GRAIN GROWERS is embarking on a sweeping review of its constitution this year, and the recent changes to the board highlight it is not a moment too soon.
The threadbare stocks in terms of grower directors means that former chairman John Eastburn will now take on a third term at the helm following the resignation of Andrew Carberry last week due to family commitments.
It is not a good look for GGL. That assertion is not any reflection upon Mr Eastburn, but rather an electoral process that means he is virtually the only candidate for the role at Australia’s largest grains industry group by membership.
Of the other four board members, the two southern zone directors, Gerry Lane and Bruce Smith are both due to retire at the end of their terms, the choice was down to either Mr Eastburn or the two Western Australian directors Rod Birch and Trevor de Landgrafft.
Mr Birch confirmed his current work commitments would make it difficult to take on the chairman’s role at present, so there is a thin field of potential candidates.
Kudos to Mr Eastburn for saddling up once again to steer the organisation through a busy period, but it should not come down to this.
For all its financial clout, GGL is still viewed with ambiguity by many farmers in WA and SA who found themselves GGL members due to deals with state farming organisations.
As it moves forward GGL needs to show it has moved beyond its parochial roots as an NSW-based group. The re-election of a two time chairman from the organisation’s northern NSW heartland isn’t going to do it.
Within its governance review, GGL urgently needs to address this perception it has not truly moved past its origins as an NSW-based organisation, which has not been helped by the fact there are no directors from three of the five major grain producing states (Queensland, Victoria and South Australia).
The official line behind the board’s decision to vote in Mr Eastburn once more was to maintain stability during a potentially tumultuous period, but GGL has missed a golden opportunity to blood its next generation of leaders, perhaps even before Mr Carberry stepped down.
The evidence is there that many grassroots members are keen for change.
The two challengers to Mr Eastburn and Mr Carberry at last year’s elections, Rebecca Reardon and Xavier Martin both polled better in the primary vote than the incumbents, while Mr Eastburn received the largest amount of ‘no’ votes out of the quartet, with 634, in spite of his long service to the business.
The opening votes were not indicative of the final results, once proxies had been accounted for, but they demonstrated there is a large portion of the membership hungry for change.
GGL’s mission this year, to update its constitution and to water down the toxic influence proxy votes can potentially have on election results, is admirable, but the message is diluted when the board cannot find anyone new to take on the top job at such an exciting time.
Perhaps changes to the board elections, including more rigid term limitations and a staggered election process so the board is not left with this mix of newcomers and those due to retire could be considered.
GGL is forging forward on a number of fronts, both as a farmer representative group and with industry good functions, let’s hope the constitutional reform process provides them with reforms that allow sound corporate governance within the business that will provide the platform to achieve their goals.