Telstra shareholders travelled from far and wide to vent their frustrations as owners and customers to the telco's chairperson, Catherine Livingstone and chief David Thodey.
Madam chairman, I'm disgusted by you. You give us bad service and a bad share price
"Madam chairman, I'm disgusted by you. You give us bad service and a bad share price," a tense-looking Sydney-based shareholder told Livingstone today during question time at Telstra's annual general meeting (AGM) held at the Sydney Convention Centre.
The shareholder went on to note that Telstra's share price had fallen from $7.00 when he had bought them to the current price of just over $3.00. "It's disgusting. The share price is your fault," he said.
Livingstone and Thodey's first AGM as the new face of Telstra was dominated by angry shareholders and disappointed customers; however, there was also widespread support and sympathy for Thodey in his dealings with the government over the telco's separation.
Just over 850 Telstra shareholders grabbed the once-a-year opportunity to vent frustrations on the telco and during question time honed in on executive remuneration, customer service, and how Telstra was handling negotiations with the government.
The overwhelming attitude towards the government's plan to separate Telstra via legislation currently before the parliament, was that Telstra needed to fight harder to preserve the status quo.
One shareholder who had travelled from Perth said Telstra should let the NBN Co and the government "die on the vine" and urged Livingstone not to vend Telstra's assets into the NBN. "Don't give them any assistance," he said to a small burst of applause. "The government needs Telstra more than Telstra needs the government... They forced us into a poker game with a gun at our head. Telstra should not be bluffed out of a poker game."
Another investor from St Lucia, Queensland, said he felt sorry for Thodey who faced a government that was more concerned about "becoming big" than shareholder value. He asked how Telstra could be "constructive" with a government hell bent on its destruction.
They forced us into a poker game with a gun at our head. Telstra should not be bluffed out of a poker game.
Livingstone defended the strength of Telstra's negotiating style, highlighting that although it was not waging war with the government through the media, it was "just as tough" as Telstra was under Sol Trujillo and her predecessor, Donald McGauchie. "There are a number of different styles that can be tough," she said.
Livingstone hinted at the power that Telstra does have in its negotiations with the government by reminding shareholders that the telco has eight million customers which the government wants transferred to the NBN Co as soon as possible. She said to do this would mean shifting 4000 homes across the NBN Co every day for eight years straight.
Billing problems were also a source of annoyance amongst shareholders. One shareholder griped that he was still receiving phone bills for his dead father, despite requests to cancel the account. Another said she was happy with Telstra's $3.9 billion free cash flow (expected to increase to $6 billion within the financial year), but she was concerned apart of it was from her pocket thanks to billing errors on Telstra's part.
Telstra had organised for customer service representatives to be present at today's meeting. Livingstone several times referred concerned shareholders to address their concerns.
The shareholder who was disgusted by Livingstone later returned to the microphone, prefacing his question with the comment he would ask it more nicely this time: "Can you provide a bus from Town Hall (train station) to the Convention Centre?"