Four to battle for AWB seat

22 Jan, 2004 07:00 PM
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TWO retired politicians, a farmer from a wheat lobby group and a current AWB director are preparing to do battle for a seat on the AWB board in March for the next three years.

In an election featuring four outstanding candidates, former National Party leader and deputy premier Hendy Cowan, former Senator Winston Crane, Wheat Growers Association member Steve Chamerette and current AWB board member Laurie Marshall have thrown their hats in the ring for the A class shareholder position.

Mr Marshall, who has served on the current AWB Ltd board for the past five years, and the former Australian Wheat Board for three years, said he believed he could still make a contribution for growers.

"I have a commitment to see the integration of the Landmark business into the company and make sure that runs smoothly," Mr Marshall said.

He believed the main issues confronting AWB were to improve its services and products to growers.

"We've put in place new systems which are allowing us to offer growers more products and financial services," he said.

"With the Landmark integration we will be able to offer further services."

He said AWB was providing more transparency than it had ever done before.

"The service agreement is reviewed basically either annually or every two years," Mr Marshall said.

"So as far as the interaction with the pools goes there is more transparency there than there has ever been before and we will continue to look at ways that we can offer further transparency in that area."

Last week Mr Marshall said he hadn't been invited to speak on AWB issues during a whistlestop tour of the wheatbelt organised by the Wheat Growers Association in February.

But he said he might be turning up at the meetings to hear what growers have got to say.

Steve Chamarette, who has stood aside from his position as Wheat Growers Association secretary during the election campaign, said he was standing because of concerns about AWB's lack of transparency and increasing grower costs.

"I've been to numerous meetings with AWB and I've always challenged and questioned them on areas of transparency and costs," Mr Chamarette said.

"I feel I can probably do a better job for growers from within the organisation because growers should be put first."

Mr Chamarette, who unsuccessfully contested the previous election, said he was qualified for the position, having business skills related to competitive tendering, and contracting and academic qualifications of a Bachelor of Economics degree and a Masters of Science degree.

"I've got business skills in areas which I think AWB should be looking at, especially in sourcing services and reducing costs," he said.

Mr Chamarette said he had been a farmer for the past 15 years.

"Most of my property is share farmed out these days but I am very active in farming," he said.

Mr Chamarette said he would represent all WA growers if elected, not just WGA members.

He said growers should vote for him because he was a fresh, energetic voice.

"I've put a lot of time and energy over the last two years to keep abreast of the rapid changes taking place in the industry and I've always stood up for growers," he said.

Mr Chamarette said he was also committed to protect the single desk.

"I've never done anything that detracts from those two items," he said.

Mr Cowan, who has 27 years of political experience, said a strong support from Narembeen graingrowers was a driving force in his decision to stand.

He said the retention of single desk, transparency and grower priority were key aspects for his campaign.

"It is incumbent for the company, since the purchase of Landmark at a premium, that growers' returns are at a premium too," Mr Cowan said.

Mr Cowan highlighted the corporate and statutory responsibility of AWB and the need for transparency within the company.

He said he had seen examples in his political career where the degree of separation between purchaser and provider were not as transparent as they should have been.

"It is important AWB retains some degree of separation to ensure transparency," he said.

Mr Cowan believed, as an experienced graingrower himself, that he would also be able to address the priority of dividends between growers and B class shareholders.

He said his time in politics had given him financial management and budgeting skills that he could bring to the board.

"I can also lend a fair bit of my experience to retain single desk," he said.

Mr Cowan said his knowledge of legislation would particularly be useful to help maintain a single desk market.

Meanwhile, Mr Crane, a Jerdacuttup graingrower and former WAFF president and Senator, said a strong support from farmers across WA was why he was standing for election.

Mr Crane said industrial relations and class A grower service were top on his list of priorities since the purchase of Landmark by AWB.

"What I believe now is the necessity to separate the marketing arm, the commercial service arm and domestic wheat operations within AWB," he said.

"I will be making sure service stays at the forefront and the shareholder, in this case the growers, comes first."

Mr Crane believes his strong agro-political career and his credentials in industrial relations would allow the AWB to play a much more dynamic role in the international market.

He said he was a strong supporter of single desk because of the unfair competition internationally.

"We must coordinate with every grain handler in Australia and every export organisation, to make sure growers aren't disrupted by any industrial action," he said.

"I certainly think the wheat exporting industry needs sharpening up.

"The reporting back to the growers at the end of the day is what I'd like to do."

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