AUSTRALIAN Wool Innovation chair Jock Laurie could not say whether the levy-funded body audited its expenditure to maintain a 60:40 split between marketing, and research and development projects, at Senate Estimates this week.
When questioned by Regional and Rural Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee vice-chairman Labor Senator Glenn Sterle on Tuesday, Mr Laurie said AWI directors tried “as hard as we can” to adhere to the 60pc marketing:40pc research and development expenditure split.
“I think there is a bit of a buffer there for either way, plus or minus four or five percent, they try to stick to.
“But I must admit it is becoming increasingly difficult at a time when our marketing has become a bit of an issue, yet we’ve still got a lot of our R&D projects running,” Mr Laurie said.
“We’re trying to manage that and keep within that, it’s a very very good guide, it has been a good guide and we will try to stick as close to that as we can, and I don’t think there has been a lot of variation to tell you the truth.”
“AWI monitors it on a regular basis as to where the spending goes and they try to….
Mr Laurie said AWI’s expenditure split is 60pc marketing, 25pc off-farm R&D and 15pc on-farm R&D.
“They monitor that very closely, because that’s their guiding principle.”
AWI takes split audit question on notice
But when asked by Senator Sterle where the split was audited in AWI’s accounts, Mr Laurie said:
“Exactly where it sits in the AWI accounts I don’t know.
“The financial team monitor this on a regular basis, I don’t know whether John (acting CEO John Roberts) wants to cut in there?” he said.
“They monitor that on a regular basis, but where it is actually reported, Jim (Story) or John, I just can’t tell you that.”
AWI company secretary Jim Story said: “Right now while you ask Senator, no, but if you could you might send me a text with that information, sorry I’m not an accountant, if we just take that under notice, just for a little while.”
In October 2018, former AWI chairman Wal Merriman told Sheep Central that AWI could not propose a cut in non-marketing programs in favour of marketing, because it went into the 2018 WoolPoll ballot with a 60:40 split.
“We can’t, because we’re on the 60:40 split, so we can’t change that.
“Because the growers have voted on it – they’ve been given this proposition of all the different percentages at a 60:40 split and that binds this board then,” he said, before growers voted to reduce the compulsory wool grower levy from 2pc now to 1.5pc for 2019-2022.
Some growers have argued for an increase in on-farm R&D, but AWI has consistently denied its shareholders a say in whether or how the split should be changed. However, at the 2018 AGM former chair Colette Garnsey said if shareholders wanted the split to be changed the board would consider it.
An Australian Wool Growers Association suggestion that a question on the split be put to shareholders in the 2021 WoolPoll ballot was rejected by AWI.
The position of peak grower body WoolProducers Australia has been that the expenditure split should remain an AWI board decision, and that there is nothing binding the board to the current ratio, but there should be a proper and accountable shareholder consultation process around this.