WoolPoll will not wait

24 Aug, 2006 07:00 PM
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THE Federal Government will not postpone WoolPoll 2006 because of the proposed merger between Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and Australian Wool Services (AWS).

Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran confirmed to Farm Weekly this week that legislation would not be changed to delay the process of woolgrowers voting for a levy to fund AWI over the next three years.

"Legislation requires the poll to be conducted before the end of 2006 and the prospect of integration between the two companies is not a reason for amending legislation to change the date of the poll," Mr McGauran said.

"The main purpose of the poll is for growers to decide the rate of levy and broad areas of expenditure for AWI.

"The proposed integration of AWI and AWS is a matter for the companies and their respective shareholders, which is separate to the poll issue."

Australian Wool Growers' Association (AWGA) seems to have hit a brick wall after pushing for the Minister to delay WoolPoll.

AWGA chairman Martin Oppenheimer is concerned about the lack of details of the proposed merger and what structure the new organisation will take.

"It is arrogant and unrealistic to expect growers to ignore any structure of the future wool companies, yet blindly decide future funding," he said.

"I do not know why growers put up with it and this time they probably will not.

"They will either walk away or vote zero."

Mr Oppenheimer warned that WoolPoll could lead to further contraction of the Australian wool industry and be the nail in the coffin for woolgrowers contemplating a shift to more profitable enterprises.

"We are basically expecting the worst for WoolPoll now," he said.

"Growers will be wasting their money on this and we will not be getting the results that will help the industry grow."

Mr Oppenheimer said WoolPolls in 2000 and 2003 failed to give growers the ability to direct their levies towards either research or marketing.

"The model from 1999 based on innovation has failed to lift production and prices or reduce costs," he said.

"The mistakes from past WoolPolls look to be continued for another three years."

Targeted promotional marketing has been the hot topic for the Australian wool industry in recent years.

The Woolmark Company has successfully launched its own version of promotional marketing with the US test marketing campaign.

European wool processor Laurence Modiano has thrown up the idea of a multinational wool marketing body to help resurrect wool's reputation.

Even AWI has admitted to delving into market research and promotion, with its Merino active wear and Red Island clothing range.

But mention of blatant generic wool promotion is enough to send most in the wool industry running in all directions.

"Why is funding for marketing activities always seen at WoolPoll as an extravagance at 3pc or 4pc levy after funding research?" Mr Oppenheimer said.

AWGA maintains that a 2pc levy split evenly between marketing and research is the best option for the industry.

Threats of 0pc protest votes in this year's WoolPoll have also plagued the industry.

Mr Oppenheimer said it was still possible woolgrowers would vote for 0pc out of protest, despite WoolPoll panel chairman John Keniry's pleas not to do so.

"Anyone who thinks growers can increase the levy above 2pc to fund marketing is clearly out of touch with the commercial reality of wool production at present," Mr Oppenheimer said.

In last week's Farm Weekly, Dr Keniry said a levy of more than 2pc would be needed if AWI wanted to increase its marketing efforts.

AWI remains firm on the issue of WoolPoll being kept separate from the merger.

AWI senior management have said shareholders, woolgrowers and industry stakeholders would be made aware of any progressions with the merger.

WAFarmers Wool Council president Max Watts believes WoolPoll should go ahead uninterrupted.

"This merger has been on the plate for some time and it still has not happened," Mr Watts said.

"So why should we suddenly change WoolPoll for that?"

Patoralists and Graziers Association Wool Committee chairman Digby Stretch reiterated Mr Watts' sentiments.

"This is a poll about setting a tax, not setting policy," Mr Stretch said.

"The industry has worked very hard towards this."

Meanwhile, 50,000 Australian woolgrowers have been mailed information outlining their voting entitlements for the AWI annual general meeting and WoolPoll.

Voting entitlement letters have been sent to AWI's 32,000 shareholders and an additional 18,000 non-shareholders who are eligible to vote at WoolPoll.

AWI chief executive Lens Stephens also maintains the separation of merger talks from WoolPoll.

"This is the opportunity for people who pay wool levies to have their say on the future, so I would strongly encourage all eligible voters to take part in WoolPoll and the AGM," Dr Stephens said.

"Any questions regarding your entitlement must be resolved before September 8 to apply for WoolPoll or September 28 for the AGM."

The mailout details individual voting entitlements, calculated on levy data supplied by wool brokers and sellers to the Agriculture Department.

Shareholders are entitled to one vote for every $100 of wool levy paid in the past three financial years ended June 30, 2006.

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