WoolProducers circulates AWI oversight body proposal

Terry Sim, November 26, 2021

WoolProducers Australia CEO Jo Hall.

PEAK grower body WoolProducers Australia has circulated a proposal to be the oversight body for Australian Wool Innovation as Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud discusses industry structural reform.

The WoolProducers submission into improving RDC consultation with industry has been circulating among members of AWI’s Wool Industry Consultative Panel for weeks and was discussed at a second roundtable organised by Mr Littleproud this week.

The submission outlining WPA’s suitability as AWI’s oversight body has prompted mixed reactions from WICP members surveyed by Sheep Central.

The WPA submission, prepared by WPA chief executive officer Jo Hall, outlines the need for a recognised industry representative body with oversight powers. She has proposed that independent and grower-based oversight of AWI is required to address structural issues “to ensure that the company is operating in line with the expectation of all stakeholders.”

“AWI is unique in that it is a public company, but is also a semi-statutory body.

“As such AWI requires a unique set of governance arrangements and should have higher levels of governance and grower oversight than ordinary shareholders for non-statutory public companies,” Ms Hall said in the submission.

Ms Hall said the ability of non-State Farming Organisation members and other wool organisations to become directors or members of WoolProducers reinforces WoolProducers’ ability to be considered as truly nationally representative.

Mr Littleproud has not responded to questions around the need for an industry oversight body or WPA’s suitability for the role, but in an ABC Victorian Country Hour interview last month he said he had written to all industry stakeholders asking them to tell him “what consultation looks like.”

“Define it for me, so that there is a process that is transparent, that they know where their levy dollars are being paid, being spent and why it’s being spent.

“So that’s where industry needs to lead,” he said.

“With respect to AWI, I’ll be changing, as a result of this feedback from stakeholders and peak bodies, I’ll be changing the funding agreements with, not just AWI, but all the RDCs, all 15 commodities, and say: this is what good process looks like,” Mr Littleproud said.

“This is the final piece of the innovation reforms that we’re putting in place. And that’s about making sure we get back to that first principle of value to levy payer, value to the taxpayer.”

‘A purely grower representative body is the only appropriate body’

Ms Hall told Sheep Central this week there is a strong need to have better accountability and transparency of AWI, which is something WoolProducers has been seeking for many years.

“AWI has been found to be lacking in their ability to genuinely consult with industry for successive Reviews of Performance, which is essential to ensure that industry priorities align with levy expenditure.

“The other benefit of have a recognised industry representative body will be clarifying the roles within industry,” she said.

“AWI is often thought of as being a ‘policy setting’ body and is blamed for certain things that are outside of its remit, by formalising the role of WoolProducers as the peak representative body, this will refine which organisation is responsible for the differing roles in industry.”

On whether there is a link between the level of effective industry consultation by AWI — as indicated by the recent low voter turnout at the recent WoolPoll ballot and AWI’s annual general meeting — and the need for oversight, Ms Hall said: “It would not be too much of a stretch to suggest that if growers felt more engaged with AWI then they may feel more compelled to participate in director elections and WoolPoll.”

Ms Hall said WoolProducers had been very vocal over a number of issues regarding AWI governance and levy expenditure, including WoolQ, strategic planning and the implementation of the 2018 Review of Performance recommendations.

“While AWI may claim that they have consulted with industry on issues there continues to be a lack of transparent processes that demonstrate how any consultations with shareholders and industry are addressed by the AWI board.”

She said a purely grower representative body is the only appropriate body to ensure accountability by AWI.

“Regarding the suggestion of the WICP as this body, this is not a viable option for a number of reasons, including that the WICP is explicitly prohibited under its Terms of Reference to engage in industry policy development and also the fact that WICP members are paid sitting fees by AWI, which would rule out any independence from the WICP members.”

However, the WPA submission proposes that in undertaking the industry representative body role, adequate resourcing from AWI outlined in a service level agreement would be expected.

AWI director is uncomfortable with an oversight body

AWI director Don Macdonald said an oversight body for AWI might impact the ability of AWI to attract good director candidates and could disenfranchise other grower groups in the consultative process.

“The establishment of a prescribed industry oversight body could lead to further disenfranchisement among grower groups unless it was carefully researched and had thorough engagement, which is appears the minister is trying to do.

“But I’m not comfortable with it.”

He said he believed that there needs to an examination into how oversight of Meat & Livestock Australia works with Sheep Producers Australia and the Cattle Council.

Reflecting on the recent field of seven nominees in the AWI director election, Mr Macdonald suggested that good candidates might not come forward and put the time in.

“What I would like from our organisation is independence and independent thinking, and I don’t think that an RO bodes well for good independent thinking, because people will be put off by the fact that every decision you make will be watched by someone else.”

AWI chairman Jock Laurie said AWI is always looking at ways to improve how it consults with industry.

“It is a major priority for the board and for the entire organisation.

“Over the last eighteen months we have enhanced our efforts in this area and it will remain a focus in the future,” he said.

Mr Laurie said AWI already listens to and consults with WoolProducers Australia and a wider group of industry leaders through the Wool Industry Consultative Panel.

“We will continue to discuss improved consultation models with the WICP, the WCG and the broader industry.

“Our aim is to continue the improvement noted in the Review of Performance,” he said.

“AWI will not speculate on what potential changes may or may not be made by the Federal Government.”

Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association president Mark Waters said WPA “out to have a say.”

“I don’t know whether they are wholly representative of the industry; I think there are a few gaps there.

“My gut feel is that the WICP group is probably the biggest broadest representative (group), but they are just a collection of growers thrown together by AWI, there is nothing formal there, they don’t have any money, employees or anything.”

Mr Waters said AWI needs to “talk a bit less and listen a bit more.”

“But as an industry we need to stop bashing AWI, there is a lot of negative about AWI and I that WoolProducers are probably as guilty as anyone, but I suppose they are trying to do the best thing for the industry.”

Commercial Merino Ewe Competitions Association representative on the WICP, Tom Kirk, said WICP members are in a consultation process about WPA’s submission and it would be looked at by the minister within the new RDC framework.

“We will fall in behind the framework that the minister develops and when I say we, I mean the wool industry.”

Mr Kirk said within the WICP there is a great will to develop a framework so that everybody clearly understands how policy is developed and implemented, and to ensure that consultation is “clearer than what it looks at the moment.” He said it was “jumping the gun a bit” to declare a CMECA stance on WPA’s submission.

“I think that’s what some people are doing, putting the cart before the horse and I think we need to go through the process first and see what good consultation looks like and then look at how we can build a framework and a structure to make that work.

“If WoolProducers is part of that, that will be great, they have a lot of input into the industry already and I would assume that they will have, but at this point in time it is not set in stone as to who is going to be consulted or how it is actually going to come together.”

Australian Wool Growers Association’s WICP delegate Monica Ley said there has been no endorsed position or a specific entity to take the role of an AWI oversight body.

“There is a general consensus across the wool industry and in AWGA that there does need to be a wool industry policy body somewhere, but there is no formalised position, it (WPA’s) was simply one proposal submitted to the Minister yesterday in a theorised way to bring harmony to the industry.”

Ms Ley said she had no opinion on the need for an AWI oversight body “because it has not been brought up.”

WICP broad wools representative Nick Cole said he was not comfortable with WPA being the industry representative body, because he believed it was “a New South Wales-centric body” and might require additional fees from bodies wanting to have input.

The Pastoralists and Graziers of WA representative on the WICP, Bindi Murray, said she could not comment on the WPA submission because it was circulated to her, “but it was not addressed to me, so I’d rather not.”

The Australian Association of Stud merino Breeders president and WICP member Max Wilson could not be contacted for comment.

Click here to read the WoolProducers Australia submission.


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  1. Don Mudford, November 28, 2021

    These bodies have to be funded. I can see more costs in such proposals. We don’t want to be funding another body with our wool tax!!

    • Peter Small, November 29, 2021

      Don, if we all agree that WoolProducers is the appropriate organisation to be the AWI oversight body, then WoolProducers should be funded by membership subscriptions from the members whom they represent. And as I argue below, there is no impediment to any wool grower, large or small, belonging to WoolProducers, either directly or through a state-affiliated farming organisation. And Johann Schroder is perfectly correct, WoolProducers (WPA) is the wool industry’s peak industry council (PIC) and AWI is the service provider.

  2. Johann Schroder, November 28, 2021

    This makes sense and would emulate the structure of the red meat industry. The 15 rural R&D corporations, with AWI and MLA among them, ought to be service providers for their commodities — investing producer levies in marketing and research — but not lobby groups or agri-political factions. That’s what the State Farming Organisations and the peak industry councils are for. People seem to forget that WPA is actually the wool industry’s PIC and AWI the service provider.

  3. Peter Small, November 26, 2021

    The WoolProducers submission argues effectively that the body is in effect the only proper representative organisation of wool growers across Australia. There is nothing restricting any wool grower, large or small, from joining WoolProducers either through direct membership or through an affiliated State Farmer Organisation.
    Eligibility of membership, I would argue, should be the defining criteria, and precedent is important. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1901 was one of the first Acts of the Australian Parliament. It was very specific about eligibility of membership for both employer and employee organisations seeking registration with the Arbitration Commission. The Act prohibited organisations from seeking registrations unless it could be demonstrated that their membership could not “conveniently belong to an organisation already registered”. No wool grower is restricted from belonging to WoolProducers, but that is not so of all the other groups wanting a say in the wool industry consultative process.
    The only other organisation that all growers could, for example, gain membership of, is the Australian Wool Growers Association. In past years, I have phoned AWGA president Robert McBride on at least two occasions seeking to join and my request has been ignored; the body obviously has some undefined selection process. They of course may not be an organisation at all, but rather a tiny self-interested pressure or lobby group.
    However, if the Australian Woolgrowers Association can demonstrate it is a legitimate wool grower organisation with a substantive membership, whose membership cannot conveniently belong to WoolProducers, then again going to the precedent of the Australian Wool Industry Conference (AWIC), it should be the Minister who sets up the consultative committee with appropriate membership from the prescribed organisation(s). It is easily argued that there is no place for all the rest.
    The WoolProducers submission reports on the low understanding of wool industry matters by growers. This sad state of affairs is accentuated by rank and file growers being locked out of the policy debate. It is not good enough to argue their disinterest. WoolProducers needs to engage in the court of public affairs and be proud of their outstanding research and industry knowledge and engage in the rigor of industry discussion.
    By engaging more directly with growers, WoolProducers would become more powerful and respected by growers, politicians and AWI directors alike.
    WoolProducers should come out from behind closed doors and tell the industry what is going on. They will find the applause from up and down the wool pipeline deafening.
    This would invigorate our industry with the knowledge to confront the future. To disperse the oligarchs now in control is an essential mission if our industry is to reinvent itself for the 21st century.

  4. David Hosking, November 26, 2021

    Great proposal. It is clearly an essential requirement and would renew confidence in AWI, which has been seriously eroded. This could be the first step in encouraging a return to a 2 percent levy or higher, which is needed for the long-term viability of our wool industry.

  5. Andrew Farran, November 26, 2021

    Show me how it is that WoolProducers is consultative in the sense implied and is no less partisan than others within the industry.

    As regards Ms Hall’s comment that “non-State Farming Organisation members and other wool organisations have the ability to become directors or members of WoolProducers reinforces WoolProducers’ ability to be considered as truly nationally representative,” it is at this point in time purely aspirational. It awaits demonstration.

    • Donald Cameron, November 27, 2021

      And so it goes on, on and on and on and on.
      Will the last one out turn out the lights?

      • Dirk Stevens, November 28, 2021

        You are so right. I’ve been listening to the same waffle for forty years.

        • Peter Small, November 29, 2021

          Dirk, it is easy to understand why many regard this debate as “waffle”. The so-called “waffle” has been dominating our industry for more than a generation. Politics is the enduring cloud that has hung over our industry all this time. This period has seen the once-great Australian wool industry continually shrink.
          The causes are clear:
          1. The “honey pot” we create with our wool tax.
          2. Lack of leadership.
          3. Failure of growers to engage in industry debate and policy formation through their industry organisations.
          4. Failure of industry organisations to provide a forum for industry debate and policy development.
          5. Perhaps the most important failure — to invest adequately in research to increase wool-growing productivity.
          As a commercial operator, albeit small in all facets of the wool textile pipeline, I find it humiliating to have federal politicians continually intruding in our industry. This only comes about because of the federal parliament’s oversight responsibilities with the collection of the statutory tax on our gross proceeds.

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