Re-elected grain board chair admits to 'inappropriate language'

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The chairman of Australia’s biggest grain export company has been re-elected despite serious allegations raised during the election campaign.

Key points:

  • CBH chairman Wally Newman has denied a claim that he had agreed not to recontest his position following an investigation
  • Mr Newman said he underwent voluntary “personal coaching” and has taken responsibility for his “inappropriate language”
  • There have been two new appointments to the board, including that of Mukinbudin farmer John O’Neill, who has unseated long-serving member Vern Dempster

Wally Newman beat Shane Carruthers in a contest for a position on the Cooperative Bulk Handling (CBH) Group board.

The election came after the ABC revealed allegations that Mr Newman had released potentially confidential information during the election campaign and had been accused of acting inappropriately towards women.

Mr Newman confirmed he was subject to an internal company investigation in 2018 into alleged crude comments he made about a young woman in 2017 and other remarks about female CBH board candidates in 2018.

He did not respond to the allegations that he had released potentially sensitive material.

Chairman counselled

In a statement addressing the allegations, Mr Newman said CBH directors were expected to maintain the “highest possible standards”.

“I have not always maintained that standard in relation to the language that I have used on rare occasions in the past,” he said.

“Several years ago, a former board member complained about my use of inappropriate language.

“CBH has strict protocols in relation to these matters, and the complaint was fully investigated by an independent, third-party investigator.”

This investigation resulted in him “voluntarily undertaking personal coaching.”

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“I was made accountable for my actions, and am fully aware of my responsibilities as a director, which I take very seriously,” Mr Newman said.

But Mr Newman refuted claims that as a result of this investigation, he had agreed to retire at the end of his term as director and not contest another election.

These allegations were made by former board member John Hassell, who lodged the complaint about the chairman’s inappropriate remarks about women in 2018.

“No deal was done,” Mr Newman said.

“And it has always been my intention to run in this election.”

Former deputy chair loses position

The results of two other CBH director positions were also announced today.

Mukinbudin farmer John O’Neil has beaten stalwart board member Vern Dempster in District 2 of the CBH elections, which covers the central Wheatbelt region of WA.

Mr Dempster had been on the board of CBH since 2008 and twice served as deputy chairman, while also holding a position as director of Interflour Pty Ltd, an Asian milling company half-owned by CBH.

The cooperative’s investment in Interflour has come under fire recently after a two years of losses and $42.9 million interest-free loan that CBH agreed to give Interflour last August.

In the other election, Ken Seymour from Miling won the District 1 election against Yuna farmer Kirrilee Warr and Gareth Rowe from Walkaway.

Current member director Rod Madden announced last year that he would not recontest his District 1 board seat, and said he would officially resign from this position on Thursday at the cooperative’s AGM.

The board is made up of 12 directors, nine of which are grower, or member, directors voted by the 4,200 CBH grain grower members.

The other three are independently elected.