Utopian Dream

utopian-dream

In last week’s Farm Weekly (August 15 – p.12) PGA Western Grain Growers Chairman claimed that I, as CEO of WAFarmers had, ‘taken a very prominent course of action designed to create the petty bickering he claims to so despise in order to further his own personal aims.’

Now this is an interesting claim and is just one of a number of assertions made in the Letter to the Editor that deserves a response, particularly as we are in the middle of the ‘Merge or No Merge Have Your Say’ vote, being run by the Farm Weekly. Hopefully you have all voted.

The letter quite rightly states that I despise the petty bickering back and forth that has occurred over the years between the PGA and WAFarmers, particularly when it’s over political fights that occurred years before my time. No doubt most farmers are also over it, which is in part why 7 out of 10 farmers are not members of either organisation.

As to the author’s view on what my personal aims are, how would he know? It’s an old political trick to divert attention away from the issues at hand and to focus attention on the individual and their alleged personal self-interest, noting that in he did not outline what mine are supposed to be. Personally, I think, just as the Merge or Not Merge vote is likely to show, farmers are also over the petty politicking between the PGA and WAFarmers and just want the two organisations to become one.

As for my motivations, I certainly know what my professional motivation is. I aim to lift and position WA farmer advocacy to the same level as Tasmania and South Australia, where their peak bodies attract over 70% membership and operate under one single professional organisation.

The other personal issue raised in the letter is the claim that the WAFarmer’s President has a ‘utopian dream for a farm lobby group funded by all WA broadacre farmers using the powers of the Agricultural Produce Commission (APC)’. Well it’s not a utopian dream at all. Interestingly, South Australia has adopted a system similar to the Western Australian APC Act which includes an Opt-Out clause. The model is available to all commodities and as a result South Australia now has Australia’s most successful and united peak agricultural body.

Results speak for themselves on how successful the model has been and continues to be. This year only 6 out of 4,500 grain growers within PPSA opted out of their fee structure. Is that utopian? Or is that growers, having seen the collapse of the South Australian Farmers Federation (SAFF) in 2013 from internal infighting and a lack of support simply saw the light? They know that All In – Opt Out is far better for their industry than All Out – Opt In. It captures the vast majority of growers, minimises the number of leaners while giving the conscientious objectors a way out.

A successful APC structure has also allowed Wines of WA, Vegetables WA, WA Egg Producers Association, WA Potato Growers Association, WA Pork Producers Association to raise funds to operate their peak bodies and run industry good projects to benefit all their growers and industry.

In a perfect world we would not need peak bodies at all and farmers would not need to come together to collectively fund political fights on things like live exports, ag-chemicals, unworkable ag machinery transport regulations, dwindling boarding school rebates or levies that are past their used by date. Just as in a utopian world there are no levies and all farmers automatically come together and voluntarily throw their fair share of money into the hat to fight bad government policy. But that’s not the real world. The inconspicuous Live Export fund raising attempt was reality. Not enough funds were raised from passing around the hat. The federal ALP has not changed their policy and the trade remains under serious threat.

We know that on the whole farmers support levies such as the ones funding the GRDC and MLA, as without them there would be no matching taxpayer dollars to support large research, development, extension and marketing efforts which we need to stay internationally competitive.

If we want to live in a utopian world lets continue to defend the current system and live in hope that farmers will step up and fill the hat and come flooding back to join the two competing bodies. If we are living in the real world lets accept that two competing bodies representing less than 4000 farmers is not in the best interest of the industry and farmers will only contribute what we need when there is a simple opt-out system that gives them confidence that their neighbours are all contributing to industry good issues.

If farm business entities want to opt out of future APC collective good funding projects aimed at fighting the looming push to ban glyphosate, review the animal science of live export stocking densities, build the case to remove the skeleton weed levy, or push for fast tracking 100% 5G mobile coverage in the bush they will be free to not kick into the hat. Just as they won’t be forced to join a new united WA Farmers and Pastoralists peak body.

Like the Communist Party of Australia that still has an active membership which remains intensely loyal, I have no doubt the PGA will survive long into the future, with loyal members who will fight on for their laudable goal of small government, less taxes and regulations. In the meantime the rest of us will focus on building the organisation that has the membership and money that equates to the real political power needed to keep todays governments in check.

And as for the author’s question on my personal interest the answer is simple. I like to fix systems that are broken. What does he like to do?

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