Grains RO stoush heats up

15 Nov, 2014 03:00 AM
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Grains bodies appear to be moving towards agreement on national representation

COMPETITION for a grains' national representative organisation (RO) position has intensified with State farming organisations (SFOs) confirming their support for Grain Producers Australia (GPA).

The move represents a win for GPA in a long-running battle against GrainGrowers for the RO position, which could face intervention from federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, if the deadlock extends.

In May, Mr Joyce wrote to key stakeholders requesting they submit formal credentials to assess suitability for the industry’s RO function, administered under the Primary Industries Research and Development Act.

GPA is the current industry RO with oversight of the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), which has an annual budget of about $200 million, and other key industry tasks such as biosecurity.

GrainGrowers joined the National Farmers' Federation’s (NFF) commodity council in late 2011, which jilted other moves to establish a single unified representative body.

Subsequent to the ongoing division, the NFF’s Grains Policy Council (NFF-GPC) was established comprising GPA, GrainGrowers and SFOs, but the Council has no formal legislative function.

GPA replaced the Grains Council of Australia in late 2010, after the former peak body’s membership split over the AWB single desk deregulation debate, and was initially opposed by WAFarmers and NSWFarmers.

Letter of support

In a letter to Mr Joyce late last month from NFF-GPC chair Wayne Newton – seen by Fairfax Media – all SFO’s indicated they supported the status quo with GPA acting as the RO.

Signatories to the letter included WAFarmers, NSWFarmers, the Victorian Farmers Federation, Grain Producers SA, AgForce in Queensland and the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers.

“We support the application of GPA to remain the ongoing RO,” the letter said.

“Like you, we believe it is in our growers’ and industry’s best interests to have unified representation that has widespread national support.”

The letter said at the most recent NFF-GPC meeting, all groups present agreed the NFF-driven forum provided a stable platform to continue ongoing discussions and development of a unified grains peak body.

But the industry groups warned they couldn’t provide a finalised agreed position to the minister, prior to the requested October 30 deadline, citing the commencement of the winter grains harvest.

“To this end, and to ensure a stable environment that will continue to facilitate the engagement of all grain farmer representative organisations, we support the retention of GPA as the RO,” the letter said.

“As part of this recommendation, the State farming organisations have received assurances from GPA that it will move to formalise arrangements through which the NFF-GPC will determine national policy on behalf of Australia’s grain farmers and have direct involvement in the GPA director selection process.

“The representative bodies at the NFF-GPC have made good progress on reaching a resolution to this matter and we will to continue to work on fully inclusive unified national representative body.

“We are aware of GrainGrowers' application and their interest in becoming the RO.

“We do not support their application and believe that it would be detrimental to continuing to foster the trust and mutual dependency required to unite the representation on behalf of Australia’s grain farmers.”

Getting everyone 'in the tent'

Calls from Fairfax Media to GPA and NSWFarmers grains committee chair Dan Cooper were directed to Mr Newton.

Mr Newton said a recent teleconference involving SFOs agreed to continue supporting GPA as the RO “but we are still also trying to get everyone in the tent, if you like”.

He said talks were continuing with GrainGrowers on the topic of establishing a unified RO.

“If we can get a truly united, single voice representing the grains industry, everyone will be happy,” he said.

“It’s just a process that’s taking time and we’ve made good progress but we couldn’t meet the minister’s deadline to reach a truly united position due to winter harvest starting.

“I’m confident we can work through the issues but it’s just better if we can do that without that time pressure being on top of us.”

Mr Newton said he was confident in GPA’s knowledge and capacity to represent the sector with managing several current, significant issues, including a possible restructure of the GRDC, chemical registrations for crop products, and the Senate inquiry into all agricultural levies.

NSW developed a policy position one year ago to engage fully with the representative organisation to better and more effectively implement its member policy.

According to industry sources, a draft Memorandum of Understanding between GPA and GrainGrowers, which aimed to combine their key elements in a preferred RO model with specific legal and legislative instruments, is now “dead in the water”.

WAFarmers Grains Section senior vice president Duncan Young said his group’s policy “supported unity” and preferred the status quo of GPA as the RO, and ongoing negotiations to reach a unified position.

Grains bodies appear to be moving towards agreement on national representation but one aspect of the debate that already seems settled is the non-participation of Western Australia’s Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) in any future formal structure.

Mr Newton says the PGA would not be “locked out” of any discussions, but “for whatever reason” did not want to be part of any formal structure.

In May, Mr Joyce told Fairfax Media he was keen to ensure the grains industry received “the best representation possible”.

“My only overriding aim is that industry has the widest possible representation that represents the best voice for industry,” he said.

Mr Joyce said he’d received requests from different groups, but any changes to the RO must be determined by broad agreement within the industry, in accordance with the PIRD Act’s guidelines for declaring ROs for Research and Development Corporations.

“Everyone is going to have an opportunity to put their best foot forward,” he said.

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FarmOnline
Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
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READER COMMENTS

Jock Munro
18/11/2014 8:39:28 AM

GPA is virtually memberless and cash less with a corporate tops down approach to democracy and advocacy. It should not have RO status. The State Farming Organisations should be revisiting the old Grains Council (prior to it being changed to a company) model for federal representation
Broken record
18/11/2014 6:01:35 PM

It's a democracy jock. Stop your whinging, join up and vote if you don't like GPA. Oh that's right, it's only democratic if people support your views, is that why you resigned from NSW Farmers, couldn't get your own way?
Jock Munro
19/11/2014 9:44:02 PM

Thank you for your kind words Broken record-it takes a lot of courage to use your real name. GPA is a corporate tops down model and not one that I would chose to join. Unfortunately NSW Farmers is heading down the same path with the board interfering in the democratic process and allowing members to behave in an undemocratic manner-for example not accepting committee majority decisions and undermining them at every opportunity (with the Board's blessing).

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