Grain groups vie for top role

27 May, 2014 04:00 AM
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GPA executive members Andrew Weidemann (left), Barry Large and former chair Peter Mailler speaking to Barnaby Joyce at the Australian Grains Industry Conference in 2012.
I have no pre-conceived ideas or prejudices about the way forward.
GPA executive members Andrew Weidemann (left), Barry Large and former chair Peter Mailler speaking to Barnaby Joyce at the Australian Grains Industry Conference in 2012.

FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has written to national grain groups asking them to submit expressions of interest outlining their credentials to be the industry’s Representative Organisation (RO).

Grain Producers Australia (GPA) is the current industry RO under the Primary Industries Research and Development Act, with oversight powers for management of the $160 million per annum Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

GPA replaced the Grains Council of Australia (GCA) in late in 2010 but has been forced to regularly defend itself in a long-running battle with GrainGrowers over the RO position and struggled to attract direct grower memberships.

GPA was outraged when GrainGrowers joined the National Farmers Federation’s (NFF) commodity council in late 2011, derailing other moves in train to establish a single unified representative body.

In 2012, GrainGrowers chair John Eastburn publicly urged former Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig to intervene and break the deadlock with GPA over the RO function.

In response, Senator Ludwig said he’d received no formal request to choose between the two warring grains bodies and repeated his mantra that national industry representation was a matter for industry to resolve.

Backlash from the ongoing stalemate led to the NFF implementing its Grains Policy Council (NFFGPC) last year, comprising GPA, GrainGrowers and State Farming Organisations (SFOs).

But the NFFGPC is yet to appoint an independent chair despite ongoing advertising with a $25,000 per annum salary plus an allowance for travel and incidentals.

The new body also has no formal permanent funding mechanism or constitution to empower it to immediately step into the RO role.

GPA officially replaced the bankrupt GCA through a Deed of Company arrangement in August 2010 to represent the nation’s 27,000 graingrowers.

The new body emerged from two national grains industry roundtables run by GCA in October 2009 and February 2010, attended by SFOs.

The peak grains body also has responsibility under the Act for determining the industry’s response to biosecurity incursions, through Plant Health Australia.

Acknowledging the ongoing issue, Minister Joyce has written to key players saying he had interest from several industry groups in tasking the RO function.

He has asked the key groups for formal submissions so their credentials can be considered, prior to any potential change to the RO under the Act.

The move has also been made ahead of the NFFGPC’s next meeting on June 16 in either Melbourne or Canberra, where key stakeholders are likely to engage in strong discussion and debate, knowing the Minister’s appetite for a timely resolution.

In a statement to Fairfax Agricultural Media, Minister Joyce said he was keen to ensure the grains industry received “the best representation possible”.

“It is always in the best interests of growers to have unified representation and widespread national support,” he said.

“I have no pre-conceived ideas or prejudices about the way forward.

“My only over-riding aim is that industry has the widest possible representation that represents the best voice for industry.”

Minister Joyce said he’d received requests from different groups, but any changes to the RO must be determined by broad agreement within the industry.

He said the changes must also be made in accordance with the PIRD Act’s guidelines for declaring RO’s for Research and Development Corporations.

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

GPA chair Andrew Weidemann said he was comfortable with the process now in play through the Minister’s letter.

He said GPA had also written to Minister Joyce suggesting a review of the RO function or one to run concurrently with the GRDC’s governance review.

“This has been an issue of conjecture for a number of years, post the GCA,” he said

“We’ve always said if there was another entity that can fulfil the role better, which has the respect and responsibility for the tasks that need to be performed for the grains industry through the RO, we are happy to step aside or work with the new group.

“We don’t see ourselves as a lifelong representative group for the industry at all and most of the industry knows that already.

“But we’ve always been working hard and to the best of our ability, in fulfilling the tasks required of the RO under Act.”

NFF chief executive officer Matt Linnegar said the grains RO issue would be central to discussions at next month’s NFFGPC meeting.

Mr Linnegar said GPA currently held the RO and other groups had expressed interest including the NFFGPC.

He said Minister Joyce had made comments similar to Minister Ludwig in wanting the grains industry to resolve its own representation issues.

However, in asking the key groups to make a case for the RO, the Minister would have information on which to make a possible determination, he said.

Mr Linnegar said the NFFGPC had a temporary funding measure, could develop a constitution if directed by key stakeholder participants and was set to resolve the vacant chair issue at the June meeting.

He also rejected suggestions a Senate inquiry into grains representation may be warranted, like the current inquiry into the $5 per head beef cattle levy, ordered by Minister Joyce.

“The best outcome is that industry sorts these issues out for themselves,” he said.

“There have been some bumps along the road but we’ve seen enough goodwill (at NFFGPC) from the core groups involved, to answer questions and resolve issues themselves, before we go down the pathway of an inquiry.”

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Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
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READER COMMENTS

boris
27/05/2014 8:33:16 AM

National representation really means an oligarchy will seize power of the Australian grains industry. Like Labor and Liberal, whether it be GPA or GrainGrowers, both groups will just make variations on market interventions they seek. These grower elites salivate at the thought of government and bureaacratic involvement in agriculture. Essentially they are interferers and meddlers and just want to feel important. My advice is to all growers representatives stay at home and pick mallee roots. The fire you burn at home is comforting for those who continually put out the fires you create elsewhere.
moree mick
27/05/2014 9:13:02 AM

these GPA clowns really erk my shirt! they pop up out of nowhere claiming to represent graingrowers yet nobody asked me if I wanted them to represent me. a bit like the russian invasion of crimea. dictatorship politics
NSW Farmer
27/05/2014 9:15:45 AM

i never voted these guys to represent me but i know they will fight for the return of an income equalisation scheme like the single desk and for that reason i support them. its only fair we all get the same price for our wheat
ben jensen
27/05/2014 9:36:22 AM

NSW Farmer, you miss the point, and I am beginning to think you are up to no good. Single Desk was not an equalization scheme. It was an organized bargaining tool, enabling all producers, regardless of size, to match it with the "big guys" in the grain trade, in cutting out middle men and winning contracts with all major global customers. Its size also enabled it to win many other benefits for Aussie growers like lower cost finances for payment advances, quality control for customers, shipping and logistics efficiencies, seasonal smoothing of sales and deliveries to customers and so on.
Free trader
27/05/2014 10:15:25 AM

Why is it that in 2014 we are still talking about growers being the only grains industry participants. Choice is here. Thousands of people rely on the grains industry for their income, not just growers. Just go to the annual Grains Conference and see the 700+ delegates there representing growers, traders, processors, freight, etc. Perhaps it is time for a mature approach and for a RO to represent all these participants. What about that Minister Joyce?
mark2
27/05/2014 11:04:27 AM

did you blokes not read the second paragraph of this article? This is really about what happens to your levies and who gets to feed off the pool of money. I don't like either of these two suitors much at all, mostly because of their lack of representative structure and, in Graingrowers case , its past involvement in the devolution of our industry. The world is run by those who turn up fellas, so I suggest you put up , or shut up.
deane murray
27/05/2014 1:32:36 PM

Free Trader, you seem to forget, there is no grain wealth created for Australia without the grain being produced. It is from grain that comes the bread, pasta, noodles etc. The only way merchants get a dollar is from that grain. Merchants take money out of the grain supply chain. They do not add to the value of that grain, like a miller, or baker, or starch maker. As you say, you and thousands rely on the grain to get you a living. So as you really say without the grain you have no living. Also without grain growers you have no living. So don't try dictating policy to grain growers.
Philip Downie
27/05/2014 3:47:57 PM

Actually traders have far more input than grain growers in important areas. These include GTA and WQA where it is hard to find anyone independent or a grain grower and they set the standards for receivals and class quality. They neither consult nor are transparent in what they are doing.
deane murray
27/05/2014 5:34:15 PM

That's right Philip Downie. The Traders/Merchants are way out of line thinking they own the grain industry. Mind you, as long as growers maintain their squabbling over Industry Representation they are a lot to blame, for this happening.
Observor
27/05/2014 5:44:22 PM

Good point Philip. So it was nice to see GrainGrowers push to have their grower representatives on the GTA commitees and technical staff on WQA. The most important link in the supply chain has not been represented for far too long.
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Well why are they paying MLA levies. ?
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Where have I been for a week, don't tell me the PC has been reading all the hints I leave on
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Pete you also missed 15,527 votes for Marty Corboy in Indi because Sophie made it a 3 corner by