AMP found itself embroiled in fresh controversy on Thursday when it emerged the board of the disgraced firm had apparently unwittingly appointed a professed climate change sceptic as its new chair.
Former CBA boss David Murray was named as AMP’s new chair last week, just four days after the previous chair Catherine Brenner had resigned in response to the financial advice scandals unearthed at the banking royal commission.
But it emerged on Thursday that in their “rushed” decision to appoint a successor to steer the company out of catastrophe, the AMP board may not have even discussed Mr Murray’s radical and highly controversial views on climate change.
The issue came to the fore at a tense shareholder meeting in Melbourne, during which shareholders vented their frustration with the disgraced firm, often in extreme terms. One declared to loud applause that he would like to see the firm’s board “on a spit”.
The meeting – the first since the fee-for-no-service scandal blew up last month – ended with shareholders voting down the company’s remuneration report in record numbers.
Prominent shareholder activist Stephen Mayne described it as “unprecedented” and a “massive protest vote”.
Mr Murray himself was not at the meeting – he won’t start until July 1 at the latest – but the company’s acting chair and chief executive Mike Wilkins fielded a number of angry questions over Mr Murray’s appointment.
Mr Murray had already come under fire for the fact that he was the boss of CBA until 2005 – a bank that has been implicated in more scandals than any other finance firm in Australia in recent years, including AMP.
And his support of ‘vertical integration’ – the business model that facilitated scandals at both CBA and AMP, and of which Mr Murray was supportive in his 2014 financial system inquiry – has also made him a highly controversial choice.
But it was Mr Murray’s stance on climate change that drew the most ire at the heated annual general meeting.
His climate scepticism – which he admits to candidly and in detail in this 2013 interview – is pertinent because AMP is a proponent of green investment.
One shareholder said: “The financial implications of climate risk are hitting home now.
“And yet the incoming chairman had this to say about the issue. In 2011 he has questioned the causal relationship between temperature and carbon dioxide. And he also in 2011 said there is no correlation between warming and carbon dioxide.
“I think the most constructive question I could ask the board is whether or not these views have been raised or discussed at any point in the last few weeks leading up to his appointment.”
Mr Wilkins did not answer the question, but insisted AMP had a “deeply rooted understanding” of environmental issues.
The shareholder responded: “I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then in relation to my question – and I worry that the organisation’s position may be deeply rooted when it comes to climate change.”
Mr Wilkins also refused to reveal how much Mr Murray would be paid in his new role.
Ducking and weaving
Mr Mayne, who was present at the meeting and asked a number of questions, told The New Daily the AMP board had “their heads in the sand on transparency, which is disappointing”, adding they were “ducking and weaving” rather than answering straight questions.
“The board went out the back door after the meeting. They didn’t talk to any of the shareholders. AMP needs to get with the transparency program,” he said.
He said the concerns about Mr Murray’s views on climate change were justified.
“David Murray is one of the most prominent climate sceptics within the business establishment. He will have to say whether he supports AMP’s views on climate change.
“I suspect the board didn’t even talk about this when they made the rushed to decision to appoint him as chair.”
Mr Mayne said Mr Murray was a “big supporter of vertical integration” and had created the “conflicted structures” that had given rise to the scandals currently being unearthed by the royal commission.
“So is this really the man to fix the system that has led to people being ripped off?”
The next round of royal commission hearings begin on May 21, and will deal with lending to small businesses. AMP has not been called to give evidence.