Denton verbal assault on BHP minePublished by MAC on 2003-11-14
Denton verbal assault on BHP mine
By Barry FitzGerald, Resources Editor, The Age
November 14, 2003
ABC TV host and funny man Andrew Denton did not get the answers he was looking for when he quizzed BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus at the group's annual meeting at the Melbourne Concert Hall yesterday.
So much so that after Mr Denton and 700 other shareholders had filed out of the 190-minute meeting, Mr Denton scored the chairman's performance as "poor". "It's good to know that the ability of not answering a question at great length is not restricted to Canberra," Mr Denton said.
Mr Denton quizzed Mr Argus on BHP Billiton's plans for the Gag Island nickel deposit in Indonesia and supported a call from shareholder activist Stephen Mayne for the company to provide a full explanation for the shock departure of Brian Gilbertson as chief executive earlier this year.
Mr Denton and a procession of other environmental/human rights shareholders asked whether BHP Billiton had been involved in Federal Government lobbying efforts with the Indonesian Government to allow mining on Gag Island, which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation believes might be worthy of World Heritage listing.
But Mr Argus said no work was being done on the project and that he was not aware of the group's involvement in any lobbying efforts. He said he would ask the question himself at the group's next board meeting.
Speaking from London, BHP Billiton chief executive Chip Goodyear reaffirmed the group's commitment not to mine in areas of global environmental significance. But he stopped short of saying that BHP Billiton would never seek to develop a mine on Gag Island.
Mr Denton said the company had effectively "left themselves a lot of holes to slide out of" on the subject of Gag Island.
He said he found it extraordinary that Mr Argus did not have any knowledge of the lobbying by the Federal Government.
"It's good to know that the ability of not answering a question at great length is not restricted to Canberra." - Andrew Denton
In response to the request for more information on Mr Gilbertson's departure, Mr Argus would say only what had been previously said, that it was due to irreconcilable differences with the board.
Mr Denton said he owned several hundred shares in his superannuation fund and that he was drawn to the Gag Island issue by his musician friend, David Bridie.
BHP Billiton was also taken to task at the meeting by unions over its use of individual employment contracts at its West Australian iron ore operations.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) mining division's federal president, Tony Maher, asked whether the company was in breach of a United Nations compact obliging a signatory to allow workers to bargain collectively.
Mr Argus said the compact "does not suggest that employers change their industrial relations framework", adding that the company was committed to freedom of association and that all its employees were free to join a union.