John Gay defies pressure to quit

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Gunns chairman John Gay, who has confirmed pressure to resign.*(1/2)

Gunns chairman John Gay, who has confirmed pressure to resign.*(1/2)

GUNNS chairman John Gay has confirmed that interstate business interests have pressured him and fellow Tasmanian directors to quit the company's board.

Mr Gay refused to reveal the source of the pressure, but interstate fund managers co- ordinating a sizeable portfolio of Gunns shares were in Launceston last week and met Mr Gay to try to force him to resign.

They also want the company to stop logging native forests because they say it looks bad for the company's international image.

"These people said it would be better for the company if there were no Tasmanians on the board, but if I go the (pulp) mill, the Launceston head office and our interests would go with me," Mr Gay said.

"That's what would happen because there would be no reason to keep those interests here.

"Anyway, it just won't happen. I was re-elected at our AGM last year.

"They're just trying to wedge the board so that we are unsuccessful, but it would jeopardise Gunns' interests.

"It's the green movement behind this. Their message is `you put out John Gay and the pulp mill would not be built'."

A representative of one of the Sydney companies named as pressuring Mr Gay yesterday said it would not entertain talking about Gunns.

Greens leader Nick McKim said last night the scenario was news to him.

"I have never spoken to John Gay and I have certainly never heavied him," Mr McKim said.

"His position and who is on Gunns' board is a matter for Gunns shareholders."

The Examiner was told that Mr Gay was given until yesterday to quit the board, but he denied that he was subject to any ultimatum.

"Of course I am offended. For a long time I have been disappointed with people who want me to step down after building a company up from $4 million, to have assets of $1.5 billion and constructing a $2.5 billion pulp mill," Mr Gay said.

"If there are no Tasmanians on the company's board what do you think would happen? If you people don't fight for Gunns you will lose it."

Mr Gay, former premier Robin Gray and Richard Millar are the Tasmanians on the Gunns board. The three other directors are from interstate.

Gunns shares, which closed yesterday at 56 cents, have been hammered this month after a 98 per cent drop in first-half profit.

An update on Gunns' pulp mill financing is expected next month.

There has been speculation that Mr Gay may step down from his responsibilities for the pulp mill.