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Woolworths in court bid to halt GetUp 'stunt'

Supermarket giant Woolworths has taken legal action against a GetUp ''stunt'' to call an extraordinary general meeting so the group can push for a $1 bet limit on all the company's poker machines.

As reported by Fairfax on Tuesday, GetUp secured the signatures of 210 Woolworths shareholders to write to the directors calling for an EGM to move a change to the company's constitution that would prohibit Woolworths operating pokies with a bet limit higher than $1.

In Victoria machines have a maximum $5 bet. A national $1 bet limit has been proposed by the Greens, independent MPs Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie and church groups.

Only 100 shareholders are needed to call an EGM and under law it must hold a meeting within 49 days of the request being lodged.

Late on Tuesday afternoon Woolworths filed a request with the Federal Court to have the EGM scrapped, with the motion to debate the proposal rolled into the company's November annual general meeting.

A spokeswoman said the company was happy to talk about solutions to problem gambling but ''Woolworths considers the move to call and EGM by Getup to be a stunt''.

Under GetUp's plan, Woolworths' pokies would have a $1 bet limit from 2016, so the company could reconfigure the majority of machines with the natural attrition of replacing old machines.

In response, GetUp has filed complaints with Australian Stock Exchange and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission because the company is yet to notify the public of the request from shareholders.

A Woolworths spokeswoman said it was trying to meet a ''common sense'' outcome and given the change would not take place until 2016, there was no need to rush debate.

She said the company considered mailing 423,000 notices to shareholders and investing the considerable time and expense into an additional meeting before November to be ''impractical''.

''We also offered GetUp the opportunity to work collaboratively, as we do with hundreds of NGOs with a passion for social responsibility, but they unfortunately declined. Should GetUp choose to engage in constructive dialogue, our door will always be open,'' she said.

GetUp met Woolworths on Tuesday to discuss working on a co-operative solution. GetUp's campaign director Erin McCallum said they only achieved a meeting, after months of trying, after the EGM action was filed.

She said GetUp attended the meeting in good faith to discuss a solution but were left frustrated because Woolworths lacked transparency and were ambiguous.

''Woolies have already had a chance to address this at last year's AGM when shareholders first raised it with them and they did not deal with it then adequately and they still haven't despite further opportunities to engage,'' Ms McCallum said.

''Woolworths shareholders are trying through legitimate means to hold the board accountable by helping them address the harm that their poker machines inflict on Australian means, but in our opinion the board is shirking accountability and trying to avoid scrutiny by filing suit against their own concerned shareholders.''

The case will be heard in the Federal Court in Sydney tomorrow.

Today GetUp has asked its members to pitch in to help cover the legal costs of the court case.

In a message to its members the group says it has assembled a top legal team that ‘‘won’t be cheap’’ .

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