Research and Development

Growers call for WoolPoll independence and MLA alignment

Terry Sim, June 26, 2020

INDUSTRY groups and sheep producers have called for the WoolPoll ballot process to be more independent of Australian Wool Innovation and aligned with the five-yearly Meat & Livestock Australia strategic planning cycle.

Significantly, AWI has also supported extending the current three-year ballot process and agreed “that an opportunity would arise for WoolPoll to be aligned with other RDC strategic planning cycles if it were to move to a 5-year cycle.”

“AWI concurs that moving WoolPoll to a 5-year term would have benefits to the wool industry in reducing the administrative burden and transactional costs on holding the poll.

“AWI considers that a regular 5-year term provides certainty and allows for more considered long-term investment planning,” the grower levy-funded research, development and marketing body said in its review submission.

“If a 5-year WoolPoll term was introduced, the strategic plan cycle could also be changed to 5 years instead of the current 3 years,” AWI said.

AWI also believed that other circumstances in which a WoolPoll may be triggered should be on an exception basis only, and in years where WoolPoll aligns with contested AWI board director elections, the two independent corporate events have the potential to compete with one another to the detriment of both.

“Therefore, WoolPoll alignment should occur so as to fall on non-board election years.”

Although due to confidentiality requests, the Department of Agriculture Water and Environment has published just 13 of the 25 survey results received and eight of the 11 submissions to its WoolPoll review, most of the ‘non-confidential’ submitters and submissions supported increasing the WoolPoll ballot frequency, and invariably to five years, to align with MLA cycles. WoolProducers Australia was one of several review submitters who requested their submissions be confidential. Click here for an earlier story on the WPA submission. In accordance with the privacy policy, the department said it will not disclose the identity of respondents whose submissions were made confidential.

Of the eight grower group or individual submitters, six wanted a ballot frequency of more than three years and alignment with MLA. These included AgForce, the Australian Wool Growers Association, NSW Farmers, the Victorian Farmers Federation’s Livestock Group, Livestock SA, New South Wales grower and former panel chair John Keniry, and WoolProducers Australia.

“WoolPoll needs to be aligned with other RDC strategic planning cycles so that for the sheep industry there are not separate plans for wool and meat,” the Livestock SA submission said.

“WoolPoll needs to be closely aligned with the strategic planning cycle for MLA, which currently has a five-year cycle.”

Only the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia advocated no change in the WoolPoll frequency and did not support alignment with the cycles of other research and development corporations such as MLA.

“The PGA does not believe any kind of a compelling case has been mounted for change.

“The current frequency and regulatory trigger must be maintained,” the PGA submission said.

Distinct from the other groups, the PGA also endorsed and supported the current roles and responsibilities of AWI and the WoolPoll panel.

“This includes AWI proposing 3 to 5 levy rates (including a zero rate) that will be put to levy payers.

“However, the regulations should be amended to prevent AWI from recommending a rate to levy payers,” PGA said.

AWGA has also suggested that the industry and AWI properly consult on a costed five-year strategic plan and then together recommend a levy rate to achieve the plan’s objectives. Read an earlier story here.

Most of the grower groups questioned the independence of the WoolPoll process and variously called for the panel or another body to set the levy options and they also opposed AWI recommending a preferred rate to growers. AgForce and NSW Farmers believed WPA should be given oversight over AWI or the WoolPoll process.

NSW Farmers said no other RDC is afforded the opportunity to promote their preferred levy rate when levy reviews are conducted.

“By allowing AWI to recommend a particular levy rate it could be perceived that AWI are (is) influencing the vote.”

Opinions on increasing the WoolPoll frequency and aligning with other RDCs were more evenly spread among ‘non-confidential’ submitters, but more (8 of 13) favoured increasing it above a three-yearly ballot or aligning with other RDCs, with the others favouring the status quo or even an annually-set or static levy.

However, among the submitters and respondents seeking a change in the WoolPoll frequency, there were consistent calls for the WoolPoll panel to be independent of AWI and to have the ability to determine the levy options presented to growers. Those supporting the current three-year model either supported the current panel roles or did not give a survey response to relevant questions.

Most survey respondents and submitters supported continuing WoolPoll ballots, the current eligibility requirements for WoolPoll voting and the current system of 3-5 levy options. However, on the issue of AWI determining the levy options put to growers, of those survey submitters who responded, they appeared evenly divided. The growers either supported AWI’s role on this, or opposed it, with some commenting that AWI’s role was not useful, its decisions were “self-serving” and favoured the body.

The groups were divided on any need to change the eligibility requirements for wool growers’ to vote in WoolPoll’s, with AWGA suggesting an alternative wool tax threshold and NSW Farmers suggesting all eligible levy payers should automatically be shareholders able to vote, without a registration process.

Review respondents appeared evenly divided on whether AWI should determine the spending split between marketing and research, or whether growers should have a role in determining or overseeing this, but most advocated more grower input into how the split was determined.

“In light of the compulsory levy (which I support) there must be a requirement on AWI for major decisions to be voted on by levy payers,” Mr Keniry said.

“The split of expenditure between marketing and research is one such major decision,” he said.

The VFF Livestock Group submission said it believed the investment split between R&D and marketing is a matter for the AWI board to determine.

“However, wool growers should be provided with a greater understanding of the rationale behind the determined investment split.”

A final review reported is expected to be published in September this year.

Click here and scroll down to read the non-confidential grower group submissions and survey responses.


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