FEDERAL Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud’s office has failed to clarify Australian Wool Innovation’s ongoing involvement with administration of a supposed independent review of the wool levy-funded body’s performance and governance.
Mr Littleproud’s office has confirmed to Sheep Central that an administrative committee attached to the review will have AWI and Department of Agriculture and Water Resources department representatives, plus an as yet unnamed member nominated by the National Farmers Federation.
However, despite numerous questions texted and email to the minister’s office, full details on the committee’s membership, functions and influence on the review have not been released.
After opening the refurbished Toorallie woollen garment brand flagship store in Melbourne earlier this month, Mr Littleproud defended the independence of the AWI review.
Mr Littleproud told Sheep Central a panel was being created “which we’ve asked the National Farmers Federation to be part of, to ensure that we get the best reviewer.”
“That will be undertaken over the coming couple of weeks, we’ll get it going as quickly as we can so we get the outcome before WoolPoll, so that the levy payers can have a look at that and make a determination.
“That’s the ethos that I’ve taken; that it is important that the levy payers get to have a good look at that before they make a determination.”
A spokesman for Mr Littleproud later said that AWI would have no role in choosing the reviewer and the administrative committee would have no influence over the review. He said the committee would set “timeframes for drafts and the like” and the department would choose the reviewer; disclosed last week as global financial advisory and accountancy firm Ernst & Young (EY).
However, the Minister’s office has refused to disclose who the NFF nominated or that person’s role, who the other committee members are, what the administrative committee or panel would do, why it is necessary to have AWI representation and whether this constituted a conflict of interest.
At the Melbourne store opening, Mr Littleproud reiterated he was confident the review would be independent, despite AWI part-funding it and sitting on the administrative committee or panel.
“Of course it will (be independent); it’s a triennial review that comes in, we brought it forward, we’ve extended the terms of reference.
“This is about transparency; I’ve got nothing to hide, I want it to be transparent,” he said.
“I want the levy payers to make a determination at WoolPoll.
“I want them to be able to determine the future of AWI going forward, that’s what my job is, not to get into the weeds of it, but to put the environment around them to be able to do it.”
NFF nominee suggested, but review process unclear
NFF chief executive officer Tony Mahar said the NFF as an independent national body was asked by the government to nominate an appropriate person for the AWI review administrative committee “to add some value to the process”. A nominee had been suggested, but Mr Mahar would not disclose who it was.
“The minister asked for our advice on who we thought might be an appropriate person.
“I can’t tell you if that person has been accepted and it is not my place to announce it.”
WoolProducers Australia chief executive officer Jo Hall said the details of the AWI review process are still not clear.
“WoolProducers are aware of discussions around the review, but can’t provide any comment until they are confirmed as we believe it would be unhelpful to speculate at this point in time.”
Earlier this month WoolProducers Australia questioned the independence of the review, which is to be jointly funded by AWI. AWI also signed off on the review’s terms of reference before they were publicly released or reviewed by WoolProducers Australia, the nation’s peak wool grower body.