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AT HIS LAST annual general meeting (AGM)  as chairman of Wine Victoria, Stephen Strachan summarised the achievements of the state’s industry association in the area of advocacy and explained the intended change in the funding model which has given the board confidence to plan for the next two years.

Where the association has previously relied exclusively on the state’s regional associations to deliver members and funds in line with each region’s share of production in the state, the new model calls for major producers to become members in their own right and pay fees accordingly.

While this will place a greater burden on some regions to replace the money formerly paid by large producers, this move has received solid support by the important council of regions within the association.

James Omond, a director of Wine Victoria and Victoria’s representative on the WFA board discussed the resistance in some quarters of the industry to Wine Victoria being involved in what are essentially national issues while pointing out two examples of advocacy carried out by Wine Victoria which have had an important impact on how national bodies address these issues.

In the case of wine and health, Wine Victoria has been strongly advocating against accepting the likely impact of the unchecked claims and calls for action by the National Anti Alcohol Association, which has its secretariat domiciled in VicHealth.

By agitating for greater action and ensuring proper evidence was being collected and circulated, this issue is now an important part of the national agenda to be pursued by the new, combined statutory industry body.

Whilst WET has been a debate dividing WFA, Wine Victoria undertook a survey of small/medium producers to establish the economic impact of WET on their businesses.

This research was a first for the country (South Australia later conducted similar research to add to the data) meaning it was the first time such data was being considered in discussions rather than just the perceptions or experience of those sitting directly round the table.

The incoming chairman replacing Strachan at the end of the financial year is Damien Sheehan a director of Wine Victoria since its inception.

A qualified viticulturist and general manager of Mt Langi Ghiran, Sheehan brings a strong technical expertise to the board and its dealings with other organisations.

Also retiring from the board are George Mihaly and Liz O’Connell.

Mihaly has been a strong and vociferous advocate against the incursions of the NAAA into wine and how it is perceived while heading up Wine Victoria’s Wine & Health committee.

O’Connell has played an important role in building the communications output of the association.

Despite the progress which has been made, the association is still limited in its funding meaning it can only afford the services of its executive officer Rachael Sweeney three days a week.

Speaking after the meeting, Laurie Martin, president of the Goulburn Valley Wine Association said the continued restriction on Wine Victoria having less than full time services of an executive officer is a sad example of the inability of many Victorian wine business operators to understand that if they focus solely on their own operations without taking into account the broader context of the economy and the general community, their myopia will eventually harm the business they are concentrating on.

“Without compulsion to join an industry association, many people will opt out either through a lack of understanding of the political imperatives or the opportunity to take a free ride,” he added.

“Given there can be no compulsion to join and pay for an industry body that advocates on the political stage, it is rather ironic that non-participating businesses may eventually cause the state’s industry association to be so ineffective that increased taxes are the result.

“I refer, of course, to the calls by the anti-alcohol lobby, emboldened by their alcopops tax windfall of over $100 million, for increased taxation so they can help ‘reduce the social problems’ caused by excessive consumption of alcohol.

“So, by not voluntarily being part of and contributing financially to their association in Victoria (where the anti-alcohol lobby has a base partly funded by the state government), wine businesses stand the real risk of having to make compulsory payments (tax) to help the enemies of their business make their trading conditions even harder.”

Contact: Wine Victoria. Phone: 61 0422 067 858. Email: secretariat@winevictoria.org.au