VFF election ultimatum brings EGM threat

VFF election ultimatum brings EGM threat

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ELECTION DILEMMA: VFF president David Jochinke says the board is yet to decide how to respond to the EGM ultimatum.

ELECTION DILEMMA: VFF president David Jochinke says the board is yet to decide how to respond to the EGM ultimatum.

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The VFF faces an ultimatum after member Chris Nixon revealed he plans to trigger an EGM to force elections this year.

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An ordinary member has issued the Victorian Farmers Federation with an ultimatum.

Orbost beef and dairy farmer Chris Nixon has created a petition to trigger an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) after the VFF board chose to defer elections until February next year.

On Monday, Mr Nixon said he had spoken with VFF president David Jochinke the day before, who had undertaken to discuss it with the board.

"I said I'd give him until Friday to decide if you're going to have the elections this year, as stated by the constitution," Mr Nixon said.

"I mean you can't hide behind the fact that COVID is here and their elections are done by personal ballot anyway.

"This is how bizarre the whole thing's become."

Mr Nixon said he had 40 in-principle signatures in two days "without even trying". The signatures of 100 members are needed to call an EGM.

Fresh from a meeting with the board yesterday, Mr Jochinke confirmed he was aware of the ultimatum but no decision had been reached and he would not offer a timeframe.

"Our decision will be in a timely manner that can address those concerns," he said when pressed.

The VFF constitution says elections of its president and vice president as well as the Livestock Group and United Dairyfarmers of Victoria presidents must be held in even-numbered years.

But Mr Jochinke said the decision to defer the elections due to the coronavirus disruption had been a unanimous board decision with only the interests of farmers in mind as it would avoid the busiest period on the farming calendar.

Mr Nixon said online meetings would benefit time-poor farmers and the timing of the elections was especially important given that the VFF was advertising for a new chief executive.

"In a normal year, the elections would have been and gone by now. And then there would be a new president," Mr Nixon said.

"You could be in a situation where the outgoing board is dictating to the new board who the CEO is and the relationship between the president and the CEO is all important.

"If you end up in the situation where the president and the CEO don't get along at all, which has happened in the past, then the new CEO needs to get bailed out and that becomes very expensive for the VFF."

The power play erupting in the wake of the member ultimatum to hold elections this year has exposed fractures in the Victorian Farmers Federation that run all the way up to the board.

With VFF president David Jochinke set to retire at this election after his maximum two terms expire, VFF Livestock Group president Leonard Vallance will run for the state presidency.

Mr Vallance said there were two people he was considering as running mates but wasn't ready to announce them yet.

The board had unanimously decided to postpone elections until February next year, but Mr Vallance said the situation had since changed.

"When the board made the decision, everyone thought it'd all be over by April but it's not going to be over in the next 12 months," he said.

"We've all adjusted to Zoom meetings and life goes on."

He had strong views on two issues: a new farmer levy to help fund the VFF and quad bikes.

The VFF has supported the introduction of new laws mandating safety standards and the fitment of operator protection devices.

With the exception of CF Moto, all the manufacturers have since announced they will no longer supply quad bikes to Australian customers, generating friction within the farmer body.

Indeed, the Orbost VFF member, Chris Nixon, who is moving to trigger an extraordinary general meeting to force elections this year, said quad bike availability was a major issue facing farmers.

"We're going to lose four-wheel motorbikes as a tool of trade because manufacturers don't like being told they have to fit compulsory bloody roll bars," Mr Nixon said.

Mr Vallance said quad bike usage data needed to be reexamined and that safety statistics showed side-by-side alternatives were now proving to be a "problem".

"I'd like to see the agricultural sector work with the manufacturers to come to a viable solution so that farmers have a got a range of vehicles to use on their farms that are suitable for Australian use," he said.

Asked if he would call for the law to be changed, Mr Vallance said it was important to again review the data to see if the laws "were still appropriate".

Mr Vallance would also like every farmer in the state to become a VFF member via a new levy on transactions proposed by the Livestock Group eight months ago, which suggested 5 cents a sheep and 40 cents a head of cattle.

It's something Mr Jochinke said was an option if cross-commodity agreement could be reached.

"They need all commodities to be able to have that to capture a fair and equitable position," Mr Jochinke said.

"Otherwise, you'll find that you're still relying on a percentage of farmers to carry the others."

As for his own future, Mr Jochinke did not rule out standing for either the NFF presidency - although "not anytime soon" - or politics.

"I haven't committed to anything other than the current jobs that have gotten so I daresay that you'll see me somewhere but I'm not sure where yet," he said.

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