Good response to online voting for WAFarmers annual general meeting

By Brooke Littlewood
March 23 2022 - 10:00pm
WAFarmers chief executive officer Trevor Whittington (left) and president John Hassell at the annual general meeting last Friday.

ALMOST four times more members dialled in to vote for WAFarmers' annual general meeting this year - thanks to a new online voting system.

The electronic system was introduced to provide members - no matter what their time or travel constraints - with an opportunity to be a part of the democratic process.

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WAFarmers members cast their vote on the eight motions, which were put to the floor at the AGM held at the Westin Hotel, Perth, last Friday.

WAFarmers president John Hassell said the number of people voting prior to the meeting was "quite outstanding" for the organisation in the circumstances.

He said the system engaged members and maximised turnout for an organisation with reach to some of WA's most remote areas.

Mr Hassell said given the vast majority of people carried a mobile phone, there was no reason for WAFarmers not to move with the times and tap into the new world.

"We are aiming to move more of our decision-making to this methodology," Mr Hassell said.

"That is so we can go to the government in a much more timely manner with decisions that are based on real-time grassroots democracy.

"This system would be much faster than going through a zone meeting then a general council meeting before we get the policy.

"I think the AGM is a good indication we are going to be successful in moving toward online voting and that more people are going to be able to vote on their mobile phones."

Mr Hassell said the online system also encouraged greater voter participation because it was easier.

He said it particularly appealed to people, who were time poor, as they didn't need to travel hundreds of kilometres and find accommodation to be a part of the democratic process.

WAFarmers members were given the opportunity to cast their vote either online, via mail or in person at the AGM.

Online votes were provided, after votes were cast in person at the meeting.

The motions were voted on as they were presented and were not amended.

All of the eight motions passed affected WA's agricultural industry and included:

  • An exemption for farmers from capital gains tax on intergenerational farm succession.
  • Removal of the deeming date on discretionary trusts.
  • Inclusion of essential skilled farm operators within the definition of specialist skills workers.

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  • Increase CBH's ownership of rail to enhance and capture international price premiums and provide rail network coverage and necessary infrastructure to support this.
  • Implement a good neighbour policy when State government is purchasing farmland for tree planting, which includes paying rates and implementing firebreaks.
  • Discuss emergency communication and the reliance for mobile phone coverage during emergencies including fires.
  • Design and build a 'fit for purpose' vehicle for country firefighting units.

Prior to the motions, Mr Hassell delivered a report, which highlighted the year that was 2021 for the agricultural sector.

As was the case for most organisations and industries in the past two years, he said COVID-19 dominated the latest agenda.

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This has seen WAFarmers attend numerous meetings with government members to push for outcomes in the agricultural sector.

Furthermore, Mr Hassell said the organisation had worked closely with the National Farmers' Federation and other peak commodity councils on a range of national issues.

These included drought policy, industrial relations, chemical registrations, live export, telecommunications and trade.

"Climate change is one of the issues WAFarmers has been working on at a State and national level over the past 12 months," he said.

"For another year climate change has been highly topical, as an organisation through our climate change committee we invested a lot of time updating our existing three policies into one relevant policy for the current level of debate.

"Our updated climate position continues to recognise climate change as a challenge for all and we need to reduce our carbon footprint to a net zero position.

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"We also need to ensure we are not on the backfoot by recoginising the baselines of the good things we already do."

Other challenges the agricultural sector has faced include severe labour shortages with a large drop and reduced numbers of skilled and foreign workers.

Transport issues in rail and road infrastructure as well as agricultural machinery also remained topical.

"The need to see far larger investment in both road and rail has been acknowledged," Mr Hassell said.

"We have considered extending our paddock-to-port policy to the ship.

"Our transport committee have also worked on reviewing tractor speeds and have worked with government regulators to establish new sets of rules for single tractors and tractors towing implements with brakes - this will continue into 2022."

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Furthermore, Mr Hassell highlighted issues in telecommunications, particularly the lack of it during bushfires.

He said policy change was needed at the highest level to ensure continuous operability in times of natural disaster.

Mr Hassell and WAFarmers' chief executive officer Trevor Whittington both thanked farmers, stakeholders, industry representatives and corporate partners for their support over the past 12 months.

They also thanked their staff for their efforts including WAFarmers executive manager policy, advocacy and engagement Jessica Wallace for her contributions to the organisation over the past four years, as she bid farewell to the organisation last week.

To conclude the AGM, Bailiwick Legal director and agricultural lawyer Phil Brunner spoke about bushfire responsibilities, costs and court cases.

Attending members then enjoyed a sundowner and dinner at the Westin Hotel.

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