Executive summary

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About this project

Policy Partners was engaged by the Australian Organic Industry Working Group (AOIWG) to develop a roadmap to improve the representation of Australia's organic industry. The AOIWG consists of industry leaders from across Australia collaborating on establishing a harmonised national voice for all organic producers, certifiers and the supply chain.

The AOIWG was formed following a round of consultations with the office of the Hon. Barnaby Joyce MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources on how to increase the competitiveness of the organic sector.

This project had three broad objectives:

  • undertake consultations with organic operators and key stakeholders to determine their views and priorities
  • provide executive support to AOIWG and assist it to understand how to resolve issues and consider implementation
  • prepare a roadmap of actions and timings to achieve a harmonised industry voice

Consultations

We undertook consultations between June and October 2017, convening regional consultation workshops in seven locations and conducting personal and telephone interviews with key industry and external stakeholders. We also convened a workshop with the AOIWG and participated in a conference with government agencies. To enhance communication nationally, a website and social media platforms were created to provide information on the project and permit feedback on the key issues.

The regional consultations we undertook should be the beginning of a wider program of engagement with the industry, including the many grassroots operators and other key stakeholders. Not all organic operators are aware of the project and many of the policy issues are intricate and require a period of gestation on the part of operators before definitive views can be formed.

Findings

Industry divisions over several decades have resulted in the organic industry having a poor reputation with governments, mainstream producers and the supply chain, and with external stakeholders.

  • Perhaps surprisingly, there still exists significant goodwill among external stakeholders to wish the industry well in “getting its act together”—this is a significant and positive finding.

Grassroots organic growers, processors and traders are weary of the leadership divisions and absence of vision which so characterise their industry.

  • There is a desire for a new peak body that can overcome these problems and effectively represent the interests of the broader industry.
  • There was also a sense of urgency and frustration—they want industry leaders to “just get on with it and make it happen”.
  • The clear policy priority is improved domestic market integrity.

The industry needs to act strategically and with single purpose, choose its battles clearly, and develop alliances across supply chains and with likeminded organisations to pursue its interests.

By acting strategically, we mean:

  • determining and clearly articulating the key priorities of the industry
  • developing compelling arguments for change
  • building alliances to achieve objectives
  • being willing to compromise on other issues
  • being willing to compromise on how to achieve the key priorities

The future for Australia’s organic industry could be more prosperous, leveraging off a growing consumer preference for premium products. But the organic industry’s leadership needs to eschew divisiveness and act in the interests of the broader industry. It is imperative to get three things right:

  • value creation—the structure and objectives of the peak body must create value for the industry, by focussing on the industry’s future and the interests of organic growers, processors and traders
  • effective regulation—the industry’s self-regulation arrangements must be reformed in the best interests of organic growers, processors and traders, and to promote domestic market integrity and market access abroad
  • building trust—to “bring the whole industry along”, the organisational processes must embed strongly democratic mechanisms, including representation from all sectors of the industry and a strong emphasis on good governance—including a commitment to transparent processes

We formed the view over the course of this project and through our consultations, that industry unity will be unlikely to coalesce unless a strongly representative forum, such as a member council, plays the preeminent role in enforcing accountability, setting strategic direction, developing policy platforms and resolving disputes.

Roadmap

We set out a roadmap which, if implemented with skill and vigour, could see a new peak body operating by 30 June 2018. The next stages for the AOIWG should include:

  • developing, refining and deciding on a preferred option for a peak body
  • undertaking further consultations to garner support for the peak body and fine-tune its design
  • promoting the widest possible membership base
  • having the members elect a council which is empowered to oversee:
    • the executive or Board of the peak body, which will operationalise policy and strategy set by the council
    • the overall integrity of organic standards

The pivotal issue

In respect of developing a preferred option for a peak body, the AOIWG should progress further consultations based on the development of the two most promising possibilities:

  • our consultations revealed strong support for a clean start through the establishment of an entirely new peak body and broad satisfaction with the corporate structure of the seafood industry’s new peak body
  • establishment risks would be significantly reduced if Australian Organic was to emerge as the legal structure for the peak body, as it has built up strong financial reserves—however, this option also risks further divisiveness in the industry unless the appropriate democratic structures are incorporated

Our brief has been to set out a roadmap to a harmonized voice for Australia’s organic industry. We have no doubt that objective would be best achieved if Australian Organic, NASAA and the Organic Federation of Australia can reject the failed past attempts at collaboration, settle their differences, and merge their advocacy functions to form a new peak body. This would send a powerful message to the whole industry and external stakeholders that the industry is jettisoning its fractious history and focusing on unity and the future.

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Comments

I strongly feel that Australian Organic should become the peak body, no point starting a new body. With its demerger from ACO, Australian Organic can be a 'new' independent collaborative peak body.

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