THE National Farmers Federation is set to hold an intriguing election battle later this year, with President Brent Finlay deciding to step down from the top job and not nominate to serve another year.
Mr Finlay was first elected in 2013 to replace interim NFF President Duncan Fraser who was elevated to the role following Jock Laurie’s resignation in April that year to contest pre-selection for the NSW Nationals.
But after three years, Mr Finlay said he was now ready to move aside, wanting to spend more time on his Queensland cattle farm and with his family and to also focus on other roles representing the agricultural sector.
His vacancy will see the NFF open-up nominations for a new president in late September, ahead of an election in November, with current vice-president and former NSWFarmers President Fiona Simson a potential replacement.
Ms Simson could potentially compete against Peter Tuohey who is currently an NFF Director and was replaced as Victorian Farmers Federation president in July, after four years, by grain producer David Jochinke.
Mr Finlay confirmed to Fairfax Agricultural Media that he would not be recontesting the next election to continue as NFF President.
He said he’d spoken to NFF staff members about his plans and had also sounded out other board colleagues that he believed could be potential presidential successors.
“You need to get yourself organised when you go into a role like the NFF presidency -it’s such a complete 24-7 role,” he said.
“I’ve committed myself to it but I now need to step away and spend more time with my family because they haven‘t seen much of me over the last three years or my partner.
“But I’m also looking to concentrate on some of the other things I do in agriculture.”
Asked if Ms Simson and Mr Tuohy would force a vote on the top job, Mr Finlay declined to comment on the fortunes of specific candidates but dismissed any talk of a potential back-room takeover.
But he said potentially a number of people would see the NFF presidency as a role they’d like to take on.
“I wish the best to whoever wants to put their name forward,” he said.
“It’s a big role and it’s a big commitment for whichever individual is successful.”
Mr Finlay said by the time the NFF annual general meeting arrived in November, he would have served three years as president and had the option of running to serve another year, with a maximum term of four years, but decided his time was up.
“It’s been a great honour,” he said.
“I don’t see it as my role to endorse anybody but I have a vice president in Fiona Simson at the moment and at some stage I’d hope the members of the NFF family would put a woman into the president’s role.”
The NFF has had two executive directors in Wendy Craik and Anna Cronin who served four to five years each from 1995 to 2005 - but has never had a female President out of the 12 who have served since starting in 1979.
Mr Finlay’s final public engagement is likely to be the NFF’s biennial congress set for October 27 and 28 in Canberra.
Mr Finlay said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition leader Bill Shorten, Nationals leader and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce and Trade and Investment Minister Steven Ciobo had all been invited to speak, with the theme of this year’s event focussed on innovation.
He said he’d spoken to staff about going “flat out” on core projects, like the NFF’s restructure plans, until he stepped aside in November and handed responsibility over to his successor.
Asked what his biggest achievement was as NFF President, Mr Finlay said it wasn’t about him but a team effort at the NFF.
But some “incredible things” have happened in Australian agriculture over the past three years, he said.
Mr Finlay cited the NFF’s hard work behind the multi-million drought support package the Abbot government agreed to shortly after coming into office in 2013 which Mr Joyce took to cabinet and was largely approved, to help farmers in need.
He said significant trade deals signed under former Trade Minister Andrew Robb in the previous parliament and ratification of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) were also great accomplishments for Australian farmers in cutting significant tariff barriers on agricultural produce sold into core export markets.
Mr Finlay said the ChAFTA ratification had also occurred despite attempts by the CFMEU and “a few in the Labor Party” to block it which the NFF opposed in a ferocious public campaign.
“On an absolute shoestring budget we were to generate a huge amount of media which was a massive achievement and now the China Free Trade Agreement is redefining Australian agriculture,” he said.