Lynne Johnston steps down as wool leader

30 Aug, 1999 04:05 AM
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AFTER 10 years as one of the foremost crusaders for reform in the wool industry, Pastoralists and Graziers Association Western Woolgrowers committee chairman Lynne Johnston has decided to call it a day. Mrs Johnston rose to prominence in the industry when it started to collapse in 1989, after a radio interview on the need to dismantle the Reserve Price Scheme that had underpinned the wool industry for 17 years. Her comments were seen as explosive at a time when many growers and politicians clung to the mechanism that had long served the industry, but at the same time she won considerable support, especially from the commercial sector. Soon after that time Mrs Johnston became the chairman of the Wool Reform Institute, formed in association with several local rural consultants, to lobby for the end of the RPS. After much debate, the first sale without a floor price occurred in July 1991. Mrs Johnston is still highly critical of the leaders of that time, whom she believed were responsible for much of the pain the industry has endured. "If it were not for them we would not have had a stockpile of four million bales and a debt of $2.8 million, and we would have been over this many years ago," she said. Watching Federal Parliament from the public gallery amend legislation to provide for a free wool market was one of Mrs Johnston's most memorable moments. In 1996 Mrs Johnston took over the chairmanship of the PGA's wool committee, still angry with the management of the wool stockpile. That year the PGA launched a national campaign challenging stockpile liquidators Wool International's (WI) selling strategy. The PGA maintained WI was selling stockpile wool at a discount, by tender, and driving the market down. Mrs Johnston maintained that by selling stockpile wool at auction without reserve, the wool would find its own value and not have an undue influence on the fresh wool market. While the position had the support of much of the broking and buying sector, woolgrowers were divided. At the height of the debate during the 1996 Wool Council of Australia meeting in Launceston, WI chairman Dick Warburton accused Mrs Johnston of improperly representing the WCA and likened her to "Superman in a red cape" after she departed the meeting to talk to the media. "That was an appalling display that left me horrified," Mrs Johnston said. The exchange was the last straw for the PGA, which subsequently resigned from WCA. Mrs Johnston said the attack was just one of the obstacles she faced as an eloquently outspoken woman in a male-dominated industry. "Some of the old guard find it difficult to relate to a woman and there is nothing worse for them than a woman being logically right," she said. Now at the dawn of a new era in the wool industry, Mrs Johnston believes the time is right to hand over the baton to some of the younger players in the industry. She is excited about the imminent prospects of a wool market recovery without the stockpile hanging over it. "It is time for the young and the new farmers to take over the leadership," Mrs Johnston said. "Wool has a great place in the economy and it is a wonderful time to be young in the wool industry." She will remain on the PGA's wool committee and is looking forward to attending next week's wool round table in Canberra and helping decide the fate of the body to succeed The Woolmark Company. Mrs Johnston will continue as the PGA's economics committee chairman and is planning to go back to university to study a Masters in Business Administration. Although she has had many approaches to enter into politics, having contested a Senate seat in 1997, Mrs Johnston would not be drawn on future considerations. In paying tribute to Mrs Johnston's work, PGA president Barry Court said the fact that many of the PGA's visions had been endorsed was testimony to her dedication and tenacity. "Love her or fear her, no one could deny the massive contribution Lynne Johnston has made to retrieving Australia's wool industry and turning it back on course," Mr Court said. Mrs Johnston also paid tribute to the support and encouragement of her husband David, woolbrokers Wool Agency Company and Primaries of WA and her friends and colleagues at the PGA. ÿ

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