IN September this year wool growers across Australia will vote to determine the size of their wool levies for the next three years.
But should growers also get to vote on how their levy funds are split between research and development projects and wool marketing activities?
The triennial WoolPoll vote gives growers a choice to vote for one of several levy options, typically ranging from paying the equivalent of 3 percent of their gross wool proceeds down to 0pc.
Under the current system the board of Australian Wool Innovation determines how grower levy funds will be invested between R&D and marketing activities for the next three year period after WoolPoll.
Some – but not all – wool grower representative groups believe the next WoolPoll should allow growers to determine not only the quantum of levy paid but the investment split of their funds as well.
Addressing the recent Senate Inquiry into agricultural levies, Australian Superfine Woolgrowers Association spokesperson Helen Cathles said growers should be able to vote on levy funds are allocated between R&D and Marketing.
She said that under the current system, the only way growers could vote for more marketing, for example, was to vote for the higher 3pc option.
“They (AWI) say, ‘If you want to spend more on marketing then you will be voting for the three per cent package.’
“So they feel that you are getting that opportunity at the moment, but in fact you are voting for a package. You are not voting for the levy as one and the structure of it as the other.”
Australian Wool Growers Association spokesman Chick Olsson agreed in comments to Sheep Central recently that wool growers should decide how funds are invested between R&D and marketing.
He said he prefers a 50:50 split between the two, as opposed to the current ratio employed by AWI of 60:40 in favour of marketing.
Mr Olsson said the fact that WoolPoll votes are also weighted towards the volume of wool produced (growers are allocated 1 vote for every $100 of wool levy they pay) meant that the triennial vote did not necessarily reflect the majority opinion of all wool growers, because the overall result could be determined by a small number of very large woolgrowers.
The total number of individual wool growers who vote should be disclosed after each WoolPoll he said, not just the total votes cast in favour of each option.
“Unless we can see how many registered levy payers are voting, how can you constitutionally say levies are being decided by the majority of growers?”
However, a spokesperson for AWI said the facts suggest otherwise as the largest 100 levypayers only hold less than 6.6 percent of the voting entitlements and the largest 1000 levypayers hold less than a quarter of the total voting entitlements.
In contrast to Mr Olsson and Ms Cathles, WoolProducers Australia has told Sheep Central that it is comfortable with the board of AWI determining the split between R&D and marketing – on the provision that “far-reaching and effective consultation” is held with growers.
Any split determined by the AWI Board should be supported by comprehensive analysis showing why the decision has been determined as the best option on behalf of the Australian wool industry, WPA chief executive officer Jo Hall said.
“AWI are in the privileged position of not only being responsible for investing a portion of growers’ wool cheque but also the matching dollar-for-dollar contribution received from government for research and development on behalf of the wool industry.
“This mechanism must be fiercely protected, something which WPA stressed in our submission into the Senate Inquiry.
“It is important not to link AWI’s performance with the continuation of this co-contribution mechanism and therefore WPA views the notion of voting for 0% in WoolPoll as being the only option to voice discontent with AWI’s performance as overly simplistic and misrepresentative.”
WoolPoll chairman Will Roberts said the WoolPoll Panel will be doing its utmost to make sure woolgrowers are aware of the opportunity to vote and that they do so as well informed as possible.