The processes in establishing the peak body

The purpose in this draft paper is to provide some context as to where the process is up to in establishing a peak body for the organic industry.

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The need for an interim peak body

During 2017, the Australian Organic Industry Working Group (AOIWG) formed to develop a roadmap to improve the representation of Australia's organic industry. The AOIWG consisted of industry leaders from across Australia collaborating on establishing a harmonised national voice for all organic producers, certifiers and the supply chain.

The AOIWG commissioned a consultants' report from Policy Partners in 2017 to assist it to develop the roadmap. The consultancy was generously funded by Australian Organic, NASAA and others in the industry.

Policy Partners ran seven regional workshops and engaged with a range of targeted industry stakeholders. The report is available here. The main conclusion was:

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.

Industry action on an interim peak body

At the Love Organic symposium in Canberra in February 2018, Australia’s organic industries agreed to establish a new peak body that is the voice for Australia’s organic industries in regard to policy and market access.

It was agreed that Organic Industries of Australia would subsequently perform the functions of the Australia Organic Industry Working Group (AOIWG) as a forum for consulting with Government on policy matters. The new peak body will also work with all organic leaders to consider various options for the establishment of a permanent peak body. These options include merging functions with Australian Organic Ltd, merging with the Organic Federation of Australia, and considering other actions to demonstrate unity of purpose across all certified organic operators.

It was recognised that Australian Organic would like to transform itself and emerge as the peak body, but that process will likely take some time to complete. In the meantime, there is a pressing case to establish an interim peak body.

Issues around the legal entity

In order to host the Love Symposium event in Canberra in February 2018, it was acknowledged by the organisers that a legal entity was required to provide liability protection to the organisers and facilitate management of the event.

In particular:

  • using an incorporated entity to run the event would limit the liability of the organisers if something went wrong
  • a legal entity was required to:
    • establish a bank account for the event
    • register for GST
    • arrange insurance cover for the event and the organisers

Consequently, the organisers established Organic Industries of Australia as an association incorporated in NSW.

Advice from BAL Lawyers presented to an industry workshop on 16 April was that there were limitations to the liability protections afforded by the current legal structure, and it would be prudent to instead operate a company limited by guarantee.

Grant to provide legal assistance

Farming TogetherThe Farming Together Program is winding up on 30 June and they awarded us a small grant to be used prior to then, so we could fund a lawyer to draft a constitution for a company limited by guarantee to become the legal entity for the peak body.

Even though it may have been a little premature, it was decided to accept the offer and to base the draft constitution on the consultant's report and the work undertaken so far by the working group. This would give Organic Industries a firm basis from which the details of the constitution could be refined later on.

The industry is grateful for the financial assistance provided by Farming Together.