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Director John Hassell Reflects on Six Years with WoolProducers Australia

Just over six years ago, having been involved with WAFarmers for nearly 30 years, I was asked if I would put my hand up for an independent position on the board of WoolProducers Australia (WPA). I had served on the board of CBH for nine years, so I knew the responsibilities and roles of a director but was unsure of the role that WPA played. Max Watts, who had been in that position and was coming to the end of his term told me what the job would entail, which was to act in the best interests of the company (standard stuff for directorships) and not to act as a WA woolgrower representing the state interests.

I was told it was a love job with expenses paid and that it would be four trips east per year. All sounded good. Nobody else put their hand up so I was elected unopposed. I’m still unsure whether that is a good or bad thing having just been elected unopposed to the vice presidency of NFF.

WPA has an Executive Board and aa Animal Health and Welfare Advisory Committee (AHWAC). They sit at the same times, one day after the other. The AHWAC deals with all things animal health, welfare and biosecurity and one of the highlights for me was doing the Emergency Animal Disease Response Training, which was interesting when we had the scare of foot and mouth disease and lumpy skin disease from Indonesia. Interestingly it is LSD which is a bigger threat to Australian agriculture in terms of its chances of getting here rather than FMD.

Having once stood for the board of AWI I had (and still do) have a few problems with the governance structure of AWI. I also thought that there could and should be a different tack to the way wool is marketed. AWI are very quick to claim credit for when the wool price goes up but not keen (as we all would be) to take the blame when it goes down. Wool is a magnificent product and, in my mind, a premium product. This means that when the world economy is going well premium products will be demanded more.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 came along, and things changed dramatically. We went from having face to face meetings to doing a lot of stuff via Zoom. This was great because I lost a day every time I went to Canberra, and I could enjoy farming instead of travel. Covid was also good (questionable) because it taught us how to do Zoom meetings which cuts down the number of face to face meetings meaning a significant saving but it is still important to have the face to face meetings a couple of times a year.

On the other hand, Covid was not so good because demand for woollen apparel tanked. Our only market of any significance was, and still is, China. We all know what happened with wines, crayfish, beef and barley into China. While wool wasn’t affected in the same way, the demand for wool certainly dropped which highlighted our risk in being wholly dependent on a single market even though a good percentage of what is purchased by China as raw wool is processed and consumed domestically, there is also a large proportion then exported by them as garments.

WPA then identified a single market as being a huge risk to the wool industry and put together an action plan to try to expand and complement our market base. Alongside our publication ‘Trust in Australian Wool’ which was very well received worldwide, I think the strategy of diversifying our markets was probably the highlight of my time on WPA.

We developed contacts in a number of other countries and showed them the possibilities of wool. It is not something that will happen overnight, but I think an extremely worthwhile strategy for the wool industry.

I also got to work with some fantastic people. Not only are the state-based members very driven people looking out for their industry but the staff we worked with are simply the best advocates for our industry, and industry should be proud that we have such people working on our behalf.

There is a lot more I could ramble on about, but I really appreciated being able to give my time to an industry which has been a huge part of my life.

John Hassell

Director, WoolProducers Australia

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