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“How the NFF will achieve 30% representation by women by 2005”

Anna Cronin


Friday, August 24, 2001

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.

The theme of your conference "Bridging the Gaps" is most timely. In the short time that I have been at NFF, I have had the opportunity to meet some of you in Canberra and elsewhere and I must say all the representatives of AWiA have been most welcoming and certainly put me at ease and given me considerable support. So I thank you for that.

There’s no doubt that, in the past few decades, rural women have confronted many challenges and gained increased recognition in the rural and general communities. Australian Women in Agriculture has been a key player in promoting recognition of rural women, and the need for decision makers to understand their needs. As a result of this increased recognition, we’ve seen more government attention to programs to provide training and leadership skills to women involved in agriculture.

But one of the reasons that I am here today is to issue you another challenge. We still have a long way to go before women achieve significant representation in agri-politics. We need more women involved in agripolitics and we need them now. We need your voices, your opinions, your perspective and your experience to be a part of the National Farmers’ Federation’s policy development processes.

Official figures reveal that women make up more than 40 per cent of all primary producers and over one third of the farm workforce. At least 70,000 Australian women define themselves as farmers or farm managers. But out of these 70,000 female farmers, a mere eleven are members of the National Farmers’ Federation’s committees. And there is not one woman on our Executive.

As many of you know, the National Farmers’ Federation’s Executive passed a resolution last November to achieve 30 % participation in NFF leadership positions and committees by women, by 2005. As our President Ian Donges said, it was a “significant milestone in the Federation’s history and a formal recognition of the important role that women play in Australian agriculture”. Unfortunately, however, we are faced with a major challenge to achieve this target. Already nine months have passed since that resolution was passed and women currently account for just over ten per cent of representation on committees, six per cent on Council and zero on Executive

But it is a different story when it comes to the staff of our member organisations. Three of our State farm organisations—PGA in Western Australia (Sandy Hayter), SAFF in South Australia (Rhonda Baker) and VFF (Sandra Lordanic) in Victoria—are headed or jointly headed by women. And at NFF, 13 of our 17 staff are female and I am the second female CEO.

We need this trend to now extend to elected members. It would be terrific if one of you or one of your daughters would be elected president of NFF within the next 15 years. And that brings me to my next point. We need to ensure that we all work together to effectively represent the interests of the farm sector and rural Australia.

When Australian Women in Agriculture seeks a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss issues affecting them, does this send a message to our country’s leaders that when they meet with the NFF they are hearing from the blokes? Is this the message we want to be sending? Should we continue to be so segregated?

The first step towards the much-needed unification of our mutual goals was Australian Women in Agriculture joining the National Farmers’ Federation as an Affiliate Member. Now we need to see you, other AWiA members and other farm women on NFF Committees and the NFF Executive.

Australian Women in Agriculture and NFF have already been working closely together—in a bid to develop and implement strategies to encourage women to join NFF and our member organisations. We recently submitted a joint proposal to RIRDC to fund a project officer to investigate the impediments to women being elected in our member organisations, and to identify strategies to make the process of representation more accessible to women. And I am delighted to be able to inform you that RIRDC have now confirmed funding for four years which, with the support already committed by the NFF, will really make a difference.

As I only heard yesterday that our submission had been approved in principle, I have not yet received the final detailed information but I look forward to meeting with AWiA in the next couple of weeks to discuss the scope of the project and to discuss our next steps. Thanks to Cathy McGowan.

Since beginning work with NFF at the end of last year, I have been amazed by the number of switched-on, capable, energetic and enthusiastic farm women that I have met. It was a sign of some progress to have six representatives from Australian Women in Agriculture at this year’s NFF AGM in Canberra in May. And I understand all six women were most impressed by what they witnessed.

However, one of the most valuable pieces of feedback that filtered through to me was that there was a lack of awareness of how to join an NFF Committee. That’s why I thought I’d spend a few minutes today explaining the structure of the National Farmers’ Federation—and how you can become involved in the national lobbying scene.

NFF is based in Canberra and is supported by a full-time secretariat. Our members are the State farm organisations, such as the Victorian Farmers’ Federation and the Tasmanian Farmers’ and Graziers’ Association, and commodity councils, such as the Cattle Council of Australia and the Sheepmeat Council of Australia. We do not have individual farmer members. Farmers belong to their state farm organisations and the national commodity councils, which, in turn, belong to NFF. We also have non-voting members in two classifications - Associates and Affiliates - and AWiA is an Affiliate member.

Our objectives are:

  • to highlight the importance of agriculture to the national economy;
  • to promote the interests of agriculture in domestic policy; and
  • to promote an internationally competitive economic environment that will maximise returns for our members.

NFF lobbies governments for results in economic policy, tax, industrial relations, transport, trade, the environment, research and development, health, telecommunications, education, quarantine and animal health issues.

The NFF’s 13-member Executive is made up of the Presidents of our eight State farm organisation members, three elected representatives from the eight Commodity Councils and NFF’s President, Vice President and Treasurer. NFF also has five council Committees—economics, environment, farm business management, industrial and farm chemicals—as well as the Quarantine & Animal Health and Water Taskforces.

As far as the composition of the Committees go, we have one nomination from each State member and some Commodity Council representation. We have recently had representatives of AWiA attend two important meetings as "observers" and I gather these meetings were very useful. We will look for more opportunities to include AWiA in such meetings in future.

So the process for becoming involved in national agri-politics is to first join one of our member organisations and then work your way onto a Committee or a position of power. But I have heard time and time again that it is far too difficult for women to be elected to Committees at a State level.

I can assure you all State Presidents agreed with the 30% female representation resolution passed last November and they all expressed a commitment to achieving this benchmark. Nevertheless, there may be some entrenched cultural issues and stereotypes about women in leadership positions that we need to jointly address. And we will use out project funding to design and implement strategies to do so.

Of course, we must acknowledge the successes of some of your members in being elected to positions in State Farm Organisations including Debbie Thielie from SA, Merna Curnow from Victoria, Meg Parkinson also from Victoria and Justine Hall from the Goat Industry Council. These women who have succeeded in getting elected to committees are a valuable resource to AWiA as mentors and advisers to others who seek to get involved.

If you’ll allow me a short diversion: It is interesting to observe the changing dynamics in society as a result of women actually achieving positions in more leadership and management roles than before.

I was somewhat surprised to read of a disturbing trend in corporate America in terms of the negative male perception of corporate women and these women's acquiescence to try to "fix" that perception.

According to a recent newspaper report from New York, America's most frightening women business executives are being sent to charm school to learn humility and stop scaring male colleagues.

The "Bully Broads" program teaches "anti-assertiveness" to the bolshiest career women, encouraging them to show vulnerability, stammer occasionally and cry at work if necessary. Best-selling author Jean Hollands set up the group-therapy sessions, which are drawing clients from many of America's leading corporations, including Intel and Cisco. Miss Hollands' new book, Same Game, Different Rules - How to Get Ahead Without Being a Bully Broad, will be published in September. Satisfied clients line up on the company website,, to pay tribute to the results. We sent an impossible candidate and they created a miracle," says KBM president Steve Caplan. Tips include using "vulnerability actions" such as tactical tearfulness and self-deprecation.

Clearly this development represents a U-turn from the "go-getting, greed-is-good 1980s", when women were told to stop apologising.Not all clients have found the program a complete success. One student reported she was now better liked, but her sales had dropped by 80%. (!) What annoyed me about this superficially amusing report was that I can't recall ever seeing a similar account of the need for counselling male leaders about aggression or anger in the workplace. And you would not expect to see tough corporate males such as Gordon Gekko in Wall St being subjected to such "re-programming".

The fact that this trend is emerging suggests that the corporate world still has a double standard when it comes to senior women and this is very annoying but, I am sure, doesn't surprise most of us. But to get back to the point, I believe that it’s time for all of us to work together to ensure the farm sector is as effectively represented as possible. It is a good time to become involved in agri-politics. Things are changing rapidly and we need to ensure that every opportunity is made available to each and every one of you who aspires to make a difference.

In the past month or so, the President of NFF, Ian Donges, and I have attended the Victorian Farmers’ Federation Annual Conference in Melbourne and the New South Wales Farmers’ Association Annual Conference in Sydney. I have also attended AgForce's Annual Conference in Mackay. And at these conferences, the suggestion of restructuring Australia’s farmer groups into one national body has been raised several times.VFF President Peter Walsh raised this as an idea to be looked at in the longer term.

I think we would all agree that the scarce resources we collectively allocate to farm lobbying and representation must be used as effectively as possible. Otherwise we’ll never achieve the best outcomes for farmers.

The roles of different levels of government have changed over time. In the 22 years since the formation of the NFF there has certainly been a clear shift in government responsibilities to the Federal level, especially on issues such as the environment, health and education. Our structures need to be flexible enough to accommodate that.

It is always good to debate these issues about our internal structures so that we ensure we maximise our impact at all levels and that as many people as possible have an opportunity to make an input. I urge AWiA to carefully consider the development of strategies to ensure you have a voice as these important issues about the future of farm representation are discussed.

And what a time to become involved! In the past 12 months we have witnessed a significant and long-awaited turn around in many farm commodity prices. The outlook for the red meat industry, wool and grains is finally on the up. Prices, such as $100 for prime lambs, $2 a kilo live for cattle and $455 delivered port for canola are significantly stronger than at this time last year.

There is no doubt that the next few months will be exciting for rural Australia given the upcoming Federal election. There are 11 Coalition seats with margins of 1 per cent or less and 7 of them are in rural Australia so you can see that the next government could be determined by the votes of country Australians. Although the Coalition still trails the ALP in aggregate at the Federal level, there is no doubt that the Government is back in the game and the election is much more competitive.

But as all politicians will tell you, there’s only one poll that counts – and that’s on election day. The National Farmers’ Federation has been effective in achieving substantial outcomes in the interests of our members. You just have to look back at the first six months of this year for clear evidence. The farm sector benefited significantly from a number of tax changes in 2001, starting with the simplification of the complex and time-consuming Business Activity Statement. After extensive lobbying in Parliament House, the Federal Government committed to all of our suggested changes to the BAS.

Fuel taxation was the next big issue the Government addressed. Last year NFF led the campaign to scrap excise indexation and address the uncompensated GST impact on fuel. The Prime Minister announced changes to fuel taxation earlier this year that, combined with the GST changes, amounted to the most significant fuel taxation reduction in living memory. The other two tax changes included the Government’s commitment to scrap legislative changes to the way trusts are taxed and the simplification of the Pay as You Go tax system. In other areas, former NFF President Donald McGauchie was appointed to the Reserve Bank of Australia Board, giving rural Australia and agribusiness a strong voice in the setting of monetary policy.

In terms of progress on telecommunications, we’ve seen a huge boost in spending on rural and regional services announced this year sourced from the T2 - second stage of Telstra privatisation. NFF actively campaigned for some significant industrial relations wins, including the scrapping of the tallies system in the meat industry and the recent rejection of the weekend penalty rates for shearers. And as far as the Federal Budget goes, the Federal Government provided extra places at regional universities, more funds for rural nurses and an extra $590 million was allocated to quarantine, further increasing the protection of our agricultural industries from potential incursions, such as Foot and Mouth Disease.

The effectiveness of the National Farmers’ Federation in Canberra was made official in May this year when ANOP —a leading polling organisation —declared NFF the top industry lobby group for raising issues in Canberra from a survey of 100 opinion makers including MPs, Senators and members of the Federal Press Gallery. In that survey, NFF was compared with four other industry lobby groups representing corporate Australia. At present NFF staff are working hard on election policy development. Our Executive met last week and gave us significant input and direction as we seek to finalise this work.

Our major policy development work is focussed on environment, property rights, roads, rail, education, health, telecommunications, tax including tax zone rebates and competition policy. So what does all this mean for Australian Women in Agriculture?

It means that the time is right for you to make your voices heard and get more involved with NFF and agri-politics:

  • There is commitment by the NFF Executive to increase representation of women on Council and Committees to 30% in four year's time.
  • Politicians are listening to the voices of rural Australia, so it’s a good time to be raising the issues that you care about.
  • And further down the track, we should all be thinking about NFF, State farming organisations, Commodity Councils and organisations such as Australian Women in Agriculture debating the future of national farm representation.

I look forward to working with you to achieve our goals of increased female representation.

Thank you.

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