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Are Producer Organisations Working?

Written by John Niven,  President of ABA

I too attended the Australian Farm Institute (AFI) research report on                     “Opportunities to Improve the Effectiveness of Australian Advocacy Groups”.To date, all newspaper articles on the report (which discussed the failure of agricultural representatives to retain effectiveness or retain members)  have been politically correct, insipid remarks of wonder and amazement at what has gone wrong.

Presenter, AFI  Executive Director Mick Keogh,  had commissioned a 100 page research report on the effectiveness  of farm representative bodies, and insisted there was to be no criticism or witch hunt.  He stated the focus was to be on positives for the future of advocacy groups.

To me it was something like Custer’s last stand.  In fact, the siege mentality would make for some good television comedy,  if it were not so serious.

According to Mick Keogh, one of the problems identified (and to be counteracted by the established advocacy groups like Agforce, NSWFF etc)  was single issue groups, or  ‘pop-up one hit’ wonders.

According to Keogh, the enemy was not some group or corporate trying to pillage agriculture,  but in fact was those who are trying to defend agriculture!

At question time, I asked Agforce CEO, Charle Burke, if he considered the Australian Beef Association a group of ‘pop-up one hit’ wonders.  He avoided the question with a patronising answer of how ABA was doing its best for members, but then suggested we would be better off  joining Agforce.

When asked if he supported ABA’s policy of a restructure of red meat industry at the current Senate Inquiry,  his answer was something along the lines of Agforce wanting the best for the Industry.  When pressed for detail,  Charles Burke said Agforce supported Cattle Council.  This  CEO of Queensland’s rural representative group Agforce,  from Australia’s largest cattle producing state,  had no idea what was in the submission,  and in fact seemed unaware the Senate Inquiry was to commence that Friday 7th March.  I was shut up by Mick Keogh.

Just recently, NSW Farmers were patting themselves on the back for supporting an arrangement where property owners may, or may not,  allow mineral exploration on their lands.

What NSWFF and all State Farm Organisations seem to have failed to understand is that aquifers do not stop at boundary fences, and this vital fact seems to be particularly ignored by NSW Farmers.  In their quest to be all things to everybody,  they have dropped the ball and left the heavy lifting to the volunteers of the  “Lock the Gate Alliance”.  Those ‘pop-up one hit wonders’.

We now have a situation in Queensland where The Land Court has ordered strict conditions on coal mining.   This is a result of action taken by groups including “Lock the Gate Alliance’  and  “Coast and Country “.

More pop-up one hit wonders.

These are volunteer groups have been initiated because of the failures of representatives such as Agforce, NSWFF, all SFOs,  and the National Farmers Federation.

The Australian Beef Association, with the help of city-based consumer groups, stopped the importation of fresh beef from America.  That planned import trade had been supported by our SFOs and NFF.

More importantly, thanks to the help of persons other than the SFOs, NFF or any other ‘representative’ advocacy group, ABA was able to push for the current Senate Inquiry into the Red Meat Industry, concerning the collection and disbursement of the grassfed levy.

The result of a volunteer group not only doing the work of established advocacy groups,  but also having to deal with opposition from those advocacy groups.

Lets face it, Farm Advocacy groups are in their death throes.

The only solution Mick Keogh could offer to the failing SFOs was to embark on a benefits and services programme,  and he also talked about how to get rid of the ” pop- up one hit wonders” .

For goodness sake,  benefits and services are a commercial business,  not some extension of the fantasy associated with current thinking.

The reason for the success of  “Pop-up one hit wonders ”  is because the  current thinking and management  of the advocacy groups is only about how to survive,  and  to feather their own nest.  The failed ‘restructure’ of Cattle Council is a classic example.

If Tony Abbott wants to save some money he should dismiss Mick Keogh and his 100 pages of Australian Farm Institute “research”.   All this information is readily available in any country pub!!
With a moribund Farm Advocacy situation,  it is little wonder the extension to the red meat industry structure has become dysfunctional.

It is vital that the current Senate Inquiry, which is looking closely at how the Red Meat representative industry is funded and managed,  results in the Grassfed Cattle Industry structure being put into the hands of the producers, giving then responsible for their own destiny.

Author: John Niven, ABA Chairman

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