Speech: General President's report, AgForce AGM 2019

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Speech: General President's report, AgForce AGM 2019
Friday, 29 Nov 2019

By General President Georgie Somerset

Welcome and acknowledgments

I am very proud to be talking to you today as General President at AgForce my first AGM.

And what a year it has been! One of the busiest, toughest, most challenging I can remember and yet offering some of the greatest opportunities for agriculture’s future development.

But before I provide my report, a couple of acknowledgments and some exciting news, hot off the press, that will make you cattle producers very happy indeed.

Firstly, thank you to my fellow AgForce Board members – and to the commodity boards and regional councils, as well – for their commitment and unstinting efforts to represent their parts of the industry.

At our 20th anniversary event last night, I had the pleasure of awarding AgForce’s first General President Larry Acton as its inaugural Life Member.

As I pointed out, this first-ever honour is a tribute to the uniqueness of a significant honour and not something we hand out lightly, but Larry’s contribution is one which really helped shape our entire industry

I’d also like to acknowledge the contribution of outgoing North Queensland Director Dominic Burden, whose passion for agriculture, untiring energy, and sense of humour delivered so much to the Board.

Unfortunately, Dom has made a rare error of judgment in moving to New South Wales, a venture in which I wish him all the best.

We are fortunate, though, that Dom will be replaced by someone with the same drive, energy and business acumen in Matt Bennetto. Matt is going to remain as President of the North Queensland Regional Council as well as its representative on the Board, and we thank him and wish him all the best.

I have more sombre acknowledgments I would like to make. This past year, the agriculture industry has lost two of its greatest leaders in John Stewart and Bill Loughnan.

John Stewart was one of the loveliest men you could ever meet and a true industry leader. He is quite rightly regarded as the 'godfather' of Australia's Brucellosis and Tuberculosis eradication campaign whose vision, scope and impact has delivered so much for the Australian cattle industry. He was also instrumental in AgForce’s response to the issue of native title, which delivered so much to AgForce members.

The industry will also be the poorer for the loss of Bill Loughnan, who has been a confidant for many. As an agribusiness lawyer, he championed plenty a cause for rural Queenslanders in his work as an agribusiness lawyer.

Finally, we still mourn the loss of past grains board chair and industry stalwart Lyndon Pfeffer in a tragic accident earlier this year.

All of these men were passionate supporters of AgForce and would, I’m sure, be delighted by the announcement made by Agriculture Minister Mark Furner at our 20th anniversary celebration last night – that the Palaszczuk Government has decided to change legislation to enable certified producers to perform lay pregnancy testing on.

This is a tribute to the power of AgForce’s advocacy – four years in the making – and in particular to the determination of Cattle President Will Wilson.

We all owe a great debt of gratitude to Will’s determination. Minister Furner made a point of singling out Will and his single-minded determination as the driving force behind this decision.


At this point, I’d like to take the opportunity to explain AgForce’s governance structure to our many new members.

AgForce’s structure may seem quite complex at first, but it is designed to ensure that the views of all members – regardless of the commodities they produce or the part of Queensland they call home – are considered when AgForce develops its policy positions or undertakes its critical advocacy work.

For AgForce to be such a broad church, we must ensure that the entire congregation is heard because we all like to sing so loudly!

The Board mirrors AgForce’s structure – designed to ensure that the organisation always accurately reflects the views of members.

Firstly, the Chairs of the three Commodity Boards – Will representing cattle, Alan Rae representing sheep, goats and wool, and Brendan Taylor for grains, including for broadacre crops like pulses, sunflowers and cotton.

The Regional Councils – which reflect the distinct agriculture, landscapes and issues of regions across this vast State – are represented by the Regional Directors.

The formidable skills of these Board members ae augmented by the unique skills offered by independent Directors.

For the past few years, we have also benefited from the unique, non-agricultural skills offered by Independent Directors.

Christine Hayward’s expertise in commerce and corporate governance has contributed to our goal of creating a more robust and accountable corporate structure and operations.

This year, we are pleased to welcome experienced stakeholder engagement expert Heidi Cooper, whose CV includes some of Queensland’s largest companies.

The future we are entering will require being able to engage many different stakeholders and audiences, and in news ways, and I am happy to say that we are already benefitting from Heid’s sage advice and corporate clarity.


Members, of course, are at the core of all we do - our job is to make it as easy, as profitable and as sustainable as possible for you to grow food and fibre.

You are the driving force behind AgForce. You provide both the reason to do what we do and the financial means to do so.

I am pleased to report that, despite the incredible hardship out there due to floods, fire and a lengthy drought, members remain committed to us.

Our membership continues to rise and now sits around the 5,500 mark – a significant proportion of broadacre producers.

This year, we introduced a new Member category to allow all Queenslanders to contribute to the future of agriculture.

The Country Connection membership allows anyone who wants to contribute to the future of sustainable agriculture in this State, to put their money where their mouth is!

Every Australian relies on agriculture – Every Family Needs a Farmer – and Country Connection offers an opportunity for them to be involved in its future.

The year in review

This year has definitely been one of highs and lows. Has there ever been a year like 2019? I somehow doubt it.

Climatic challenges have faced us at every turn, with record bushfires in October followed by record monsoonal flooding throughout much of Queensland a few months later, and a record drought that for many producers has now entered its eighth year.

And notwithstanding the announcement by Minister Furner last night, we have the most unresponsive State Government we have ever encountered. At the mercy of green groups, they seem committed to burying us under layers of red and green tape to try and achieve aims we can tell them now they won’t achieve.

But firstly, to extreme weather events.

I am pleased to say that by our early action and cool heads in a crisis, we were able to have a material and positive impact on the assistance and recovery from the February floods that devastated so much of Queensland.

Even as we watched the waters rise across northern Queensland, AgForce enacted our disaster management plan to make sure internal resourcing was redirected from other tasks and focused on assisting affected members and the wider agriculture community.

Our close liaison with all levels of government, with community and charity organisations, and with primary producers – members and non-members alike – was in my view instrumental in providing emergency support in the early days

A great example was leveraging our in-house GIS capability to help organise emergency fodder drops to isolated producers and assisting Governments to more quickly and accurately assess damage, so relief could be directed where it was most needed.

Our ongoing liaison with government and community also had a positive impact on the longer-term relief, recovery and resilience packages being delivered to those communities.

Similarly, we have been at the forefront of negotiations with the Federal and State Governments to highlight the worsening drought situation across the State and, again, the work has been reflected in the scale and diversity of the assistance measures being provided.

Pleasingly, our ongoing advocacy for a drought program based more on preparedness and resilience, rather than simply emergency funding, has been reflected in Government policy.

Most significantly, the Federal Government announced the establishment of a Future Drought Fund which over time will allow primary producers and rural communities to be much more proactive in planning for and surviving through drought.

At a State level, many of the principles and concepts of our ‘normal business cycle’ approach to drought were reflected in the Palaszczuk Government’s Drought Policy recently released for public consultation.

And our collaborative engagement with Federal and State Government on the issue of activist attacks on farming enterprises – such as the sinister Aussie Farms website – has seen not only tougher penalties for criminal activity and more effective enforcement, but better preventative measures as well.

However, it has to be acknowledged that our work with government – and in particular the State Government – has not always yielded the same success this year.

We continue our 10-year battle to have the Government’s vegetation management laws completely overhauled. The Government continues to be inflexible on this issue, no doubt driven by the wishes of a number of green groups with which they appear to have an accord.

Spirited advocacy and activity on the issue of the Government’s Reef Protection Bill – and the strict new regulations underpinning them managed to defer but not defeat the Bill.

With some of those regulations kicking in in a few days for many of our members, we will continue the fight next year and on until sustained pressure can have them revoked.

Government intractability around the Reef Bill led to AgForce having to make one of the toughest decisions we have ever made – the deletion of private data provided by producers participating in the Grazing and Grains BMP programs.

Despite some of the misinformation spread by the Government and green groups, we did not take this decision lightly, and it was not for anti-environmental reasons.

It was simply taken to protect our members from having their data misused to regulate and perhaps punish them. It was the right decision and we are pleased that we made it, albeit that it was gut-wrenching to have 10 years of genuine effort by producers to voluntarily becoming more sustainable down the drain.

The ramification of the BMP decision and our energetic, assertive – but always professional and collaborative – advocacy on the issues referenced has had an unfortunate impact on the bottom line. Not only has all funding for best practice programmes been withdrawn, but we are doubtful we will be receiving further State Government funding for unrelated projects – such as drought resilience – for the foreseeable future.

At this point, I would also like to acknowledge our hard-working committees who drive these activities. These are groups of producers who are not only passionate, but expert in their areas.

They have a dual function of listening and leading. Listenign to what members want but also providing leadership in developing policies that not only will benefit members, but agriculture, indeed the entire community.

Water, Connectivity & Social Policy, Transport, Biosecurity, Workforce, Land use protection, Landscape Management, and Climate & Agribusiness.

The year ahead

And so to the year ahead is a full one.

Our primary focus is on getting the right policy settings from the a State Government which appears to have stopped listening.

It is an election year, so we are in with a strong chance. It’s now votes that count, and if we can get the support of the community behind our positions – and the Government and Opposition see this – we believe we will prevail.

With this in mind, we launched in August our Stand up for Regional Queensland campaign – in typical AgForce fashion, showing not just industry leadership but a dogged determination to support all regional and rural Queensland, all those communities and industries who feel that their Government has abandoned them

The Stand Up campaign will be a focus this year, and will reach a crescendo as we approach the State Government election in October 2020. We wil be working hard to gain support across all parties for the issues that matter to you, and in fact have already begin that process.

The Council elections in March will also provide an opportunity to advance our policy agenda at a local level. And we will be working with our regional leadership teams when they are elected.

2019 has been a big year and, like everyday life for our members, it has been unpredictable, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing and there have been some great days when we’ve celebrated as well.

That’s because for many of us living through these tough times there has been an outpouring of support from people and places we might not have expected it.

It has come from the cities, from individuals, families, and businesses literally hundreds, sometimes thousands of kilometres away – a world away – from where we ourselves call home.

And that makes me stop and think and ask myself if we’re really all that different – city folk and those of us from the bush – despite what we sometimes tell ourselves.

The year ahead will be more of the same as we build alliances and partnerships and work for each of you. All this is only possible thanks to the team here in AgForce HQ and across the regions make our role as a broad make our role much more simple

Thank you for your continued support - for your membership, for entrusting us to advocate for you, to deliver long form policy outcomes and to deliberately highlight the amazing job you are doing as producers.

And just a reminder that we are always here t help members. You can get in touch with us any time and tell us what you need and what you’re going through, and we’ll listen and work to find solutions with you. We’ve been doing it all year, and for 19 years before this one as well, and we’re committed to being here for the years ahead.

It is a privilege to be your president and I look forward to serving you next year, and hope I will also be serving several of your colleagues and friends as your introduce them to the benefits of AgForce membership.

Speech: General President's report, AgForce AGM 2019

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