Tuesday, 13 March 2018 08:55

Still in the dark over Fonterra injunction

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Chris Lewis. Chris Lewis.

Fonterra's high court injunction gagging a former director and the news media is in its second week and farmer shareholders are still in the dark.

The court order means no one is prepared to talk about the case. 

Federated Farmers and Fonterra shareholders council members discussed the issue briefly last week in Wellington at their routine six-monthly meeting.

Ironically, the injunction has drawn media speculation, much of it negative about the co-op’s performance.

Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis says the injunction against South Canterbury farmer Leonie Guiney and news media was discussed at the start of the meeting to “get it out of the way before other matters were discussed”.

He told Dairy News that he left the meeting not knowing any more about the injunction than has been reported in the media. “To be fair, we got no more information out of them but we had an open and frank discussion.”

Lewis says farmers were also contacting Federated Farmers wanting to know what the injunction was about.

“Farmers want more information and they are asking questions but there is a vacuum; what the injunction is all about only time will tell.”

Lewis urges Fonterra shareholder to question the co-op directors and management during the next round of farmer meetings later this month.

“Get to a meeting and ask your questions; you are a valued part of the co-op. And don’t leave the meeting until your questions have been answered,” he says.

Lewis says he has received lots of messages and calls on the issue, mostly from media fishing for more information and a few farmers expressing concern.

A former Fonterra director contacted by Dairy News refused to comment directly on the injunction.

“Without knowing the details I am in no position to judge,” he said. “I can only assume Fonterra thinks it is a significant matter.  And I can only assume the board would have considered the pros and cons on the action they have taken.”

However, he believes Fonterra will have no option but to be very open on the matter at the upcoming shareholder meetings.

The former director did add that the “irresponsible action” of Guiney has probably just taken 20-30c off the Fonterra share price due to hysteria.

“Her actions change nothing other than destroy value.  For most shareholders this is an irritation.  For the 2% of shareholders under the most pressure from the banks, this might be the final nail that drives their equity position to the point that banks sell them up.  Someone should remind Leonie of that.”

Judge outlines reasons

In an updated ruling last week on Fonterra’s injunction against Leonie Guiney and news media, Justice Karen Clark laid out her reasons.

She says Fonterra had established “there is a serious question to be tried”.

“In considering overall justice, the importance of protection of confidential information in this context and for this limited period is in the public interest.”

Fonterra’s substantive claim will be heard later this month when Justice Clark will make the final orders in the case.

Fonterra claims breach of contract and breach of confidence against Guiney, who served on the board for three years until November last year.

Other details of the case remain suppressed.


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