The AGM was a chance for shareholders to send a message. They didn’t take it.
When Lindsay Maxsted and Peter King arrived at Sydney’s ICC on Thursday, their hearts must have been in their mouths. But they needn’t have worried; shareholders were all bark and no bite. All board members – save those that had already fallen on their swords – were re-elected, and although the company received a second strike on its remuneration report, a spill was defeated with more than 90 per cent of the vote.
Shareholders seemed to think Westpac had learned its lesson.
But at no point did Maxsted provide an explanation. In fact, he did the opposite, saying “We don’t know what happened” – weeks after the AML/CTF breaches were announced, and years after they occurred. That the leader of one of the most powerful institutions in Australia was unable to say exactly what went wrong and why should have shaken shareholder confidence to its core.
But when shareholders should have been burning down the house, they opted to reinforce the status quo.
Peter Marriott came close to the edge, with only 58 per cent of the vote in favour of his re-election, but he was re-elected. And the historic second strike on the bank’s remuneration report was more of a psych out than a real attack.
After the failings exposed by the Hayne commission, and what is likely to be a hefty penalty from AUSTRAC, a majority of shareholders still decided they were satisfied with the steps taken by chairman Maxsted.
Westpac has just learned that it can get away with the banking equivalent of murder: losing shareholders billions. Sure, Brian Hartzer is gone and Maxsted is stepping down. But these are short-term changes that will do little to alter what AUSTRAC – and whistleblower Amanda Woods – describe as a culture of indifference.
So, what will the next scandal be? Because there will be another scandal. The wound is being allowed to fester. The bank might cut some middle managers and pump some cash into charities, but the people at the top have kept their remuneration, and Peter Marriott – chair of Westpac’s audit committee and a member of its risk committee – has kept his job.
And if you need any more evidence that the culture of indifference will persist, look to chairman Maxsted’s assertion that Hartzer’s $2 million set remuneration payout was “not overly generous”.
Does that sound like a bank that’s learned its lesson?