Issue 2: Membership and corporate structure

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There are no specific prescriptions for the structure or mandate of peak bodies. For example, the National Farmers Federation claims to be the “peak representative body for Australia’s 140,000 farmers and the wider agricultural sector … recognised as the respected voice of Australian agriculture. Five years ago, we underwent a membership restructure, acknowledging that for agriculture to achieve the outcomes it needs, it must have unity and collaboration.”

Within Australia’s primary industries sector, there are also many peak bodies with more specific mandates for commodities or parts of a supply chain—e.g. specific commodity specialists like the Cattle Council of Australia, the Apple and Pear Growers Ltd and the Australian Dairy Industry Council which is funded “by the 13 largest dairy processing companies in Australia and provides funding for investment in projects that aim to improve the entire value chain’s sustainability and profitability.”

There are many different membership structures. The new Seafood Industry Australia has tiered membership categories, with different fees depending on the size of the organisation and voting rights. SIA has also incorporated many innovative design concepts within its corporate structure. For example, SIA notes that its Board governance “is different from the traditional ‘representative’ approach to board structure and governance. It is designed as a strategic and skills based board to provide maximum flexibility and responsiveness to achieve outcomes for its members”.

A summary of SIA’s corporate structure is provided at . This summary is provided not as a recommended structure; rather as an example of some innovative approaches to promote discussion within the organic industry of alternative approaches to corporate governance.

National representation and lobbying requires specific skills and resources. These involve the cost of running an office and the employment of specialist policy analysts and lobbyists etc. Sometimes these kinds of organisations are highly visible in the media, but effectiveness is not always dependent on public profile or media presence. Often peak bodies are effective by ensuring policy formulation is positive for a sector; at other times, they try to minimise adverse impacts of policies. They try to influence the community and governments through engaging in various kinds of lobbying and representation, including presenting at inquiries, agenda setting and responding to specific reform proposals.

There are no set formulas about how to structure peak bodies—each form is designed to suit its functions. Multiple types of organisations exist, each with specific charters and constitutions. Peak bodies normally have a clear mandate (charter or objectives), constitution and protocols on who can speak on behalf of the organisations in the industry. They will have a governing body, establish policy positions, and develop ways of reaching broad industry positions on issues.

Through its engagements with the AOIWG, the Commonwealth Government is explicitly seeking the development of formal channels for dialogue—so the organic industry needs an organised framework to raise, discuss and present its views. By failing to do so, the organic industry risks being ignored and will reduce its opportunity to obtain value from all governments.

Key issues

  1. What structural options are possible?
    1. Council of certifiers and other organisations
    2. Direct membership
    3. Alliance—scaled membership
    4. Research and Development Corporation (RDC)
    5. Other?
  2. How can these options be assessed?
  3. What should be the timing for creation of the peak body?
  4. What can be used as key success criteria?

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