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Councillors’ meeting in November

Nick Ledgard, New Zealand Tree Grower February 2015.

Most people would think that a meeting about management and governance concerning an outfit like the NZFFA could only be boring. It was therefore a surprise to many attending that the NZFFA Council meeting in Wellington in November was far from boring.

Why have this meeting

Here is a bit of background. The NZFFA is run by an ‘electoral college’ system, where branches and the membership directly elect their representatives as councillors to make up a Council, which then elects a national Executive. According to our constitution, the Council makes the operational decisions which the Executive then implements. In fact, virtually the opposite occurs.

The Executive, based in Wellington and fully exposed to all the latest news and views in the forestry sector, makes the operational decisions which the Council generally ends up just rubber stamping. Over the last decade this rubber stamping has taken place in one hour-long meeting during the national conference, just before the AGM. It is not enough time.

For this reason there were serious doubts about the need for a Council – which has been described more than once as ‘a waste of time’ and ‘dysfunctional’. This was why there was a call for the Wellington Council meeting on 5 November 2014.

The venue for the meeting was good, as it made us feel important. It was in a board room at the top of a high-rise building in Wellington, alongside the NZFFA office as well as the headquarters of the ‘big boys’ – the NZ Forest Owners Association. As we drank our coffee and chatted in comfortable seats, we felt smug looking down on Wellington streets, where the general public battled the wind and rain as they scurried about pursuing their businesses.

The discussions

There were 28 Councillors and Executive members present, which represented all but one of our 26 branches, although some represented more than one branch by proxy. The role of the Council was discussed for an hour or so, at the end of which it was decided almost unanimously that it should stay as it is – in other words, as stipulated in our constitution.

Why was there the change of feelings from ‘dysfunctional – get rid of it’ to ‘no change’? Basically it was due to two words ‘better awareness’. The Council system is the most practical way for branch opinion to be represented at the top. The only change would be accepting that the Executive is the best body for main decision-making as well as for implementation. However, ideally it would be with greater assistance from a Council, which could be made a little smaller and more streamlined.

The decisions

We also decided that −

  • Special Interest Groups for eucalypts, cypresses, indigenous species, redwoods and blackwoods should be accorded the same status as branches
  • Some branches should consider amalgamation
  • We do not want to change our name but could add a by-line to show that we are not all farmers
  • In order to maintain our income from financial members we had to be wary of allowing too many branch-only subscribers who only pay $15.

The last point arose when the annual topic of the cost of Tree Grower raised its head. It is by far our biggest single expense, but we all agreed that it is our shop window, and as such needed to be maintained – unless we could think of a better alternative.

Using the forest levy

Finally, the matter of the new operating environment created by income from the Forest Growers’ Levy has to be mentioned, as it was a core reason for calling the Council together. The 2015 income generated by the levy will amount to $6.8 million. The biggest single use of that money, $3.2 million, is on research, after which are health and safety matters.

The NZFFA is very well represented on the six or so sub-committees which decide where the money is spent. In 2014 farm forestry was allocated $75,000, most of which went to support our headquarters office administrator, but we could easily negotiate for more.

Perhaps most importantly, we have been contracted to liaise with all the small-scale forest growers of forests less than 1,000 hectares. It is estimated there are 12,000 of them, the vast majority of which are not NZFFA members. However, they pay the levy on all produce they harvest, so they have to be informed about how the funds are spent. They also need to be kept up to date on the equally important matter of their health and safety responsibilities relative to anyone they employ to do forest work on their properties. It has been a big job to identify not just who these small-scale forest growers are, but even bigger job is how to contact them.

By 4.30 pm, brains were starting to scramble and times to catch planes were approaching fast. So the meeting was formally ended by our President, Ian Jackson. We departed with the satisfaction of having participated in a most informative and enjoyable gathering, and with a lot more confidence in the need for, and future of the NZFFA.There is definitely a need for another full-day Council meeting every year.

The views in this article are those of Nick Ledgard who attended the meeting as a member of the Council.This is not an official record of the meeting.


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