Frustrated hort growers demand levy voting changes

Hort Innovation levy payers band together to change constitution


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Furstrated horticulture growers are taking matters into their own hands.

Furstrated horticulture growers are taking matters into their own hands.

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Two growers are leading a campaign to alter current voting entitlements.

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A GROUP of frustrated horticulture growers are preparing to band together and vote in favour of changes to the Hort Innovation Australia constitution at an Annual General Meeting in November which would change the current levy voting system.

Ravensbourne avocado grower Daryl Boardman and St George table grape grower Richard Lomman are leading the campaign to restructure the director election process and selection committee and alter levy payer voting entitlements.

Currently, a member needs to pay at least $200 in levy to obtain one vote with additional votes issued for each $10,000 of levy paid by the grower as an average over the three prior financial years. No more than 101 votes can be issued to a member.

St George table grape grower Richard Lomman

St George table grape grower Richard Lomman

Mr Boardman and Mr Lomman met with HIA Chairman Selwyn Snell and Deputy Chair Mark Napper and put forth their proposals that one director must be a levy paying member of the company selected by the Secretary of the Department and that at least $200 in levy payments entitles one vote, no more. 

The changes required a resolution be put forth by September 29 with either 100 voting members or five percent of votes. It was achieved in three days. 

Members will now have the opportunity vote on the proposed changes during the AGM on November 24 in Melbourne.

Mr Lomman said the current voting system gave huge power to the corporates and large processors making it almost impossible to affect any change.

“We have always wanted to keep this within the Hort community but if we fall short at the AGM other avenues will need to be pursued,” he said. 

”We have support from some of the biggest growers in the country and their attitude is “it doesn’t matter how many votes we have, we can’t change the management because we can’t elect the majority of the board, who are the only ones who can change the Senior manager.”

Hort Innovation chief executive John Lloyd said the current voting entitlements under the Hort Innovation Constitution had been in place since the company’s formation in 2014.

Hort Innovation chief executive John Lloyd

Hort Innovation chief executive John Lloyd

“If the vote is successful, the Hort Innovation Constitution will be changed to allocate one vote per eligible member,” he said.

“Hort Innovation levies are spent on R&D, Marketing and Trade activities for the benefit of Australian horticultural growers.”

The 2016/17 Hort Innovation Annual Report noted that $54.2 million in levy had been collected from 33 commodities and enabled $103.8 million in program expenditure with $84.5 million in strategic levy R&D and Hort Frontiers investments and $19.3 million in marketing programs.

This reportedly led to 639 R&D projects, including trade initiatives, and 25 marketing programs.

But, Mr Lomman said a number of projects that needed to start months ago were yet to be contracted.

“Seasonality is foremost in our industries and once the timeline is gone, opportunities are gone and the cost to growers is significant,” he said.

“Avocados WA didn’t get their new marketing campaign done in time for this season (and) table grapes export project has not been contracted and timeline is closed for exporting growers to register.”

Mr Boardman and Mr Lomman have told their followers they are happy to be their proxy vote if they are unable to attend. 

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