WAFarmers split over single desk

29 Jun, 2006 07:00 PM

NEWLY-ELECTED WAFarmers Grains Section senior vice president Robert Doney has embarrassed WAFarmers after publicly expressing personal views at odds to the organisation's single desk wheat marketing policy.

An article in last week's Financial Review (FR) newspaper quoted Mr Doney as calling for AWB's power of veto to be removed.

The article, brought to WAFarmers' attention by Farm Weekly, sparked an immediate press release by an angry WAFarmers grains section eager to correct the wayward message and pull their errant member back into line.

"Absolute monopoly breeds absolute corruption," the FR article quoted Mr Doney as saying.

"I don't speak for the group but I know most support my view, including the president [Ray Marshall].

"We need to make some changes - we've had our heads in the sand for too long."

The article also linked Mr Doney with support for Liberal Party backbencher Wilson Tuckey, who continues to call for reform of the single desk through his proposed private members bill.

Mr Tuckey's bill calls for AWB's power of veto to be handed over to the Wheat Export Authority or another independent statutory authority.

"Parliament's six-week winter break should be used to formulate policy to strip AWB of its single-desk powers," the FR article quotes Mr Tuckey as saying.

"There has been a shift in most grower organisations, which traditionally supported AWB and the single desk.

"Farmers are starting to wake up and realise they are being dudded."

WAFarmers were keen to set the record straight about its single desk policy when they spoke to Farm Weekly last week.

They were not so keen to defend Mr Doney, despite a number of genuine discrepancies and concerns with the FR article.

Mr Doney defended his statements in the FR, saying he was speaking off-the-record and not wearing his official vice president's hat during the interview. But this defence was not accepted by the WAFarmers hierarchy and only served to heighten the confusion around the issue.

A hastily-convened WAFarmers grains section meeting to resolve the issue was divided over its views on how to handle the matter but it is believed most members leapt to Mr Doney's defence.

One member, who wished to remain anonymous, said most of the section felt Mr Doney had been misquoted in the FR article and should be supported in his defence.

WAFarmers then released a media statement clarifying their views on the single desk but the decision to publicly reinforce the section's policy position was seen by Mr Doney's supporters as hanging their fellow member out to dry in public.

"WAFarmers would like to reassure members that comments made in the media today concerning the organisation's stance on the future of the national single desk and AWB were not reflective of WAFarmers policy," the media statement said.

"WAFarmers Grains Section President Ray Marshall was disappointed that Mr Doney chose to express views not held by the organisation.

"Mr Marshall wishes to reiterate the long-standing support WAFarmers has for the single desk.

"WAFarmers has continually called for any review of the marketing of the nation's wheat crop to be conducted after the findings of the Cole Inquiry have been handed down.

"The recent single desk rally in Cunderdin reinforced grower support for the orderly marketing of the nation's wheat crop and also for AWB to administrate the single desk."

The WAFarmers grains section has been left divided over the issue with some members feeling aggrieved at the lack of support given to their fellow member, which has caused them to question management's motives.

Regardless of the section's next move, the mix-up has shown a lack of unity at WAFarmers, lowered confidence in senior management and provided evidence of division in the organisation's attitude towards the single desk at a sensitive time.

The FR article also quoted Mr Downey as saying WA Farmers would meet with the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) in July to formulate a joint single desk policy statement.

WAFarmers has been a long-time rival of PGA and the two groups have not seen eye to eye on the single desk.

PGA grains chairman Leon Bradley is an outspoken critic of AWB and has repeatedly called for the abolition of the single desk.

"Trevor De Landgrafft's comments rebuking Mr Doney were an outrageous display of condescension and disloyalty to one of his own members," Mr Bradley said.

"The PGA would be happy to see WAFarmers review their unconditional support for the AWB monopoly.

"But it is clear that things are too confused at WAFarmers for any sort of united position to be formulated at this time."

A WAFarmers spokesman said there would be no penalty for Mr Doney's actions after he made an apology to the grains section at last week's meeting.

PGA policy director Slade Brockman said most organisations had disciplinary provisions in their constitutions, but they were rarely, if ever, used.

"The chance of most growers not speaking their mind when asked a question is nil," Mr Brockman said.

"Trying to shut a grower up would be a bit like herding cats.

"Any organisation would look foolish if they tried to gag their own members."



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