Minister Littleproud talks tough on wool culture – again

Terry Sim October 11, 2021

Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud.

WOOL growers have been warned to address cultural issues in their levy-funded body Australian Wool Innovation this year, in a roundtable called by Agriculture minister David Littleproud.

In last week’s meeting which at least one grower group has interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the current AWI board and leadership, Mr Littleproud said he had reiterated to stakeholders “this was their industry and ultimately they had to lead it and could only do that if they found modern ground and left personalities and some of the past at the door.”

The roundtable was ostensibly called to discuss how the industry can work collaboratively to achieve a common approach to industry challenges such as mulesing, and how it can implement Australian Wool Innovation’s Wool 2030 strategic plan objectives.

“It was made clear in my view the AWI has cultural and structural issues that need to be addressed, but the fact they were prepared to participate in the Roundtable was a good start,” Mr Littleproud told Sheep Central.

“I will be making structural changes to all research and development corporations by the end of the year after consultation from stakeholders on defining consultation and then amending funding agreements to reflect that.”

Mr Littleproud also reiterated to the grower bodies at the roundtable that he would not be banning mulesing, but that he expected AWI to use science and technology to provide a viable solution that addressed animal welfare issues.

The Minister also said shearers have been identified as a critical skill and consequently the government has already given the Australian Border Force Commissioner the power to grant exemptions for shearers to enter Australia. However, the minister has not yet been confirmed whether he was referring to regulatory changes enabling the sourcing of shearers via the Pacific Labour Scheme and/or from Northern Hemisphere countries.

“Advice from government departments is to be sought on other visa pathways and also as part of the new Ag visa,” Mr Littleproud told Sheep Central.

Australian Wool Growers Association director Robert Ingram said the minister opened the meeting by saying that he went to AWI chair Jock Laurie to call the meeting.

“He (Mr Littleproud) didn’t want to be there; it was not his role as the minister to be there to solve the industry’s problems.”

Mr Ingram said he believed the minister is frustrated that AWI will not respond to and support the position of a significant number of its shareholders/stakeholders and that he has lost confidence in AWI to solve the problems.

“He wants change in AWI and despite everything that was in the EY ROP of 2018 to bring about change, nothing has effectively happened to institute change subsequently he does not want to get involved politically and force change,” Mr Ingram said.

Mr Ingram believes the timing of the roundtable is highly significant.

“Although he does not want to intervene politically, what he’s telegraphing is that both he and the department have run out tolerance with AWI and he is telegraphing to the industry to vote for change at the director elections in November.”

Mr Ingram said AWGA’s informal polling is indicating that the 1.5 percent levy will be returned.

“Thus, levy payers and shareholders have again provided a vote of no confidence in the AWI board.”

Mr Ingram urged growers to vote for change in the coming AWI director election.

“Do not vote for those who have supported the status quo on the AWI board for the last six years.”

Mr Ingram said the roundtable meeting was constructive, proactive and amicable.

He said the department identified the five priority issues based on participants’ feedback as:

– The need to improve AWI culture

– the need to improve a collaborative approach across the whole industry in terms of addressing issues and moving away from partisan positions

–  the availability of shearers and shedhands

– animal welfare and husbandry, including mulesing and the impact of climate change on management systems

– traceability and a complementary NWD

Mr Ingram said the department expressed surprise that nobody raised the issue of China as a sovereign risk nor the need to move to supporting early stage processing in countries other than China to increase competition.

Outcome of roundtable is “hard to define” – Storey

WoolProducers Australia president Ed Storey said the meeting was constructive and positive.

He said Mr Littleproud is looking for changes in all RDCs, not just wool.

“He was pretty clear about that, he wants to see the industry working.

“We face a number of challenges, we continue to lose land to other uses and we are losing competition to other countries and to other fibres,” he said.

“He wanted to challenge us so the structure are correct so we can collaborate effectively, and how we might implement the Wool 2030 strategy, given the structures we’ve got.

“We appreciated his involvement, but it is probably a little disappointing that the federal minister for Agriculture has to bet involved in this sort of stuff,” Mr Storey said.

“It is up to industry to sort this out ourselves.

“We know what a great industry and product it is, we’ve got to sort this out ourselves.”

Mr Storey said outcome of the roundtable is “hard to define.”

“Time will tell.”


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