PGA and WAF Members Voting On The Future

(AUSTRALIA OUT) The Big Picture. Getting out to vote takes on a new context in the far west of New South Wales, with a mobile polling booth making its way around remote properties. Bill O'Connor marks his ballot on his 165,000-hectare property Narriearra, about 60 kilometres from Tibooburra, 29 February 1996. SMH Picture by STEVEN SIEWERT (Photo by Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

3rd May 2019

Tony Seabrook
President
Pastoralists and Graziers Association WA

Dear Tony

PGA  and WAF Members Voting On The Future

As you know there have been discussions going on for decades on the merits of combining The Western Australian Farmers Federation (WAFarmers) and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) into one single state farming organisation to ensure a united single voice for all Western Australian farmers, pastoralists and graziers.

The declining number of farm businesses across the state, currently down to approximately 4000 commercial enterprises compared to 13,106 in 1970, the days of being able to afford to run two competing and effective state farming agri-political bodies is rapidly coming to a head. With farm aggregations’ tracking at approximately 3% a year our industry is heading towards 3000 entities by 2030. This decline in numbers, combined with a new era of men and women farmers many of whom are part of the millennial generation which tends to be less politically engaged than their baby boomer and silent generation parents, is a challenge for both of our organisations.

While PGA (1907) and WAFarmers (1912) were born in a similar era they have historically, at least up until the 1990s maintained distinctly different views on a range of economic issues, predominately the role of statutory marketing authorities and government support for agriculture. Since the wind up of the Australian Wheat Board was completed in 2009 these differences have effectively dissolved and our industry has moved on, as has WAFarmers. Economically and politically our policy differences are basically indistinguishable or at least no more or less than those that happen within the competing views of the major political parties. Today both organisations are strong supporters of the free market, minimum government regulation, low taxation and a fair share of regional community services and infrastructure.

If and when big picture issues do come up such as the corporatisation of CBH, ultimately it is the members of that entity that should and do decide what is the best way forward. Similarly when major political/social issues come before a political party such as same sex marriage or monarchy vs republic these big issues are best left to their elected representatives and supporters to have a free vote on and not be tied down by long standing party or organisational historic views or for that matter the dogmatic views of their leadership.  Similarly I believe our industry and membership are mature enough to be able to take the same approach to the big issues that may confront us now and into the future should we bring our two memberships together under one roof.

On the issue of membership and representation I understand that the PGA has around 250 wheatbelt farm businesses and a similar number of pastoral businesses as members, while WAFarmers represents around 1100 family farms which collectively put both organisations at around a third of the wheatbelt and potentially close to 40% of total production of sheep and grain. This is higher than the other state farming organisations but we are hopelessly compromised with two competing organisations when it comes to putting forward successful lobbying and policy formation.

As leaders we need to be conscious of the threats that lie over the horizon.  The biggest of which is the potential that we may very well end up on 18 May with a new federal ALP government which would be potentially in power for at least the next two terms. The possibility of having both state and federal Labor governments working in partnership with the Greens in the Senate should be enough to have the membership of both our organisations saying ‘It’s Time’.  We already know we face very real and growing risks of crippling bans on the live export trade, restrictions on the use of Ag chemicals such as glyphosate, the imposition of a carbon tax on agriculture, anti-farming pressure by animal activists, the end of the on farm fuel rebate and restrictions on genetically modifided grains.  As a result it is time to put our past differences aside and bring the two organisations together to build the political horsepower required to protect our growers from industry and profit destroying political decisions.

While you have recently commented in The West Australian (Sat 27 April 2019) and The Countryman (2nd May 2019) newspapers PGA: No Need for Group to Merge, that PGA members have no appetite for a merger with WAFarmers, I note that this is your position as President and not the polled individual view of your members. I also note that the article states that the Minister for Agriculture, Hon Alannah MacTiernan from the ALP side of politics thinks that a single united voice made sense and I point out that the previous Liberal Premier, Colin Barnett is also on record calling for a single farming body to more effectively represent the industry.

I think it is time to take this matter out of the hands of the Presidents and all those who are quick to howl down any talk of a merger and take it to both organisation’s membership along with all the non-members out there who are frustrated with the fact that there are two competing bodies that they refuse to join either organisation.

Failure to address this issue and instead reflecting on past differences and battles as a basis to refuse to join forces is a failure of leadership from both parties. While I respect that neither organisation will want to give up its history or its name our industry needs to recall that over the past hundred years a dozen different farming bodies have evolved, merged and recreated themselves to move with the times.  Like our farm businesses we need embrace change to set our industry up for the next generation of leaders and members and allow them to move forward.

I propose that both our organisations remove this debate out of our executive decision making processes and take the question of the merits of joining forces of both our organisations into an entirely new body, (let me call it Farmers Pastoralists and Graziers WA for want of a better title) to a poll for both of our membership to vote conducted by the WA Electoral Commission. We should also use this as an opportunity to invite farming non-members to indicate their interest in joining a new organisation should it be supported to ensure we get the critical mass needed to establish a truly professional organisation with the resources required to do the job properly.

On completion of the poll a breakdown of the vote by industry sector and organisation should be made publically available and should there be a majority of support from both organisation’s membership then the executive of both sides agree to work together to draft a new constitution for a new organisation with a new name to be again taken to our respective AGMs.

It is time to end the years of discussion and debate in the media with a formula that will lay the seed for either a new organisation or a clear acceptance that Western Australia will continue on with two distinct and seperate state farming organisations.

Yours sincerely
Rhys Turton
President WAFarmers

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