NEW South Wales wool grower Chick Olsson aims to contest the 2021 Australian Wool Innovation director election on a pain-free mulesing and AWI reform platform.
“Everyone knows my position is entirely pro-mulesing with pain relief and giving people a choice to decide what is best for their farm.”
Mr Olsson said this will be his fourth attempt to seek nomination in an AWI election. He has successfully nominated for two AWI elections and been elected once in 2007, serving for four years.
“In that time we put $120 million into reserves, reduced staff to under 80, launched the HRH Campaign for Wool in Europe and ran mulesing education around the world.”
Mr Olsson controversially failed to gain nomination in the 2019 election, and despite Mr Olsson claiming agri-political interference, the AWI board ruled he had insufficient eligible shareholder signatures supporting him.
Mr Olsson said he can see the rise of the anti-mulesing lobby in Australia “particularly in the new AWI chairman’s comments in the press this week.”
New AWI chairman Jock Laurie confirmed on Sheep Central that he will also be contesting the 2019 election. He runs a non-mulesed flock and told Farmonline this week: “I am going to be very clear about mulesing.”
“AWI is an R&D company, we are not the agri-political organisation to deal with mulesing.
“We will provide all of the information, we will do the research that we can so people can make up their own minds about what they want to grow on their properties,” he said.
Mr Laurie also said the main threats the Australian wool industry were looming European Union labelling legislation, the shearer shortage and mulesing.
“He says mulesing is one of the main threats, but what is he doing about it? He has just contradicted himself,” Mr Olsson said.
“He should be solving the issue.
“Clearly, mulesing is the number one issue in the industry and they’ve got no research plan, no alternative and no roll-out strategy,” Mr Olsson said.
“He is just greenwashing.”
While declaring that as a director of the company Animal Ethics, he has a “strong” vested interest in the sale of its mulesing pain relief product Tri-Solfen, Mr Olsson said AWI and the industry’s approach on mulesing has to be “totally transparent, totally honest and backed up by science.”
“And don’t be ashamed of it (mulesing),” he said.
“Jock Laurie is clearly ashamed of mulesing, because he doesn’t mules his flock.”
Mr Olsson believes the majority of the directors on the AWI board were elected on ‘pro-mulesing” tickets, including Mr Laurie, with the support of then chairman and mulesing advocate Wal Merriman.
“My viewpoint is that once more AWI has hung the industry out to dry by not supporting those people who are mulesing.”
Mr Olsson believed he has not seen one bit of evidence that AWI, by not directly supporting non-mulesed wool production, has indirectly supported maintenance of mulesing in Australia.
“I have not seen one bit of evidence where AWI has been proactively supporting mulesing in the public domain.”
Mulesing is not an agri-political issue
Mr Olsson said he believes mulesing should not be seen as an agri-political issue.
“It is an important welfare surgery that we need to keep the sheep alive in Australia and if he (Mr Laurie) thinks it is agri-political, the man is clearly unsuitable for the job.”
Mr Olsson said Mr Laurie was the president of NSW Farmers in 2008 when the state farming organisation supported the banning of mulesing.
“Now here we are, with the ugly spectre of the anti-mulesing brigade rising again cloaked in the agri-political caping of a new chairman who made it very clear that they are not going support those people who mules.
“Now he (Mr Laurie) is shifting into a camp where he doesn’t want to know about it (mulesing) anymore, because he is very happy to be the chair of the wool industry,” he said.
He believes Mr Laurie’s stance on mulesing as AWI chairman is tantamount to Mr Laurie ‘running with the foxes and hunting with the hounds’ on mulesing.
“That’s exactly what it is, and I’m ashamed of these other directors, including David Webster, who got on the board on pro-mulesing platforms.
“Where is his public support for all the people doing the right thing by their sheep?”
Mr Laurie has told Sheep Central that he doesn’t believe that not mulesing his sheep, while maintaining an apolitical stance on the practice as AWI chairman, is contradictory. He said “No” to the question: Is he ‘running with the foxes and hunting with the hounds’ on the mulesing issue?
However, Mr Olsson said it appeared that many of AWI’s collaborative marketing programs overseas were supporting non-mulesed wool.
“I see that as a major problem; only in the sense that 90 percent of Australian wool growers mules their sheep and expected to be represented, but actually the opposite is happening.
“We are still talking about mulesing after 15 years because we’ve had a lack of leadership,” he said.
“As the Europeans have told us, if we had mandated pain relief, these issues would have disappeared.”
Cede all wool marketing to the British Royal family
Mr Olsson has released a summary of his top AWI reform suggestions, including changes to staff levels and levy expenditure.
He believes there needs to be a new business model at AWI of lowering overheads by taking staff numbers down to a maximum of 30, compared to the current figures of about 130 plus consultants. This would free up $30-$40 million in revenue and make available about $80 million for collaborative programs with Meat & Livestock Australia, he said.
Mr Olsson believes AWI’s 120 current projects should be reduced to core essential activities. He believes 70pc of the levy should be spent on research and development and 30pc on wool sustainability marketing through the Prince of Wales’ Campaign for Wool initiative working with major retailers, “where mulesing is not an issue”.
“The Campaign for Wool stood over all of that and said wool is good, it’s good for the environment, it didn’t get into the nitty gritty of animal welfare.
“The Campaign for Wool should get all our wool marketing money for the sustainability message and run by the British Royal family,” he said.
“Maybe one hundred million people love the Royal family, that’s good enough for me.
“All marketing needs to be run out of the European Union and the United Kingdom, that’s where the world is cold and most of the wool is used.”
Cultural change is needed at AWI
“The only way to fix this is a complete and utter cultural change at AWI from top to bottom.
“The whole organisation must be entirely respectful of those who voted them,” he said.
“For a renaissance in wool we must entirely change what we do, because it’s not working.
“That there is nothing wrong and we shouldn’t be ashamed of our essential surgeries,” Mr Olsson said.
“Animal rights groups know that if we end of mulesing, you will see the collapse of the Australian Merino flocks and the end of Merino farming.
“Most people have said to me they will walk away if they can’t mules.”
Sheep genetics is the way ahead on mulesing
However, he concedes that sheep genetics is the only way out of Australia’s current mulesing situation.
“If you can produce a non-mulesed sheep that is highly productive and highly fertile, that’s going to be a future for many people.
“But you shouldn’t be forced to buy that (non-mulesed) sheep, that should be a business decision that someone makes, and it should be able to stand on its own feet on the basis of performance without being forced by animal rights groups.”
Mr Olsson said in the last 10 years AWI has done nothing in the mulesing space.
“Because everyone knows the attitude to mulesing of the previous chairman to Colette Garnsey (Mr Merriman) was do nothing and it will go away.
“That has been a failure and Jock Laurie is totally carrying on with,” he said.
“The man is a politician, he has a foot in both camps and he is not providing any leadership for the future of the industry.
“What we need on that board are business people who have a track record of successful commercial business and development,” he said.
“We don’t need more wool growers on there.”
Mr Olsson believed former AWI chairman Colette Garnsey has been one of AWI’s best directors and the board needed to replace her retail business skills.
‘She hasn’t had a lot of time to do what she wanted.
“You’ve still got a shadow chairman (Wal Merriman) there, trying to influence her.”
Mr Olsson expected AWI’s “entirely agri-political” board nomination committee would put up some preferred candidates for the 2021 election.
The issue that needs to be discussed is a simple one: Is the traditional Merino sheep suitable for the Australian environment, consumer expectations and a workforce to handle them? The sheep that I am referring too is one that requires mulesing, jetting for fly prevention, is difficult to shear and is a contributor to low weaning rates.
Much has been written about pain relief and various situations. I would like the discussion to focus on the sheep itself and ask some simple questions.
I would like to know the views of those aspiring to be part of the AWI board.
In regard to the sheep you are referring to, Mr Wright: Why is Australian Wool Innovation still financially backing this type of Merino exclusively to the industry?
The National Merino Challenge for schools, the junior sheep judging and AWI employees are all pushing this type. All these activities are aimed indoctrinating the younger generation. This is criminal. When are we trying to fix the industry, not destroy it?
Have a read of The Boys’ Club by Michael Warner and I quote from the back page.
“The Boys’ Club is the must-read inside story behind the power and politics of the AFL.” It will take your breath away. This book could have a different title. The Power and Politics of AWI.
This is why it will be so important for levy payers to vote 1 percent and zero percent for your second choice in the WoolPoll later this year. It is the only way to change the culture in AWI. If we can get the levy down to 0.5 percent in three years time, then that will give levy payers room to fold into Meat & Livestock Australia or other research projects they see fit.
It’s clear to see the trauma Olsson has experienced following his experience in 2019, when AWI rejected his director election nomination.
It also highlights the increasing difficulty for AWI director nomination as AWI shareholder numbers continue to crash. There are 70,521 wool levy payers, but only 52,156 are eligible for the WoolPoll vote this year. Only 21,050 are registered AWI shareholders and can vote at director elections or sign a director nomination form, 7420 fewer than 10 years ago.
As for mandating pain relief, AWI has no mandate to set policy on that. Potential AWI directors should not mislead shareholders on this issue, or indeed on live export, on which AWI also has no mandate, as happened in 2019.
This story will encourage a lower AWI WoolPoll vote for 1 percent or even a zero levy.
A structure with a government-backed compulsory levy-funded company, led by directors voted in with only 30 percent of levy payers’ potential votes, is a recipe for ongoing failure.
A structure with a government-backed compulsory levy-funded company, led by directors voted in with only 30 percent of levy payers’ potential votes, is a recipe for ongoing failure. You nailed it.
Unfortunately it will require a change of government from blue to red to fix AWI, because the Nats stacked the board. Laurie is another failed Nats candidate.
Dear Marianne Mclean-Atkins, well said.
Dear Sheep Central and Mr. Olsson,
I am sorry to be blunt, but it is very tedious to still be playing tug-o-war between the mulesed and non-mulesed teams. I am not in a position of experience to give advice, I would not be so bold, but I have worked with customers for 20 years, and as much as we do not always agree…the customer is always right and they make the decisions, not AWI or the Royal family.
Be under no disillusion that the UK or any other EU country will ignore the necessary evil that you describe as pain relief. They just haven’t got to wool yet, as they are so busy with the mess of fast fashion and all the greenwashing that offers. You have magnificent plain bodied animals offering a solution for the industry, yet it is pushed to the side as an afterthought.
Genetic innovation provides the brands and the connection with science, technology, ethics and welfare. Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight, but you all want transparency… I’d bet the average brand, and definitely the average consumer at the store, would have no idea such animals exist. The heart of the problem is wrinkly sheep.
It is not about volume anymore, it is about quality, especially for finer Merino wool. So, it is confusing what you are trying to do for the future of your industry if you keep arguing over how to treat the problem, instead of how to avoid the problem in the first place.
My sentiments precisely. The Merino wool industry will not survive with mulesing. There is a tsunami of public revulsion approaching, but still beyond the horizon of those neanderthals who seek to practice or even worse, to profit, from this barbaric practice.