Merger between lobby groups seems unlikely

Merger between lobby groups seems unlikely


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A merger between the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) and WAFarmers is unlikely in the near future after PGA president Tony Seabrook said his organisation wouldn't consider the idea due to longstanding philosophical differences and while WAFarmers was in "financial trouble".

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WAFarmers president Rhys Turton.

WAFarmers president Rhys Turton.

A MERGER between the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) and WAFarmers is unlikely in the near future after PGA president Tony Seabrook said his organisation wouldn't consider the idea due to longstanding philosophical differences and while WAFarmers was in "financial trouble".

WAFarmers president Rhys Turton sent a letter to Mr Seabrook laying out the case for the two WA producer representative groups to merge, although Mr Seabrook hadn't seen it before Farm Weekly had.

He said it wasn't a good start to discussions between the two groups for WAFarmers to send the letter addressed to him to the media - without having the opportunity to read it first.

WAFarmers is undergoing an internal restructure, which was promised by Mr Turton in his recent election campaign, which has seen a reduction in employed staff to just four.

Reaching out to the PGA with an open offer was a separate issue but would impact on that restructuring process if the offer was accepted.

Mr Whittington responded to Farm Weekly questions that "our focus is asking the industry where to from here".

"If the PGA want one single body we would put on hold any restructure and look at all options including merging or setting up an entirely new body - nothing is off the table," Mr Whittington said.

The letter to Mr Seabrook however suggested that he was making decisions for PGA members without allowing them a voice.

"While you have recently commented in newspapers that PGA members have no appetite for a merger with WAFarmers, I note that this is your position as president and not the polled individual view of your members," Mr Turton said in the letter.

"I also note that the State Minister for Agriculture, Alannah MacTiernan, thinks that a single united voice made sense and I point out that the previous Liberal Premier, Colin Barnett is also on record calling for a single farming body to more effectively represent the industry.

"I think it is time to take this matter out of the hands of the presidents and all those who are quick to howl down any talk of a merger and take it to both organisation's membership, along with all the non-members out there who are frustrated with the fact that there are two competing bodies that they refuse to join either organisation.

"I propose that both our organisations remove this debate out of our executive decision making processes and take the question of the merits of joining forces of both our organisations into an entirely new body, (let me call it Farmers Pastoralists and Graziers WA for want of a better title) to a poll for both of our membership to vote conducted by the WA Electoral Commission.

"We should also use this as an opportunity to invite farming non-members to indicate their interest in joining a new organisation should it be supported to ensure we get the critical mass needed to establish a truly professional organisation with the resources required to do the job properly."

Mr Seabrook said there was no one person standing in the way of a merger between the organisations, but it was the opinion of the PGA membership that they remained separate and work together with WAFarmers on issues of shared concern.

"We discuss everything at length at our executive meetings," Mr Seabrook said.

"There is no appetite, based on the democratic position of the executive at the time.

"I am bound by process, so in statements I make they are not 'captains calls' but have come out of in-depth discussions by the executive, who share the opinions and beliefs of the broader membership."

The letter also discussed the declining number of farm businesses across the State, "currently down to approximately 4000 commercial enterprises compared to 13,106 in 1970" as well as the financial position that put the organisations in.

"The days of being able to afford to run two competing and effective State farming agri-political bodies is rapidly coming to a head," Mr Turton said.

"With farm aggregations' tracking at approximately three per cent a year, our industry is heading towards 3000 entities by 2030.

"This decline in numbers, combined with a new era of men and women farmers, many of whom are part of the millennial generation which tends to be less politically engaged than their Baby Boomer and Silent Generation parents, is a challenge for both of our organisations."

Mr Turton said while the PGA (1907) and WAFarmers (1912) were born in a similar era they have historically, at least up until the 1990s maintained distinctly different views on a range of economic issues.

"Since the wind up of the Australian Wheat Board was completed in 2009 these differences have effectively dissolved and our industry has moved on, as has WAFarmers," he said.

"Economically and politically our policy differences are basically indistinguishable.

"Today both organisations are strong supporters of the free market, minimum government regulation, low taxation and a fair share of regional community services and infrastructure."

Mr Turton believed that the industry and memberships of the organisations had matured enough to be able to tackle the "big issues that may confront us now and into the future should we bring our two memberships together under one roof".

He said collectively both organisations represented about "a third of the Wheatbelt and potentially close to 40pc of total production of sheep and grain".

"This is higher than the other State farming organisations but we are hopelessly compromised with two competing organisations when it comes to putting forward successful lobbying and policy formation," Mr Turton said.

"It is time to end the years of discussion and debate in the media with a formula that will lay the seed for either a new organisation or a clear acceptance that Western Australia will continue on with two distinct and separate State farming organisations."

Mr Seabrook said the PGA was willing to work with WAFarmers on issues of shared concern and hoped that its leadership would stop pushing the merge idea and get on with focusing on the important issues.

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