Having dealt with WAfarmers and the PGA in one form or another over the past 25 years working in the political world, I am very familiar with the fact that political messaging from the State’s two peak farm bodies often cancels each other out.
Even when both organisations are presenting common views on bad government policy, any slightly different presentation of the facts is leapt on by government as disunity in the industry and hence not worthy of taking seriously.
Historically the two organisations were almost as philosophically different in their economic views as the wets and drys of the liberal party, with one side demanding government support and intervention into the market and the other calling for the government to let the market reign supreme.
But in the last quarter of a century, just as we have seen the economic rationalists win over the competing views within the liberal party and support the freeing up of the Australian economy we have seen the PGA and WAFarmers come closer together on most major policy and economic positions.
Just occasionally there is a point of difference between and within both organisations as seen with the recent corporatisation debate of CBH. However this is no different to political parties dealing with the republic/monarchy debate or the same sex marriage debate, these are issues that are best left with the membership or electorate to sort out at the ballot box.
Watching the two organisations respond to the modern challenge of animal activists targeting the live export industry and the green movement targeting glyphosate and GM crops, simply reinforces my view that too many voices muddies the waters and confuses the overall message.
So where to from here, WAFarmers has 1200 members almost all farmers and graziers, the PGA has around 200 pastoral members plus a smaller number of wheatbelt farm businesses. We both have livestock and gains councils, we both have Presidents with the first name Tony and we both front up to the various government ministers with almost the same policy position except one organisation can speak with far greater authority on pastoral leases and the other can speak with far greater authority on grain issues. So, isn’t it time for a bit of succession planning? We either split the assets and focus on what we really know or we amalgamate the properties.
Today’s farmers and pastoralists have successfully been doing succession planning for five plus generations. Looking back on the long history of the dozen or so different farm industry organisations that have emerged and amalgamated over the last 130 years in the state, history tells us that when organisations have aligned their differences they are far stronger and more politically effective.
In my travels around the state I am constantly encouraged by our members to find a way to bring these two organisations together. This is something that will require goodwill on both sides and will take I suspect the next generation of leadership to call time on the current competing structures.
But it can be done. I have played a small role in supporting the amalgamation of two other organisations that like PGA and WAFarmers were competed in the same agri political space diluting their influence, in this case it was the national wine industry. Last year after decades of debate the Wine Makers Federation of Australia WMFA and Australian Vignerons AV came together to form Australian Grape and Wine. It was a long hard road but good leadership drove a good decision for wine producers across Australia.
Just as we are seeing big corporations and small farm businesses amalgamate to gain economic efficiencies we cannot afford as a state to be running two peak bodies competing for membership and sponsorship. Both organisations are and will continue to suffer with declining membership as agribusinesses expand by buying out the neighbour. If we want to have the horsepower to continue to get strong representation at the state and national level then we need to sort out our competing structures.
We should look at the process followed by WMFA and AF as it provides a possible pathway forward for our two bodies. The first step is for the membership of both organisations to recognise that one voice is better than two and to encourage their respective boards and Presidents to sit down and talk.
With a new President of WAFarmers to be elected following the March AGM and a very real chance our industry will be facing labor state and federal governments for at least the next 6 years we need to be in a position to respond to the highly organised lobbying efforts of global left green anti agriculture organisations as they pursue key issues such as live exports, glyphosate, GM and carbon.