Embarrassing Bodies is a hit because of its shock value and cringe factor – not for any alleged altruistic public health service.

An episode I watched a few weeks ago is a case in point. A young woman is led into the stark white consultation room. Correctly, I predict that she has an ailment concerning either her breasts or genitalia.

Within 30 seconds she is on a bed, in a gown, and a view most commonly reserved for gynaecologists, obstetricians or midwives fills the screen.

We are also ‘‘educated’’ by a close-up of a man’s penis (he was being treated for a skin condition on his chest – go figure); shadowy footage of a woman giving herself a coffee enema (to which she is addicted and, while embarrassing, this is not exactly a common ailment); and a woman with a breast implant gone horribly wrong.

The program gives the impression the Embarrassing Bodies team travel around the UK having random patients drop by for medical advice. The show’s website, however, makes it clear that one must actually apply for the privilege of worldwide humiliation.

What is interesting about cringeworthy reality television is not the content, but the people who willingly agree to bare all in the interests of entertainment.

Never mind showing up to work the next day knowing your colleagues have had a long hard look at the rash on your testicles. Never mind chatting to your father, knowing he knows you urinate during intercourse (yes, I saw that episode).

How are these people able to look anyone in the eye ever again?

As for the people who turn on the TV and contribute to the ratings? That’s another column altogether.

Embarrassing Bodies is on Nine Network at 9.30pm on Wednesdays.

STEEL STOMACHS: The show’s doctors are untroubled by the gruesome ailments.

Liz Love: Bistro Molines

What: Bistro Molines at Tallavera Grove.
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Where: 749 Mount View Road, Mount View, NSW 2325.

Prices: Entrees, $24 to $27 ; mains, $39 to $42 ; sides, $9 to $10 ; desserts, $17 ; cheese, $17.

Chef: Robert Molines.

Owners: Robert and Sally Molines.

Wines: A selection of French and Hunter Valley wines, showcasing Briar Ridge, Pepper Tree and Tallavera Grove wines.

Hours: Lunch Friday to Monday; dinner Friday and Saturday.

Vegetarian: Four entrees.

Bookings: 49909553.

Bottom line: Entree, main, dessert for two without wine about $165.

You can take le français out of la France but you can never take la France out of le français. And this is never more evident than when Robert Molines prepares the dishes of his native Provence or shows off one of his passions – his herb and vegetable garden outside the restaurant kitchen door.

The enduring reputation of this SMH Good Food Guide one-hat restaurant, which nestles into the side of a hill and enjoys an enviable outlook over a sea of vines to the northern rim of the Hunter Valley, bears witness to this passion and that of Robert’s talented wife, Sally. Add some dedicated staff and you have a winning formula.

And what about the food? With a loyal following of locals and visitors from Newcastle, Sydney and beyond, the menu reflects a commitment to locally sourced, in-season produce but keeps the long-time favourites. Expect to find Robert’s duck liver pate or terrine de campagne, lamb brains, rabbit and venison; all that changes is the method of preparation or the accompaniments. Blanquette de veau in winter, fillet of veal wrapped in prosciutto in spring; rack of lamb in spring, lamb shank in winter.

Each table receives an amuse bouche. You can never predict; it depends on the whim of the kitchen. It may be a creamy stuffed egg half, or a crisp pastry star topped with fish mousse and salmon roe.

Even though the place is full, the efficient service guarantees the meal proceeds at a pace well suited to a pleasant Sunday afternoon. And there’s always the stunning view to distract.

It’s hard to go past the leek tart with its crisp pastry and creamy filling topped with a raft of tiny white asparagus spears and a vibrant green chervil hollandaise – a substantial dish that would make an excellent vegetarian main.

Where would a French menu be without St Jacques au gratin? This is Australia so they’re called scallops. Four plump specimens, each one in its half shell sitting on a bed of spinach, coated with a basil infused gratineed bechamel sauce. Very traditional, very delicious.

Venison and roasted beetroot is a marriage made in heaven, the rich, well rested-meat perfectly offset by earthy vegetables including broad beans, carrot and cannellini beans. I wish I had kept some of the delicious crusty ciabatta to soak up every last drop of the sticky blackcurrant jus.

The white bean and chorizo cassoulet brings Mediterranean pizazz to a perfectly trimmed rack of lamb. This is more restrained than it sounds; there should still be room for some dessert.

And what to choose. Not only are there 10 listed on the main menu; the blackboard has three more. But I have spotted the chocolate mousse millefeuille on another table.

A fine, crisp pastry sandwich is filled with two scoops of creamy, airy dark chocolate mousse and offset by caramelised orange slices topped with vanilla ice-cream – heaven on a plate.

Excellent coffee and petits fours confirm what we have always known. France is not as far away as you think. Formidable.

HEAVENLY: Bistro Molines has great views over the northern rim of the Hunter Valley. PICTURE: RYAN OSLAND

Word of mouth: Vintage heaven

He builds hot rods. She likes pretty dresses.
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Together Brook Bodiam and Emma Hinchcliffe are a match made in a vintage-lover’s heaven.

The couple is behind Tighes Hill’s MisKonduct Klothing – a vintage fashion and tea house on the corner of Elizabeth and Union streets.

The grand old building was an art gallery in a former life.

Now a weathered Coca-Cola sign adorns the wall above retro tables and chairs in the cafe.

A chandelier and an old-style bike hang from the ceiling.

To a soundtrack of rockabilly tunes, shoppers kick back with a coffee or tea and a macaron in the cafe or little courtyard before flicking through the racks of retro and vintage-inspired clothing and accessories.

‘‘I didn’t really know much about ’50s style or retro fashion until I met my partner Brook about five years ago,’’ 37-year-old Hinchcliffe says.

‘‘Brook builds hot rods, so we’d go to car shows where I would see all the girls really dressed up, and I just fell in love with the fashion.’’

Having worked in real estate, then human resources, Hinchcliffe began MisKonduct Klothing as an online business selling vintage and retro fashion reproductions.

She spoke to the women she met at the car shows to find out what they were looking for, what they liked and what they didn’t like.

When clients started emailing to request opportunities to try on the clothes, she found herself setting up a small space in her converted warehouse home to accommodate.

Hinchcliffe also set up stalls at markets and car shows.

‘‘Brook built me this little warehouse, which was great for a while, but then I outgrew it,’’ she laughs.

‘‘We’ve got so much stock now.’’

Although many urged her to just enjoy the luxury of an online business with its smaller overheads, Hinchcliffe was sure a shop front could also be successful.

‘‘I despise going to shopping centres at the moment,’’ she says.

The hassle of finding a park, only to find carbon-copy colours and fashions, holds little appeal.

‘‘Ladies are now looking for different prints, something a bit special, and I think they just want to look like ladies again,’’ she says.

MisKonduct Klothing is a ‘‘destination shop’’, but since opening in September, business has been good.

‘‘People will wander in and find something they love, then talk about it to their friends,’’ she says.

‘‘So just through word-of-mouth we’re steadily building a good customer base. Then we’ve still got the online side of the business as well. I think they complement each other.’’

Some customers have driven from Sydney and from as far as Canberra to rifle through clothes by the likes of Pinup Couture and Bernie Dexter.

Hinchcliffe imports most of her stock from the US.

‘‘It takes a lot of effort to source vintage-style clothes that aren’t made in China,’’ she says. ‘‘So they are probably a little bit more expensive, but they will last, and they won’t date.’’

The space upstairs at MisKonduct Klothing is often used as a studio for fun, tasteful pin-up photo shoots.

Recently it was used for a retro glamour hair and make-up workshop by the Lindy Charm School For Girls.

‘‘It’s such a pleasure to come to this beautiful building every day,’’ Hinchcliffe smiles.

‘‘Having a shop like this in Newcastle is pretty special, because people are travelling from all over to access it,’’ she says.

MisKonduct Klothing, 15 Elizabeth Street, Tighes Hill, is open Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday until 4pm. Visit miskonduct南京夜网.

GLAMOUR: Emma Hinchcliffe fell in love with retro fashion when her partner used to take her to hot rod shows. PICTURE: ANITA JONES