Cosgrove scents blood with former Solid Energy CEO’s no-show

Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove will attempt to force the former chief executive of Solid Energy, Don Elder, to appear before the commerce select committee.

Cosgrove dominated the committee hearings throughout the day at Parliament, using the opportunity to torment the chairs and chief executives of MightyRiverPower and Genesis Energy, but was at his most aggressive in pursuing information on Solid Energy.

Newly appointed Solid Energy chairman Mark Ford was unable to answer questions on the company’s dire financial position, prompting Cosgrove to say he would seek to have the committee subpoena Elder to appear and seek a parliamentary inquiry.

However, in a sign of the uphill battle he will likely face, the National Party majority on the committee blocked attempts to add an hour to yesterday’s hearings.

Ford repeatedly met Opposition MPs’ questions relating to Elder’s stewardship over 12 years at the head of the company with insistence he was not there at the time. He confirmed that Elder remains on the payroll on a two month contract to assist the new board as it negotiates for a rescue package with its banks and the Treasury.

“There were decisions made at the time. I was brought in by this government to turn this company around,” said Ford. “The benefit of hindsight is very easy. I’m not looking at that. I’m looking at the market today, the company today.

“This company will convert back very quickly to a very proud and profitable company,” Ford said.

Pressed by the Green MP on responsibility for the debt escalation that sparked its current crisis, Ford said: “It starts off with the board.”

With respect to $23 million of senior executive bonuses paid in recent years, he said: “We will be looking at all jobs and all salaries attached with those jobs.”

Ford told the committee it would have been “unusual” for a former CEO to have attended today’s hearings, but the company would not object to Elder appearing before the committee.

“If Dr Elder wants to come to this committee and he wants to come, we will not intervene in any way,” said Ford. “We have no right to object to that.”

He said the primary factor in Solid’s current trouble was a 50 percent fall in global coal prices and confirmed the new board and senior management is planning to return a slimmed-down Solid Energy to profitability to 2015, based on a “very conservative base case.”


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