RICHARD WILLINGHAM July 04, 2012
Woolworths has launched legal action against GetUp over a push by the activist group to have bet limits placed on pokies.
GetUp wants the pokies titan to hold an extraordinary general meeting so that it can push for a $1 bet limit on the company's 12,000 poker machines.
The group has secured the signatures of 210 Woolworths shareholders to write to the directors calling for an EGM to move a change to the company's constitution enforcing the limit.
In Victoria machines have a maximum $5 bet, while in NSW it is $10. A national $1 bet limit has been proposed by the Greens, by independent MPs Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie and by church groups.
Only 100 shareholders are needed to call an EGM and, by law, the meeting must be held within 49 days of the request being lodged.
But late yesterday afternoon Woolworths filed a request with the Federal Court to have the EGM scrapped and the proposal debated instead at the company's November annual general meeting.
Under GetUp's plan, Woolworths' pokies would need to have a $1 bet limit from 2016, meaning the company could reconfigure the majority of its poker machines as it replaced old machines.
In response to Woolworths' legal move, GetUp has filed complaints with Australian Stock Exchange and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, as it believes the company is yet to notify the public of the request from shareholders.
A Woolworths spokeswoman said the company was prepared to discuss gaming issues and trying to reach a ''common sense'' outcome.
''Woolworths is more than happy to have gaming issues discussed at our Annual General Meeting in November, but considered mailing 423,000 notices to shareholders and investing the considerable time and expense into an additional meeting before this to be impractical,'' she said.
The company said that given the change would not take place until 2016 there was no need to rush debate.
''We also offered GetUp the opportunity to work collaboratively, as we do with hundreds of NGOs with a passion for social responsibility, but they unfortunately declined. Should GetUp choose to engage in constructive dialogue, our door will always be open.''
The group meet with Woolworths yesterday.
GetUp's campaign director Erin McCallumn said GetUp attended the meeting in good faith but was left frustrated.
Ms McCallum said: ''Woolies have already had a chance to address this at last year's AGM when shareholders first raised it with them and they did no deal with it then adequately and they still haven't despite further opportunities to engage.
''Woolworths shareholders are trying through legitimate means to hold the board accountable by helping them address the harm that their poker machines inflict on Australian means but, in our opinion, the board is shirking accountability and trying to avoid scrutiny by filing suit against their own concerned shareholders.''
The case will be heard in the Federal Court in Sydney on Friday.
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