Time to Vote on One Voice

time-to-vote-on-one-voice

At the Dowerin Field Day, attendees will find in their Field Day Program, a link to a Farm Weekly run poll that will allow farmers the ability to have their say on whether Western Australia should have a single unified organisation representing industry needs. The results of the poll will confirm growers opinions as to whether they believe agriculture in this state will be better served by having one organisation and one voice servicing the industry, or keeping the status quo of having multiple advocacy groups.

The poll which has been generously sponsored by the Farm Weekly and is being run by an independent and reputable survey firm will draw a line in the sand and confirm what farmers, pastoralists and graziers really think should happen with the future of the two competing advocacy bodies.

Over the past year this debate has run hot in the rural media and its outcome is being closely watched by politicians, bureaucrats and corporate leaders. There is general frustration with an industry that turns over more than $6 billion dollars has less than 4000 commercial family operations of scale but is operating with at least four organisations incl WAGG and KPCA, all claiming to politicians that they represents all or part of of the industry.

This is not the 1950s when there were over 20,000 family farming businesses across the state with limited communication and two competing political approaches to agri-economics. Those days are long gone and its time to set ourselves up to move into the 2020s and build a structure capable of engaging in a rapidly changing political landscape.

WAFarmers as an entity has been at the forefront of the debate on the need for a new structure, it recognises that to operate effectively our industry needs the staff and resources to operate on a national scale. We need to be in a position to financially support the National Farmers Federation and the national peak bodies such as the Cattle Council, Sheep Producers and Wool Producers. Without the membership base to bring in the income we cannot afford the lawyers, economists, scientists and community surveys to build the case for a change in government policy.

Building a comprehensive case to defend the animal welfare science of live export stocking densities, the need for greater fee support of boarding school costs, improved regional mobile phone coverage or common sense in rules around piloting of ag machinery down country roads comes at a cost of $100,000 to $300,000 an issue. Long gone are the days when a petition, a letter and a meeting with the Minister got your issue across the line.

Our current model is dividing our resources and results in confused messages to politicians. It is simply not effective, and it’s not the way other peak bodies from the Australian Hotels Association to the Chamber of Minerals and Energy or the WA Rocklobster Council operate. They have built a structure that has access to the resources to roll in the heavy hitting consultants to pull apart government policy and build the economic and social case for change when under attack.

The recent live export case was a case in point where our sheep industry raised just 1c a sheep from a call for donations to run the case with government to keep the industry alive, far short of the $6m the industry was quoted to run a comprehensive long term campaign. We were lucky as the coalition won (for now), but if they had lost the industry would be closed as of now.

In comparison the states rock lobster industry raised around $6m to fight off an attempt by the state government to nationalise a part of their industry. The funding allowed them to run a coherent and professional campaign with some of the best lobbyists and advertising people in Australia. Why because they had one professional peak body that could coordinate the fight.

The comprehensive win by the rock lobster’s fishers has simply seen the government move on to softer prey. Just last month they announced increases of up to 300% on pastoral lease fees but the PGA and the KPCA are left with letter writing and meetings with government minister’s as their only means to stop the huge fee hikes. They are simply not in a position to bring in the economists and the public relations experts to build the policy and community case for no fee increase. It’s a classic case of a divided army with no money left to buy the latest defence equipment to win the war, all that’s left is retreat and defeat.

If there was any better argument to change the way we represent ourselves and develop a defence funding mechanism to build the economic and social case for keeping pastoral lease fees affordable, I can’t think of one. It is time for farmers and pastoralists to build a better stronger model.

This issue of one voice and one body representing growers is key to starting that work. But while this issue has been visited in the past, and both WA Farmers and the PGA have had discussions previously. I feel these discussions were limited to very few people within both groups and were not representative of what the broader industry wants. I understand that the discussions in the past got stuck on ideological differences that stretched back years, long before my time anyway, differences that are now irrelevant to younger and middle aged farmers.

This poll allows all growers to have their say, not just a few hardliners making the call on unity. As professional business people we need one professional organisation to move our industry forward. It is time for farmers to tell industry leaders what they want and those industry leaders need to listen. I urge all farmers and pastoralists to vote in the Farm Weekly poll on the merits of one voice for agriculture in W.A.”

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