WAFF shakeup urged over Ferguson's exit

27 Oct, 1999 09:59 AM
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THE WA Farmers Federation has been told it needs to undergo a major shake-up in the wake of recent conflicts arising from the dismissal of former executive director James Ferguson. Former WAFF president Peter Lee and current wool section vice-president Dale Park say the Federation is in danger of becoming irrelevent if it continues to ignore a diversity of opinion. Mr Lee says the dispute is symptomatic of the executive's inability to deal with divergent points of view. "An executive is only as good as critics force it to be and, in this case, there has tended to be a process where critics have been ostracised to the point where the executive now contains people with similar points of view," he said. "No matter how good these people are, they still need to listen to alternative views and still need to be inclusive of all opinions if the organisation is going to succeed. "There has to be inclusive involvement at all levels of the Federation and this simply isn't happening." Mr Park agreed, adding that this had been one of the reasons why there was such a shortage of young blood in the Federation's membership. "There needs to be a whole change of perception < the Federation has to start reflecting the real world that these young farmers live in," he said. "Young farmers are operating in a world where they are being forced to take a lot more responsibility for what they do, where the push is toward closer linkages between growers and processors. "But the Federation remains very much dominated by outdated attitudes and needs to understand that, with the loss of a lot of statutory marketing bodies, things operate differently in the real world." Mr Park said the current crisis was the result of a great deal of dissatisfaction over the past 12 to 18 months. "I've had feedback from members who believe the Federation needs to clean up its act if it's going to be relevant in the future," he said. The need to take a long hard look at itself is something Peter Lee endorses. "The current crisis has the capacity to cause enormous damage to the Federation unless there is a change of attitude at the highest levels," he said. "The health of an organisation is dependent on perceptions and the WA Farmers Federation is certainly suffering badly in that regard. "Few people see that justice has been done and that has resulted in a loss of trust in the activities and leadership of the Federation." But WAFF president Kevin McMenemy has rejected claims that there has been any loss of trust, saying the current crisis is simply the result of what he calls the "extreme petty politicking before the elections in March". He said there was a small minority of people who were unwilling to accept the decision to terminate Mr Ferguson's contract and they didn't reflect the views of the membership as a whole. "This situation has arisen because of a small group of malcontents with their own agendas who are unwilling to accept a decision by the executive that was taken in the best interests of the Federation," Mr McMenemy said. "There are people trying to position themselves for next year's ballot and it's rather offensive that the system is being abused by this sort of petty political nonsense." He said the Federation's members were entitled to question whether those behind the outcry were acting for the Federation or for their own political interests. "It's a classic example of white-anting and I believe people will be held to account next year over this issue that is distracting us from what we should be doing < working for our members," he said. Mr McMenemy said the executive had no problem with the issues raised by the large majority of those who've called a general council meeting but he would like to see these side issues about James Ferguson put to rest. "Obviously, all this negative publicity is not good for the organisation but the fact of the matter is the executive was faced with a situation where it had to act quickly for the good of the organisation," he said. "Our members now expect us to get on with business and I'd say there are many who are heartily sick of the garbage that's being peddled through some sections of the media." But Mr Lee has a different view of the situation, saying it has arisen in part because of the executive's inability to accept other views. "General Council gave instructions to the executive to consult with James Ferguson over issues which concerned him and the opinion that the executive chose to treat these instructions with contempt is probably behind the anger," he said. But he said, although there was plenty of sound and fury coming from critics of the executive, he was not convinced a special meeting of General Council would achieve a great deal. "General Council does not have a track record of standing up for its constitutional rights and if this goes to form, then they will back down and the executive will get its way," he said. Meanwhile, Mr Park has called for a review of the Federation's constitution as a matter of urgency, saying the recent problems have exposed the flaws in the organisation's rules. "Many organisations can run with flimsy constitutions if there's goodwill in the organisation < now that we've lost that goodwill, the problems with the constitution have been exposed," he said. "Constitutions exist to deal with things when they go wrong and we've now seen that our constitution isn't up to scratch." He said one area that needed to be addressed was the role of the executive and the executive director. "The current situation where the board is involved in the day-to-day running of the organisation is an anathema," he said.

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