In May, billionaire tech entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes again stood up and rattled the can.
His private investment company Grok Ventures acquired an 11.3 per cent stake in AGL, with the stated intention of blocking a proposed demerger of the company that he thinks “destroys value for everyone – shareholders, employees, Australia and the planet.” This follows a failed $9 billion takeover bid in March for AGL, in which the Atlassian founder made it clear he wanted the company to speed up its exit from coal to 2030 – after the AGL board announced at its AGM that Loy Yang power station could remain in operation until 2045.
As local residents and members of the Friends of Latrobe Water, our focus is on how to best ensure the effective rehabilitation of Latrobe Valley coal mines, and to make sure that local people in the community are at the centre of these discussions – not just AGL shareholders.
The Latrobe Valley has provided energy into our national grid for decades and provided power to Victoria for nearly a century, along with weathering the trade -offs of health impacts from coal pollution, degraded natural environment and the related social impacts associated with mining communities looking to turn a profit.
Those of us who have lived and worked in the Latrobe Valley all our lives can’t forget the lessons from Engie’s poorly managed Hazelwood closure – when our community was only given three months notice of job losses.
It’s a recent reminder for everyone on how not to treat communitiesThe current circus playing out in the media between Mike Cannon-Brookes and AGL is only adding to our ongoing uncertainty.
Many of us in the Latrobe Valley are aware that AGL’s demerger plans are purely designed for narrow financial interests of AGL shareholders.
The future of AGL coal assets are in question after proposal withdrawal. We are not convinced it will provide suitable outcomes for the Latrobe Valley community and our coal workers. The demerger rationale, as outlined by AGL, even states its intention is to “create the potential to maximise growth in the value of shares” and “support shareholder returns through distinct dividend policies and capital structures.” AGL’s current demerger plan is seen by many in the community as AGL offloading an unviable coal asset, meaning Accel will become the new owner and subsequently take over the rehabilitation cost burdens and responsibilities.
This is concerning because it will only be after the demerger occurs that Accel can prove its financial worth.
There is no guarantee that Accel can actually secure and fund new low-carbon developments or secure rehabilitation funding.
So, again, the best interests of local communities seem to be missing in the whole sordid affair.
Given the history of former power stations like Hazelwood, it is still top-of-mind for local people in the Latrobe Valley.
The community remains understandably fearful that mine operators can simply walk away from their rehabilitation obligations. We’ve seen it happen too many times before.
Mike Cannon-Brookes proposed take-over bid of the AGL board and his proposed ditching of the demerger plans could definitely provide benefits for the Latrobe Valley.
Local people need to be at the centre of these discussions – and right now Cannon-Brookes has the opportunity to engage with our community and show that he is accountable and transparent about his take-over intentions.
The reality is that the Latrobe Valley community needs just as much certainty as AGL shareholders and the Australian Stock Exchange over our own futures.
We ask that Mike Cannon-Brookes seize this opportunity to meaningfully engage with our community here, to hear our concerns, and help us plan for a just transition beyond coal.
First published in Yallourn North Connection – Edition 48, May/June 2022