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Southern Cross members see bias in voting papers

Press Release
5 November 2009

Southern Cross members see bias in the voting papers

A growing number of Southern Cross members are finding fault with what they see as bias in the voting papers they have received for the election of directors.

More than 850,000 Southern Cross Medical Care Society members have received their voting papers for the forthcoming elections to appoint three directors to the board, with the official papers stating on four occasions that the board is supporting three of the four candidates.

The actual voting papers even list the fourth candidate, Jane Arnott, under a separate title of ‘Other candidates’, below the chosen three who appear under the title ‘Candidates supported by the Board’ (see below). The three are all sitting directors.

One member who has raised the issue, Catherine Bibbey from Christchurch, says she would have thought that the board would have wanted to be seen to take a more neutral stance.

“Surely all candidates should be treated equally and presented to electors in the same manner,” she says. “It is very discouraging to see one particular candidate’s bid for election handicapped to such an extent.”

Mrs Bibbey says she was so dismayed by the board’s approach that she voted for Ms Arnott and no one else to give Ms Arnott a greater chance.

“I feel a thinking voter might see the board’s approach as good reason to elect an independent voice who could raise issues without concern that if the issue was unpopular at board level it would impede their future chances of being re-elected.”

Dr Tim Dare, professional ethics lecturer and Head of Philosophy at the University of Auckland, is surprised by the form of the ballots.

“Think how you would feel if a sitting government put its endorsements on ballots in the general election. We would see an obvious conflict of interest, and it seems equally clear here,” he says.

“The board should not be campaigning for particular candidates, and certainly should not be doing so on the ballot paper.”

The papers also ask for voters to appoint the chairman as their proxy in the election, and again state that the board is supporting three candidates only. The election takes place at the AGM in Auckland on 26 November.

The only ‘other candidate’ acknowledges that she has received calls from members ranging from surprise to annoyance that the voting form appears to be so heavily weighted against her.

“Without question I have had both calls and emails’ suggesting that the process is ‘stacked’ and that it tries to steer votes in one direction,” Jane Arnott says.

“I think the important point is that having been nominated and therefore put forward by members it’s unfortunate that their judgement isn’t put to the test in a way that offers a ‘fair go’ for everyone.

“The strong support I received in previous elections, with over 19,000 votes, suggests that there are a number of members who would value an independent voice capable of articulating their concerns where appropriate.”

Ms Arnott, who has highlighted her ethics training in both New Zealand and London, has made it clear that ethics at a board level are important. She recently returned from presenting on the Role of the Ethical Audit at the European Academy of Business in Society at their 8th Annual Colloquium in Barcelona.

“I want to work with the board, using my specialist business ethics skills. Southern Cross has a lot to focus on what with the rising cost of treatments, the need to collaborate with private clinicians to gain the best outcome and the importance of keeping abreast of changes mooted for the Accident Compensation Corporation.”

Editor’s note:

Jane Arnott
(BA, Dip Prof Ethics)

Since completing her post-graduate qualification in professional ethics Jane has broadened her lengthy career in marketing and public relations to encompass a significant role as Country Manager for UK-based GoodCorporation – an audit and assessment company linked to the Institute of Business Ethics (London).

Jane’s work focuses on responsible business practices and addresses governance, transparency and risk management issues.

For Southern Cross Medical Care Society these areas are critical to the experiences of members and provide the basis for the Society’s reputation and sustainability over the long-term.

Her work helps companies ensure that reputation issues are identified and works to protect shareholder interests.

Jane’s understanding of this global challenge and her personal commitment to Southern Cross provides a unique director attribute that is aligned with the global trends to increase the role of ethics in business decision-making no matter what industry, sector or country.

Jane has recently returned to New Zealand from presenting on the ‘Role of the Ethical Audit’ at the European Academy of Business in Society 8th Annual colloquium in Barcelona.

Jane will bring a supportive and commercially practical view to decisions that have an ethical aspect or are related to the sales, marketing and branding of Southern Cross as it works to ensure new members and that existing members remain loyal.

Jane is a member of the Institute of Directors and is Chair (elect) of the NZ Native Species Foundation. She is a past executive director of New Zealand National Parks and Conservation Foundation.

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