EMBATTLED Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) Chair Wal Merriman has apologised for swearing at journalists recently and for his role in the man in the mirror issue that has ignited anger among wool grower levy-payers.
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Mr Merriman made the two apologies to federal Senators during his opening statement at the highly-anticipated Senate supplementary budget estimates hearings in Canberra today.
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The long-serving Chair said to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee his “intemperate” language towards journalists at a recent industry event in Adelaide was “more fitting to a shearing shed”.
“I am direct in the way I speak – I am from the bush,” he said.
“That’s where I come from, unfortunately I need a lot more polish to operate in these surroundings.
“I am far more comfortable with wool growers out in the paddock than I am here in senate estimates.
“I apologise for my passion for the industry and the way it comes across.”
Mr Merriman said AWI had also conducted an inquiry into the one-way-mirror incident and had tabled a report to the board, with CEO Stuart McCullough saying the report would also be made available to the committee.
“I’d like to emphasise how committed we are, and I am, to delivering good outcomes for woolgrowers,” he said.
“Yes at times it could be argued we could do things differently.
“I acknowledge that I have critics in the industry - you don’t do these jobs without getting criticism in the industry.
“In recent months there has been an incident that did not stand up to mine, the board and AWI’s, standards, and I am speaking about the genetics focus group.
“Not one of our proudest moments but actions have been taken to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.
“It was my mistake not to insist I be in the room - I should have said ‘this is not the way we do things’ and I apologise for it.
“Those that know me know I do not hide.”
Mr Merriman was asked by Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie if he breached AWI’s code of conduct by swearing at an ABC journalist which he admitted but stressed he’d apologised for it.
Asked if AWI’s public standing had been broken due to the recent incidents he said “to an extent yes” but also added that his industry had “this wonderful thing called freedom” and growers would get to vote, when he’s next up for re-election.
Mr McCullough said the incident of Mr Merriman swearing at a journalist would be discussed at the next AWI board meeting.
Senator McKenzie also conducted a vigorous line of questioning where Mr Merriman rejected assertions there was a “war” at AWI, instead saying it was among growers and also blaming ‘fake news’ for the recent issues escalating.
Queensland Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan conducted a thorough examination of how the AWI process is conducted for board nominations and pre-selections.
An unusually large number of Senators also sat in on the AWI hearing with up to 10 lined up to ask questions of the senior executives about recent incidents and general governance concerns for the taxpayer and levy-payer funded research, development and marketing agency.