WoolProducers Australia is asking the Federal Government to give it the same legislative oversight of Australian Wool Innovation as the Sheepmeat Council of Australia has over Meat & Livestock Australia.
In a submission to the recently opened Senate inquiry into agricultural levy systems, WoolProducers says it is the national peak industry body representing and promoting the needs of Australia’s woolgrowers, through its State Farming Organistion members and three democratically elected independent directors, and the only true democratic representative voice of the Australian wool industry.
It says a legislative consultative relationship is needed between itself as the peak industry body representing woolgrowers and AWI as the industry research, development, extension and marketing (RDE&M) body spending grower wool levy dollars.
WoolProducers’ submission says AWI has produced some excellent research and development programs that have benefited Australian woolgrowers, and recommends that AWI continue with the remit to initiate, commission and manage RDE&M for the Australian wool industry.
However it argues that stronger producer oversight of AWI is needed to guide future levy investment decisions, similar to the relationship that exists between Sheepmeat Council of Australia and Meat & Livestock Australia.
As the recognised peak body for the sheepmeat industry under the Australian Meat and Livestock Act 1997, the Sheepmeat Council of Australia sets the strategic objectives for expenditure of sheepmeat levies by Meat & Livestock Australia, sets priorities for industry R&D and marketing activities, examines and approves MLA’s sheepmeat programs and budgets, and assesses how MLA has peformed in spending lamb and mutton levies. Cattle Council of Australia has the same oversight capacity over MLA’s expenditure of grassfed cattle levies.
“This formalised relationship ensures independent oversight and accountability as well as a consultative mechanism with levy payers,” the WoolProducers submission states.
“Currently in the wool industry there is a lack of formalised feedback mechanism between the peak body that sets policy and the industry RDE&M organisation.
“The establishment of a legislated relationship at this level would facilitate more effective grower consultation and resulting policy development activities, and would also dramatically improve unity and collaboration within a somewhat fragmented industry.”
No single body represents woolgrowers: AWI
Australian Wool Innovation’s submission to the same inquiry argues that its operations are already strongly driven by consultation with growers.
In contrast to WoolProducer’s position, the AWI submission states that “there is no single organisation that represents woolgrowers in Australia”.
Unlike other Research & Development Corporations (RDCs), AWI says, its statutory funding agreement does not define a specific industry representative body for AWI to consult to ensure growers’ priorities are incorporated and reflected in the business.
To ensure appropriate consultation was achieved, AWI says it moved in 2010 to establish the Woolgrower Industry Consultative Committee (ICC) as a mechanism for AWI to formally and systematically engage with woolgrower representative organisations.
The ICC comprises one representative from each of the following organisations: the Australian Association of Stud Merino Breeders; Australian Superfine Woolgrowers Association; Australian Wool Growers Association; WoolProducers Australia; a non-Merino breed representative; and Pastoral & Graziers Association of WA (as PGA is not a member of WoolProducers Australia). A representative from the Department of Agriculture also attends.
“The ICC allows AWI to satisfy its requirements under the SFA to consult with woolgrower organisations every six months to identify priorities and report on performance. It’s worth noting that AWI convenes the ICC more frequently than twice yearly, as required by the government,” the AWI submission states.
“The ICC is only one way AWI engages growers; other less formal forums include the biannual Woolgrower Forums, quarterly briefings offered to the state farm organisations, numerous other face-to-face and industry events.”
AWI’s submission says all of its activities – including the development of strategic and annual operating plans – are directly driven by industry, based on consultation with woolgrowers, industry and other key stakeholders including government.
It adds that the direction provided by woolgrowers at each three-yearly WoolPoll forms the basis of AWI’s three-year strategic plan and outlines key areas of activity and investment over the forthcoming three years.
“WoolPoll and the regular independent RoPs provide AWI with strong incentives to communicate the activities it undertakes and the outcomes it delivers to its stakeholders.”
AWI’s submission adds that should it fail to deliver benefits, levy payers have the option every three years to shut down the organisation through a vote for a zero levy.
ICC process needs review: WoolProducers
WoolProducers Australia’s submission takes issue with the ICC process, stating that it can be improved and is in need of review.
“For example, minutes may be taken but they are not distributed, and any list of actions and, or resolutions are absent,” WoolProducers says.
“This leaves a considerable gap in the accountability and historical record of the ICC that if rectified will make ICC a more robust consultation mechanism with industry.
“Similarly, quarterly presentations to State Farming Organisations (SFOs) were introduced to ensure these important stakeholders were engaged with AWI.
“Our consultation with SFOs has shown us this has taken place to some degree, for example with the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF), but others such as the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) have received no consultation whatsoever in the last eighteen months.
“Therefore, WoolProducers and its members believe grower consultation, in this case with SFOs needs to be reassessed and codified.”
Recently elected WoolProducers Australia president Richard Halliday told Sheep Central today that a more formal relationship between the peak industry body representing woolgrowers and AWI as the levy-funded service organisation would ensure greater transparency.
“In the last few years when AWI has made a decision and you have had a backlash from within industry saying why have they done that, well if you have got this process in place it becomes far more transparent as to why things happen,” he said.
Asked if he believed the ICC was providing adequate consultation for growers, he said the process worked “to a degree”.
“I have only been involved in one of them so far and I found it quite informative, and I had the ability to report back to our board from that meeting and to give them a clear guidance about what is going on.
“But it wasn’t so much where we were telling them this would be a very good idea and you should do something about it, it was more them telling us well this is what we are doing and we are just informing you of what we are doing.”