Search for new wool leaders begins

30 May, 2001 10:00 PM
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THE hunt is on for the next generation of wool leaders, as wool's national watchdog takes shape.

The new body, to officially replace the Wool Council of Australia (WCA) from July 2, will be led by a council of 12 woolgrowers.

Each of the six State Farm Organisations (SFO) will appoint one member to the council, and the remaining six seats will be filled via a national election of grower members who nominate to stand.

Perhaps the most significant feature of the organisation is an avenue for direct membership, which is hoped will help attract the estimated 60pc of Australia's 45,000 woolgrowers who currently have no membership of a state or wool body.

Wool leaders are confident they have created an organisation that offers unprecedented opportunities for representation to woolgrowers and puts the leadership of the organisation firmly in the hands of grassroots members.

The voting method to select the six grower-elected councillors is yet to be decided, but is likely to comprise a senate or preferential-style system to ensure growers from smaller wool producing states have an equitable chance.

The organisation's president will be elected by the 12-member council.

WCA president David Wolfenden said an interim committee of nine people would officially take over on July 2, and its first priority would be to hold a national election within three months.

Mr Wolfenden will sit on the interim executive but has given no indication as to whether he will seek to stand on the new board.

The Australian Woolgrowers Association (AWGA), which has been particularly critical of the new body, is a possible source of members for the directly-elected seats.

AWGA spokesman John Roydhouse said it was up to individual AWGA members whether to stand.

"I would suggest any AWGA members would first of all want to see the role identified in the new organisation, and the colours of the new organisation," he said.

"The last thing they would want is the same old faces on a re-badged Wool Council".

Some wool leaders are also privately hoping SFOs will push younger, fresher faces forward to ensure the new organisation is not seen as a mere extension of the much-maligned Wool Council that preceded it.

A key detail yet to be resolved is how much direct members will pay to join.

The new group's constitution stipulates the fee must be at least $100 per direct member.

NSWFA wool chairman Duncan Fraser, a member of the WCA restructure committee, said the fee must be high enough to cover the cost of servicing individual members because State Organisations could not be expected to cross-subsidise non-member growers.

But he believes the fee must also be low enough to encourage the estimated 60pc of Australian woolgrowers currently not represented to take up membership.

The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) is arguing that a direct membership fee should be similar to the amount members pay to join State Organisations (in the vicinity of $200-$300, which includes automatic membership of the national body).

The VFF fears a significantly lower fee for direct membership would encourage members to bypass state membership altogether in favour of national membership.

The new body will be an unincorporated commodity council of the NFF.

The structure allows closer operating ties with the NFF, but also raises the problem that as an unincorporated body, financial liability can flow back to members.

To overcome that problem, the body will operate with the NFF as a trustee, which will provide indemnity cover for all members, Mr Wolfenden said.

"In all aspects, the new organisation has autonomy of policy and autonomy to manage all of its own affairs and it makes up its own mind," Mr Wolfenden said.

"If it wants to leave the NFF it can, but while we are there we will be looking to cooperate as closely as possible with NFF".

Membership fees will be the primary source of funding.

After the new body pays about $120,000 in annual membership fees to the NFF, it is likely to have an expected operating budget of $250,000-$300,000 in its first year.

Three main factors have caused the Wool Council's operating budget to shrink from $500,000 five years ago: the withdrawal of membership fees from WA's PGA in 1996 and the SA Farmers Federation last year, and the loss of the $100,000-$200,000 in annual consultative funding previously paid to Wool Council by AWRAP.

The withdrawal of consultative funding is being privately welcomed by some, who say it ensures the new body will in no way be beholden to funding providers.

Wool Council's reliance on AWRAP for almost one-quarter of its annual funding was seen as a limiting factor, restricting its capacity to criticise AWRAP for fear of losing funds.

Queensland woolgrower Robert Pietsch, who is Agforce's representative on the interim executive board, was confident that funding would not pose a problem for the organisation.

"Wool Council is transferring all of its (undisclosed) reserves to the new body, which will give it a solid financial footing to get out there and start running," Mr Pietsch said.

"There is also capacity for greater membership in future from people who have not paid membership to State Farm Organisations or Wool Council in the past".

Shrinking budgets have whittled the Wool Council secretariat down to a staff of two in the past year, and whether that is expanded will be a decision of the new board.

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