WAFarmers push for ‘one voice’ with PGA

Jenne Brammer and Cally DupeCountryman
WAFarmers president Rhys Turton.
Camera IconWAFarmers president Rhys Turton. Credit: Simon Santi

WAFarmers has kicked off its campaign to have a single advocacy group formed in WA, by hosting the first of a series of workshops in Geraldton last week.

The Thursday meeting also revealed WAFarmers wants broadacre farming to be included within Australian Produce Commission legislation, therefore enabling a potential option for funding agricultural advocacy.

APC legislation is under review and will soon be before State Parliament.

WAFarmers has been calling for a merger with Pastoralists and Graziers Association, arguing a single, unified voice for farmers was needed, but there has been PGA resistance.

WAFarmers has coined the campaign ‘one voice for agriculture’, and plans to continue discussions about a WAF and PGA merger at its Upper Great Southern Zone Meeting on Monday night.

But Mr Seabrook told Countryman this week that there were too many philosophical differences and too much history for the two bodies to join forces, though he was happy to work with WA Farmers when similar views were held.

Mr Seabrook said WAFarmers had “never called a meeting” to discuss the merger, and he felt WAFarmers was “forcing the issue” because they were “financially in a pretty tight place”.

“Our feeling is it would end in tears,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are staunch believers in our organisation and also in their organisation.

“We have no appetite for a merger. And why should we, we are not losing members or money.”

But WA Farmers chief executive Trevor Whittington said losing access to the glyphosate herbicide was a real risk to Australian farmers, and presenting one voice was now more important than ever.

Mr Whittington said about 40 farmers attended the meeting, including PGA and WAFarmers members, along with growers who were represented by neither organisation.

“While no vote was taken, the strong consensus was that the time for change had come,” Mr Whittington said.

“There were stories from the floor of past attempts to bring WAFarmers and PGA together but had been scuppered by bullying tactics from senior players and this in part is why previous attempts to form one unified voice has never been achieved.”

But Mr Seabrook said he did not know of any PGA members who had attended the meeting.

In regards to the APC legislation, WAFarmers president Rhys Turton said the legislation was formed in 1988 to provide producers with a legal framework to collect funds for development of their industry sector, but broadacre farming was excluded.

Under the legislation, industries can form producer committees, and a compulsory “fee for service” is imposed, though individuals can opt out.

Mr Turton said the current review of legislation meant the time was right to have broadacre included, so raising funds in this way was a future option, even if not pursued.

He said it was an option for a unified advocacy group could to be funded through this course rather than membership fees. A similar model exists in South Australia.

Mr Whittington said he hoped by the end of 2020 farmers would be represented by one well-funded professional organisation.

Countryman understands Mr Seabrook and Mr Turton are pegged to go head-to-head about a range of issues on WA Country Hour on ABC this Friday.

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