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Woolgrowers vote for change

Bob GarnantCountryman

In the face of the wool industry’s triple hit — reduced wool volumes, market volatility and Australian Wool Innovation’s budget woes — the wool body’s levy payers voted for change at its November 22 annual meeting in Sydney.

There were eight candidates vying for three positions on the seven-person board, and the result came after what was a bruising campaign for some candidates.

The new-look AWI seven-member board, headed by Colette Garnsey, has added two fresh faces in Victorian woolgrower Noel Henderson and NSW veterinarian Michelle Humphries.

WA’s only director on the AWI board, Perth-based David Webster, retained his seat with a tally of 159,465 votes for, 129,997 against.

But the big news of the day was that long-time director Wal Merriman, of NSW, lost his seat after polling more against votes (152,855) than for (146,398).

It marked the end of Mr Merriman’s 15-year stint on the board, which in recent years was marred by controversy.

Mr Merriman polled the third-highest number of votes in favour, but was unsuccessful after receiving more votes against.

Other unsuccessful candidates included Paul Cocking, of NSW, George Falkiner, of NSW, Janelle Hocking-Edwards, of SA, and Philip Holmes, of NSW.

NSW-based woolgrower Meredith Sheil retired from the board.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Henderson said the decisive votes had been cast by “fresh eyes” and presented “an opportunity to refresh the board and focus on change”.

“It is a time to completely respond to the findings of the Ernst & Young review findings and reassess the financial implications from the 2018 WoolPoll, which reduced AWI’s levy tax from 2 to 1.5 per cent,” he said.

Mr Henderson said the “successful meeting” highlighted a number of topics, including AWI’s revised downward budget resulting from reduced wool volumes in drought affected areas, and lower wool values from economic uncertainty and market volatility.

“It has been a triple hit to the wool industry,” he said.

“The AGM rallied some good questions and responses directed at AWI’s marketing projects while the company’s broad research and development ambitions may require more focus.”

Ms Garnsey welcomed newly elected board directors Mr Henderson and Mrs Humphries, and paid tribute to Mr Merriman.

“Wal, as a director and past chairman has left an indelible legacy — he has been a tireless, selfless and passionate advocate for woolgrowers and the industry,” she said. “It was Wal who engaged the industry with great brands and key retail markets.”

Ms Garnsey said 86 per cent of the shareholders had endorsed all changes to the AWI constitution related to the E&Y review.

“The recommendation related to tenure of directors is the subject of ongoing consultation with the wool industry and is expected to be put to shareholders at the 2020 AGM,” she said.

WoolProducers Australia president Ed Storey said the election of two new directors indicated that woolgrowers wanted change.

“We believe they (the board) has been given a clear mandate to get on with addressing the challenges that woolgrowers and the wider industry are facing, such as climate adaptation, low production volumes and mulesing,” he said.

AWI chief executive Stuart McCullough said while some of the biggest marketing challenges included the itch, care and price of wool products, it was all smooth sailing for the $1.5 million 2020 America’s Cup project.

“As technical partner on board Italy’s Prada-sponsored Luna Rossa racing yacht, The Woolmark Company will supply the crew with wind and water-proof woollen performance attire,” he said.

Mr McCullough also announced that AWI’s 2019-20 reduced $38.025 million budgeted levy revenue made way for a board-approved $29 million drawdown on reserves.

“Facing budget constraints and staff reductions, we will have to work smarter,” he said.

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