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The WGGA Special General Meeting

What is at stake?

Many notices have now been sent altering WGGA members about the special general meeting on Thursday the 8th of September.  Members may not be aware of the implications of what might happen should the proposed reforms of WGGA not gain support.

The meeting is the first of two major hurdles for WGGA to overcome.  The vote at the meeting will determine if there is philosophical support for the organization to sharpen its focus, change its membership and structure; ultimately with the goal of firstly ensuring the survival such that it can build upon later.  The second hurdle, if there is a positive vote at the special general meeting will be to gain monetary support through membership so that the organisation is viable.  The first hurdle is to find a will, the second to find a way.

There are some core points that must be stressed in relation to the proposed reform:

  • The current arrangement is not sustainable.  Past expenditure has been greater than income, and WGGA has been drawing down on its reserve for several years.  Continuing under the status quo would have meant that WGGA would be in wind-up proceedings now.  As such;
  • In the event that the proposed reform is not supported, continuing under the current arrangement is not an option.
  • The proposal was the result of considered work and consultation with many groups across the industry.  The Executive Committee considers that this is the best option for the national grower group to be a professional and relevant organisation into the future.
  • The motive of Executive Committee, staff and Chair of WGGA is to achieve the best outcome for all growers in the nation, and to the wine industry as a whole.
  • No person or organisation has been forthcoming with an alternative plan.  If there is another option that has any level of support or merit, then WGGA has not been made aware of it.  As such;
  • If this proposal is not supported at the Special General Meeting on the 8th September, it is likely that WGGA will be forced to wind up.
What is at stake if WGGA ceases to operate?

WGGA has numerous statutory and industry responsibilities.  If it winds up, there is no alternative body that can simply “step in” and fulfill these tasks.  Moreover, forming a new body to address these responsibilities will inevitably cost more than keeping the current body going with a refined focus and relevance, as proposed.  We are awaiting opinion from the Federal Government to confirm what might occur in relation to the statutory responsibilities if WGGA ceased to operate, but the following represents the most likely set of outcomes.Code of Conduct
The voluntary industry Code of Conduct is an agreement between WFA and WGGA, who share the cost of the secretariat.  Without WGGA there would be no other party to the agreement, and no sharing of cost.  It is not feasible that WFA would continue to fund, and fund at a higher level, an agreement that facilitates disputes between growers and its members when there is no other party to that agreement.It is therefore very likely that the Code of Conduct would cease, and the ability to address disputes about commercial trading practice within the context of the Code would be lost.  The installation of the Code followed a protracted and difficult negotiation, and re-starting following a hiatus would not be easy.Grower Advocacy
There is no obvious substitute for WGGA as an advocate for growers in relation to national issues.  State and regional organisations will bring their perspective to any policy discussion with federal government, rather than bringing a whole of industry voice – hence the statement from government about wanting a national voice for national issues.  Multiple regional voices campaigning with different perspectives would force the government to either “pick a winner” and risk the ramifications, or ignore the issue at hand and no progress will be made.

A great example of a policy is tax.  The failure of the industry to gain earlier traction in addressing the perverse impacts of the WET was directly related to the inability to come to a common industry position.  In the event that there is no national consensus on tax policy, the Federal Government will either leave the issue alone, “pick a winner” (and risk the political fallout from possible disenfranchising part of the industry), or it will impose a completely different policy.  While it is true that the current approach from the government is to consult with regions, the government is unlikely to agree with one regional perspective at the expense of other regions.

WGGA along with WFA have an important role in providing input into research and development and extension priorities for Wine Australia and the AWRI.  Without WGGA the national grower perspective will be lost.

Statutory Committees
This includes input into the selection of the Australian Grape and Wine Authority (trading as “Wine Australia”), and the Geographic Indications Committee.  Without WGGA as the national reporting grower organization, there would be no grower input on these committees.  Replacement of WGGA with an alternative body would likely be subject to approval from a number of industry organizations and the federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to convince them that that organization was genuinely national and representative.

Industry Committees
These committees change from time to time, but include the National Vine Biosecurity Committee, Wine Industry National Environment Committee, The Wine Industry Technical Advisory Committee, and the current consultative group working on tax policy.  WGGA is named as the nominating body for many of these committee positions, and without it, any future nominees would need to convince industry that they are representative of the whole industry on a national perspective.

WGGA is currently the signatory to the Emergency Pest and Plant Response Deed, and funds the daily responsibilities for biosecurity with a Biosecurity Office through an arrangement with AWRI.  There is some solid work under way to more effectively address the national responsibilities through a collaborative approach that has the support of the major industry organizations.  If WGGA wound up, the industry would be reliant on WFA to assume this role on its behalf, and growers would lose input into biosecurity programs and policy at a national level.

The vote at the Special General Meeting is effectively a vote to continue the national grower body.  With no alternative suggestions, the most likely outcome in the absence of support for the proposal from the Executive Committee is that WGGA will be forced to instigate a wind-up of the national grower association.

It is up to WGGA members how they vote; but they should vote with the knowledge of the likely ramifications of their actions.

Andrew Weeks
Executive Director

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