To those readers given the impression by the story Activists target Metgasco shareholders that I had somehow threatened an anti-CSG campaigner, nothing could be further from the truth.
I am a great believer in the democratic process, in the right to free speech and the right to campaign and protest lawfully. That’s why I live in Byron Bay and not Cairo or Moscow.
Regular Echo readers would recognise that I’m always happy to debate a point with others, take issue with misinformation, fear-mongering and blatant bullshit, whether the topic is CSG, coastal science or rail economics, and I don’t do personalities.
In this case, the gentleman in question, Michael Qualmann of Lismore, went to extraordinary lengths to obtain the names and addresses of shareholders in Metgasco, a company in which my super fund has held shares.
The fund like many other Metgasco shareholders purchased shares some years ago, back in the days when the anti-coal Greens were advocating gas as the low carbon ‘transition’ fuel.
Mr Qualmann then wrote a letter to shareholders advocating that we abandon our shareholdings in the company because of the actions that he and his fellow activists were about to inflict on the company.
Readers in The Echo were not informed that the tactics employed by Mr Qualmann are essentially those publicly advocated by the academic lawyers leading this protest out of Southern Cross University.
They are on record advocating that if they can destroy shareholder value in Metgasco by such tactics, then banks and other institutions will withdraw financial backing to the company and bring it to its knees. The same group have invaded the Hot Copper discussion site with similar tactics.
When you get an unsolicited letter via post, containing what is essentially a threatening and intimidatory message, even if couched in apparently friendly language, it’s not an unusual reaction to first of all look up the phone directory to see if the person really exists and secondly ring them up to see if they actually penned the letter sent in their name.
In this case I did both. In the subsequent telephone discussion, I made the very valid point to Mr Qualmann that those using such tactics have to be extremely careful not to seek the influence the stock market by unlawful means.
The quaint legal term I believe is the publication of ‘injurious falsehoods’. In relation to the authors of the letter, the law has particular relevance to individuals in competing businesses.
The recent fictitious ANZ press release purportedly emailed to the ASX by a young penniless man living in the forest is a case in point.
As a result of Jonathan Moylan’s ill-conceived prank, over $314 million of shareholder value was lost that day by shareholders around the country.
His anti-coal activism against the Whitehaven coal company has led to him facing trial in the Federal Court and some very severe penalties.
That’s why we have the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) to patrol the ASX, to prevent fictional and other mischief-makers and spivs causing chaos on the stock market where the vast majority of Australia’s superannuation is invested.
The fines and penalties for this type of behaviour are massive. In that case the young man is penniless and without property and a fine pointless.
In Mr Qualmann’s case, he appears to be a man of means, a Lismore energy business owner and probably a property owner. I simply made the point to him that indulging in such tactics was dangerous for a man of his background and he was in effect throwing caution to the winds.
Like all shareholders in a pension fund who hold shares in a variety of companies, I have no rights against the likes of Mr Qualmann and I can’t threaten him in any shape or form. I wouldn’t and I didn’t. Only the company, the target of the injurious falsehoods and ASIC have rights in these situations.
I do note that Mr Qualmann had contacted a sympathetic Byron Echo editor with a ready press release and handy photo to trumpet his story within hours of our conversation and he obviously hadn’t suffered any ill-effects from our conversation.
To those sitting in the comfort of university-tenured positions who are running around advocating these high risk tactics to well-meaning but ill-informed campaigners, you should be ashamed of yourselves. It’s cowardly, full stop.
Sign the letters yourselves and take all the risks on your own head. By the way, I learnt just today that a second round of letters has gone out to other Metgasco shareholders and guess what, they are unsigned. It looks like Mr Qualmann and his friends have heeded my advice!
To those directing their coward punches at Metgasco: it is a local company with almost 7,000 shareholders, many local. It’s worth a measly $45 million on today’s value and obviously vulnerable to a multinational with an eye on their large, proven gas reserves.
Metgasco simply wishes to supply much-anticipated power and gas to local industry, in the Casino and SE Queensland area, today’s state government REF approval is another step along the way.
I would guess that 90 per cent of super funds representing the bulk of all Australian employees are shareholders in BHP, AGL, Santos, Woodside and Origin, with probably $500 billion of production gas assets for domestic and export use.
Start writing to all these shareholders, boys and girls, it’s going to take a few decades.
John Vaughan, Byron Bay
Editor’s note: Mr Qualmann did not ‘contact a sympathetic Byron Echo editor with a ready press release and handy photo to trumpet his story’ as you assert. He did contact us and we interviewed him. The picture was taken by us from his website.
We also note that you were contacted for comment at the time but declined, presumably preferring to write almost 1,000 of your own words on the subject.