Activist shareholders call Woolworths meeting to fight problem gambling in Australia

GetUp members are embarking on a completely new kind of campaign. This posting is a little longer than usual, but please bear with us so we can explain what you need to know about this new strategy, and how you can help. Today, for the first time, hundreds of GetUp members have come together to use their shareholder power to call an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of a top 20 ASX company: Woolworths Ltd. An EGM is a meeting of a company's shareholders; just like an Annual General Meeting, but held at an irregular time. Extraordinary change calls for extraordinary measures.
Australia has more high-loss poker machines per capita than any other country in the world. Woolworths owns and operates more poker machines than any other entity in Australia. Presently, the company’s machines can easily take $1500 in an hour from addicted problem gamblers. That jobs, homes, families, and, in some tragic cases, lives are ruined by problem gambling at Woolworths machines is unacceptable.

Fortunately, GetUp is made up of extraordinary Australians who are willing to stand up and hold corporate power to account. Yesterday afternoon we demonstrated our collective power by delivering 210 'Request for Meeting' documents to Woolworths Ltd. headquarters, on behalf of GetUp members who have chosen to exercise their shareholder power and take bold action to drive the change on poker machine reform that we've all been asking for. 

We're asking Woolworths shareholders to change the company's constitution: simply to make their poker machines less dangerous by limiting bets to $1 per button push and limiting losses to $120 per hour (on average), as recommended by the Productivity Commission. 

So, what can you do? We must demonstrate that it's not just shareholders that are counting on Woolworths to do the right thing, but also customers across the country. Please add your name to this petition, to be delivered by shareholders at our Woolworths EGM:

News of our campaign already broke this morning in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and prominent Australian shareholder activist and founder of, Stephen Mayne, is endorsing the campaign.
Moments like this are what our movement was made for: finding innovative ways to hold power to account and progress issues we all care about when the government has failed us. Best of all, this campaign tactic demonstrates how our community works together from all angles – the hundreds of savvy shareholder activists exercising their corporate power, the thousands who donated to run ads that were banned by all the major networks and then run in cinemas around the country, and the courageous members who’ve volunteered to speak out and tell their very personal stories, on camera, about how their lives have been devastated by problem gambling at the high loss machines - many of them owned by Woolworths. You will meet three of these members, Helena, Gillian and Clelia, in our new national ad campaign that will be be rolled out in the coming weeks. 
We know this is new territory for GetUp and a lot to take in, so here's some more detail on what you need to know about supporting the EGM:
Why Woolworths?
We're doing this to change the way a major Australian company does business, to make sure it no longer profits from the pain of problem gamblers. Woolworths owns and operates the most poker machines in Australia - more than the top five Vegas casinos combined[1]. Australian poker machines are an incredibly dangerous product for a large number of families in this country - leading to the loss of jobs, relationships, families, houses and even lives. But the Productivity Commission and independent experts such as Dr Charles Livingstone have said they can be made a lot safer by reducing maximum bets to $1 and capping hourly losses at around $120[2]. That's why GetUp members have come together to ask Woolies to make their poker machines safer for communties. 
How can holding an EGM create the change we need on poker machine reform?
The hundreds of GetUp member shareholders of Woolworths who signed the request for an Extraordinary General Meeting have the right to propose amendments to the company’s constitution. This right is enshrined in section 136(2) of the Corporations Act. One way we can amend the constitution is to request the company to hold an EGM and to move the constitutional amendment at that EGM. This power is enshrined in section 249D of the Corporations Act. The amendment we are proposing, if passed, would mean that Woolworths could not - according to its own constitution - operate machines that could take more than $1 per spin or more than $120 per hour and includes mandatory shutdown periods of six hours in Woolworths owned pubs and hotels.
If our amendment is passed, it will be very difficult - probably impossible - for Woolies to keep operating its high-loss poker machines. This is an outcome the Productivity Commission, Andrew Wilkie MP, Senator Nick Xenophon, the Greens and GetUp members have been calling for since this campaign began over a year ago. 

We didn’t begin this campaign many months ago with the goal of holding an EGM, but all previous tactics have resulted in Woolies continuing to ignore its involvement in perpetuating problem gambling. That’s why we’re using an innovative corporate tactic--involving Australians from all walks of life and from all corners of the country, from Dunsborough, Western Australia to Cairns, far north Queensland--that Woolworths won't be able to ignore. 

And while the facts are on our side, this is a new arena for GetUp with a strong likelihood of an aggressive response by Woolworths. If we win, it could make all the difference for Australians who struggle with problem gambling, and that's something worth fighting for. Regardless of the result of the vote, we think it's important that all operators of dangerous pokie machines are held to account, and pushed to consider responsible reform.
Join us in asking for real reform, beginning in the board room of the largest owner of high loss poker machines in Australia:

Thanks for standing up, 
the GetUp Team. 

[1] 'Woolworths hits the jackpot with pokies after signing deal with Laundy hotel group', The Daily Telegraph. November 11, 2011
[2] 'Gambling Report Volume I (Report NO 50)', Australian Productivity Commission, 26 February, 2010.

GetUp is an independent, not-for-profit community campaigning group. We use new technology to empower Australians to have their say on important national issues. We receive no political party or government funding, and every campaign we run is entirely supported by voluntary donations.