Membership fees could be reassessed at Victoria’s peak farm advocacy body, where there is tension over value for money in a major restructure.

Key points:

  • Some United Dairyfarmers of Victoria members are unhappy about a restructure currently underway at the VFF
  • Staff previously assigned to work on dairy issues will be moved to a more centralised workforce
  • VFF president, Emma Germano says more changes will follow

The United Dairyfarmers of Victoria is the dairy arm of the Victorian Farmers Federation. It’s one of the federation’s three biggest commodities by membership.

UDV vice president Mark Billing has raised concern the restructure will dilute its policy work and has been pushed through without consultation.

However, VFF president, Emma Germano, has flagged more changes will follow.

Changes ‘erode the value proposition’

Before the restructure, UDV worked with two dedicated policy staff and a manager. The restructure will see the staff moved to a centralised workforce and shared with other commodities.

“It’s just a dilution of what we were able to do,” Mr Billing said.

“It doesn’t give us the commodity-specific resources that we need.

“There is mention of a review in the future, but as a commodity (group), we are concerned that our value proposition as a commodity within the federation is being diluted.”

Mr Billing also raised concern at a lack of consultation with the dairy policy council about the restructure.

Bringing perspective to change

Ms Germano said Mr Billing had taken “a really narrow perspective” and agreed the policy council had not been consulted.

A woman stands in front of a row of crops.

Emma Germano says the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria has taken a “narrow perspective” on the VFF restructure.(

ABC News: Andrew Altree-Williams

)

“I don’t think you have to be Einstein to work out why you don’t go to the people who have done something in a particular way for a long period of time and ask them, ‘Is this the right way?’.”

Ms Germano said the restructure would have a “material difference” of one staff member leaving the commodity’s direct workforce.

“We are now talking about opening up the entire organisation and its resources to each of the commodities,” she said.

“I don’t agree that the UDV is going to be less-resourced. I actually believe it’s going to be better resourced.”

Ms Germano pointed to the relative cost of running each commodity’s policy council as the reason for the change. She said it costs $120 per member to operate dairy’s policy council, compared to $30 for the grain commodity.

“So, what’s going on differently? And how do we make sure we’re not seeing a bleeding of … results for different people? You can focus in and say, ‘Hey, we need two more staff members, and that’s going to be the difference’, but it’s not,” she said

“That’s what we had before, and we weren’t getting the results. Not just in UDV but across the VFF. We have to do something different.” 

Ensuring value for money

With value for money a key factor in UDV’s arguments against the restructure, Ms Germano confirmed membership fees across the federation would be reviewed.

Ms Germano said the average UDV member paid $1,100 in fees. However, some pay up to $16,000 a year.

“We’ve got to ask what’s value for money.”

She said dairy farmers were frustrated with advocacy across the board.

Dairy farmers pay a compulsory levy that funds industry research and development through Dairy Australia. However, UDV’s advocacy work is funded by memberships on an opt-in basis.

Ms Germano said most dairy farmers probably could not identify the levy and how it was used.

“There is so much confusion across the board it’s no wonder we’ve seen membership decline across every commodity group in the VFF,” he said.

Posted , updated 

Membership fees the carrot in farm advocacy restructure debate
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