At the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria annual conference late last month, a rival but struggling dairy farmers group â€“ Australian Dairy Farmers – attempted a mass â€œduffingâ€ of its membership, according to industry sources.
Ordinarily, duffing â€“ Strine for livestock theft â€“ is a serious offence, but the ADF will not be deterred.
DO NOT COVET THEY NEIGHBOURâ€™S ASS â€“ OR STEER
On the floor of theIR conference, the UDV successfully blocked the serial offenders among the Australian Dairy Farmers, an organisation that is in financial straits and for which poaching members from Victoria has been seen as their only chance for survival.
As the number of and financial support from dairy farmers in other states has declined, the ADF has been seeking to milk the swollen udders of the Victorian dairy industry at the expense of the Victorian Farmers Federation. (The UDV is currently the largest bloc within the VFF).
Duffers within the UDV hoped to get up a motion at the conference to move towards the ADFâ€™s national model and desert the state bodies. However, the small group of farmers with voting rights at the conference (less than 1% of the UDVâ€™s membership) pushed it back to a â€˜letâ€™s review the optionsâ€™ motion. That means the ADFâ€™s duffing days are not over yet!
A SINISTER PLOT FROM NORTHERNERS
The VFF says disbanding the UDV may benefit the ADF but would be at the expense of dairy farmers in Victoria which contributes two thirds of Australiaâ€™s total dairy output and has established a strong lobbying base over the last 30 years.
The real driver behind the ADF push for control is much simpler â€“ a small group seeking to build influence and status by making a bid to control membership funds, and who appear to have readily jumped into bed with the dairy processors to achieve their goal.
The ADF has been close to financial collapse for months as subscriptions have dried up and bad investments have eroded its base. The ailing organisation was only saved from insolvency in April after the Australian Dairy Industry Council stepped in to provide emergency funding to keep them afloat.
The word is that major dairy processors â€“ Fonterra, Murray Goulburn, and Warnnambool Cheese & Butter, to name a few â€“ are planning to support the ADF campaign to smash the powerful UDV base so they can strengthen their existing hold on farmers for their own ends.
The ADF proposal â€“ backed by the â€˜Fonterra Boysâ€™ out of the West Gippsland based District Council 7 is for the processors to pay membership fees for all dairy farmers who desert the VFF/UDV and sign up to the ADF.
STACKS OF FUN
Apparently the legal eagles have cleared the proposal from the perspective of â€˜compulsory union membershipâ€™ but may still face challenges under trade practices law – paying membership fees on behalf of their contractors could be seen as a deliberate attempt to impose control by subterfuge. Perhaps they could engage the services of Costas Socratous, who claims expertise in these matters.
More useful would probably be the retiring Australian Building and Construction Commissioner, John Lloyd, who took on the CFMEU without getting his office foyer firebombed.
The big companies are also nervous about the standpoint of unions covering the dairy industry. If the companies are willing to pay membership fees for farmers who are effectively contractors will they also offer to pay membership fees for their workers?
That could be costly!
Thereâ€™s also the issue of protecting the interest of Victorian dairy farmers commercially and politically â€“ who will have final say in negotiations over prices and policies that affect farmers? The family farmers, already feeling pressure from the big end of town, certainly donâ€™t want give away more control over their livelihood, industry sources have told VEXNEWS.
VFF President Andrew Broad has effectively been locked out of the discussions within the UDV and was ejected from the last UDV Council meeting on May 17th, despite the UDV being an entity legally controlled by the VFF and the President being entitled to participate.
The proponents for the shift to the ADF also manipulated the agenda at this weekâ€™s annual UDV Conference in Moama (26-27 May) to restrict the VFF influence on discussion. Broad was relegated to a speaking spot after debate.
However, Broad and the VFF Board (with one exception â€“ UDV President Chris Griffin, a strong supporter of the shift to the ADF despite being a VFF Board member) arenâ€™t expected to sit back and let the ADF bring the Victorian milking shed crashing down.
The VFF argument has been simple: Why should Victorian farmers sacrifice their current strong position of representation through the nationâ€™s most powerful dairy lobby group, the UDV, for the sake of propping up their less viable counterparts in other states?
The ADF push claims that national representation is the way of the future and that representing state interests is selfish. The VFF disagrees pointing to its strong fight for Victorian farmers on the issue of water rights â€“ a key national issue that is being fought along state lines.
In the normally genteel world of dairy politics, the current attempt by the old duffers at the ADF to stick the spurs into the UDV and VFF is beginning to arouse the ire of the boys in gumboots.