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NFF, VFF have lost their way, says Victoria's Ag minister

Peter Walsh

Hard call: Peter Walsh says the farming sector is suffering because of the decline of its lobby groups. Picture: Zoe Phillips Source: Weekly Times Now

Farm scene

Hard call: Peter Walsh says the farming sector is suffering because of the decline of its lobby groups. Picture: Zoe Phillips Source: Weekly Times Now

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AUSTRALIAN farm lobby groups have lost their way.

And a "major restructure" was necessary for agri-politics at state and national levels, Victorian Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh has declared.

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But the former Victorian Farmers Federation president would not offer a solution to the problems he identified.

The comments have been labelled "political pot stirring" by the VFF.

"Agri-politics needs a major restructure in Australia, nationally focused on where the best outcomes are for farmers," Mr Walsh told a dairy industry breakfast last week.

"I don't think the National Farmers' Federation is as well resourced as it used to be historically.

"My sense is back in the '80s and '90s the NFF was probably the peak economic lobby group in Canberra and I don't think we are seeing that now and it is to the detriment of agriculture."

But VFF president Peter Tuohey said a lot of work had been done in restructuring the NFF and the VFF already.

"I think the world of agri-politics is quite a lot different now to what it was then (when Mr Walsh was involved)," Mr Tuohey said.

"At the VFF we have changed the way we lobby. We offer a solution and an economic value of how things should be going and how they're improving not just complaining about an issue and actually putting forward a solution to a problem which will benefit and give the government something to think about."

Mr Walsh refused to offer solutions for the problems he identified saying if the VFF and NFF wanted his advice he was happy to talk to them privately but not through the media.

"I think to sit there and say nothing was not the purpose of the breakfast but I think to continue a running commentary of what was discussed is not helpful either," he said.

Australian Farm Institute chief executive Mick Keogh said state farmer organisations were "bleeding membership", which was "rotting the system in a sense from the ground up".

"I don't think anyone would doubt that there is a major challenge confronting agricultural representation bodies in Australia at the moment," Mr Keogh said.

"When you look overseas, farm organisations almost without exception have moved on in a sense and they're now proving a range of different services and functions that actually deliver a benefit to the individual ... so in effect the lobbying activities are a by-product.

"They're still important, but they're not the primary reason that farmers become a member of those organisations.

"There's no doubt that internationally, farm service organisations have very successfully developed strong business models that make them sustainable long term and make them attractive to membership."

New NFF president Brent Finlay said the organisation was about to embark on a review of agricultural representation across Australia, for which he looked forward to receiving Mr Walsh's input.

Mr Finlay said despite changes to the NFF leadership in the past 12 months he was excited about the future of agriculture and the role the NFF had to play in it.

"We've been through 10 to 15 years of pretty tough times in agriculture," he said.

"That's why the discussion that I want agriculture to have is around profitability and I want people to talk about it and look very closely publicly.

"I'm passionate about agriculture and ... it's an exciting industry to be in right now with wonderful opportunities.

"All our competitors are also looking at the same opportunities that we are and we've got to go and get them.

"Agriculture is only a small part of Canberra and that's why we've got to be unified and we've got to muscle up.

"They're easy words to say, but we've just got to effectively try to do that and I see that as a key role for the NFF."

Mr Walsh's National Party colleague and federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce declined to comment.

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  • Stephen of Healesville Posted at 7:20 PM December 28, 2013

    NFF and VFF have become lobyists for the farming inputs industries and at best can claim to represent only the interests of industrial farmers. Their political wing, The National Party are equally implicated in the lack of proper representation for a broad range of rural interests in this country. They aspire to mediocrity.

  • Robert Danieli of Kyabram Posted at 8:43 AM December 19, 2013

    Mr Walsh needs look no further than his mirror to identify who is responsible for problems in agriculture. Unbundling of irrigation water, continuing the destruction of irrigation infrastructure, lack of support for the fruit industry, failure to address rising costs to farmers, selling valuable rural assets, failing to reinstate the redgum industry, deserting the Barmah forest and our aboriginal communities to name a few. Of course we are coming into an election year so Mr Walsh is seeking a scapegoat.

  • Nigel Hicks of Wyuna Posted at 8:42 PM December 18, 2013

    Many of the current members are only there for perceived savings on group power plans and the like but in the current market many are finding that they can do just as well themselves with electricity suppliers and the like. When producers are given a choice of membership they will and have voted with their wallets. Unlike the forced levy deductions for Dairy Australia where compulsory deduction takes place. By not listening to producers and not representing their genuine concerns and instead pushing the interests of donors to the organisations has also impacted heavily on their credibility

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