AWI in spotlight over course funding

Matt CoughlanCountryman
Stuart McCullough.
Camera IconStuart McCullough. Credit: TheWest

Australia's scandal-plagued wool industry peak marketing and research body has defended sending its chief executive on a $67,000 six-week business course at a prestigious American university.

Taxpayers footed the bill for the business course at Stanford University, attended by Australian Wool Innovation chief executive Stuart McCullough in 2013.

AWI chairman Wal Merriman said board member Colette Garnsey, a former fashion executive, had recommended the course which was later given unanimous approval.

"One of the board members who started this off thought that was the best facility in the world," Mr Merriman told a Senate inquiry on Tuesday.

Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE

Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.


Nationals senator John Williams questioned why similar courses in Australia with costs of less than $10,000 weren't considered.

Mr Merriman said the course had boosted the Australian wool industry's access to American markets including big-name sporting brands.

"The board is very happy with their investment. Stuart's blossomed," he said.

Mr McCullough said it was part of a scheme to secure his long-term employment, as he would have been forced to pay back part of the costs if he quit.

AWI is facing an independent review of its performance and governance, following a string of controversial incidents.

Mr Merriman last year defended accusations of impropriety in board elections over the use of proxies.

That came after a controversy surrounding Mr Merriman viewing farmers through a one-way mirror during an "anonymous" focus group.

He has also apologised for swearing at an ABC journalist when asked to comment on the mirror incident.

"The 42,000 wool levy payers have the right to expect their industry body to work hard in the interests of woolgrowers," Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said in a statement.

The review will be conducted over the next six months, ahead of this year's WoolPoll, where farmers set AWI's funding every three years.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails