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History

The milestones and achievements that punctuate the rich history of the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) have been significant - not only due to the 'on the ground' benefits for Australia's farmers, but owing to their positive impact on the nation's economic, environmental and social wellbeing.

Reforms that made history

The NFF's inaugural Executive meeting on 20 July 1979, in Canberra.
The NFF's inaugural Executive meeting on 20 July 1979, in Canberra.

The NFF has been at the forefront of the nation's high-profile debates, driving reforms that today underpin our uniquely Australian identify and sense of a 'fair go'.

Formed in 1979 as the single national voice for Australian farmers, the NFF brought together the many disparate organisations of the day - unifying the often conflicting agendas at both state and national levels.

Australia's farm leaders recognised the need for a unified position, with 'cohesion of purpose' as the most practical means of achieving real gains for farmers.

The creation of the NFF - and its determination to be an independent authority for farmers' rights - proved a catalyst in shaking politicians, of all persuasions, out of any complacency regarding the needs of the farming community and rural Australians.

The first conference of the NFF took place on Friday 20 July 1979, where Sir Donald Eckersley was elected inaugural President.

The NFF has always made it very clear that, as stated in its Constitution, it is an apolitical organisation. Despite traditionally conservative voting patterns across rural Australia, the NFF assesses the policies and actions of Governments and opposition parties, on merit. This over-riding principle remains as strong today as it did in 1979.

The NFF has built its formidable reputation in leading high-profile policy battles on issues such as workplace relations, tax, the environment and international trade reform... to name just a few. The development of the comprehensive agricultural 'blueprint' Farm Focus: the 80's was a major policy influencing benchmark.

Economy

Ahead of its time, the blueprint was unique in its advocacy of an economy-wide approach, acknowledging that the benefits of agriculture-specific assistance would be limited.

Issues argued in Farm Focus included a call for governments to control inflation, enable wage flexibility and increase Australia's competitiveness globally. Issues still prevalent today. It also advocated the removal of protection measures from all industries, including agriculture, realising cost reductions, greater efficiency and new market opportunities would far outweigh any benefit received from protectionist policies.

Combined with a commitment to breakdown trade barriers internationally, the NFF was, and is, acutely aware that its push allowed for a freer and fairer world trading system. Significantly, in July 1985, faced with high taxes and interest rates that were choking rural business, Australia's farmers conducted one of the biggest rallies in Canberra's history (the largest ever held outside the now Old Parliament House) - with 45,000 farmers, their families and supporters gathering outside Parliament House to make their views known.

45,000 farmers rally at Parliament House, Canberra, in 1985.
45,000 farmers rally at Parliament House, Canberra, in 1985.

This sent a clear and resonating message to all politicians that the community was 'fed up' and disillusioned with economic mismanagement.

Legal and Industrial Action

The farm rally was also significant as the launch date for the NFF's Australian Farmers' Fighting Fund (AFFF) - a pool of money to be used to fight precedent-setting legal cases on behalf of farmers in the courts and the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

Since then, the AFFF has asserted the interests and rights of farmers in numerous cases, representing them against unfair or ineffective practices that hinder the viability of farm businesses.

Other high-profile policy issues that have seen the NFF leave its indelible impression on Australia, include wins in:

  • Australia's infamous Waterfront Dispute - calling for reform to yield productivity gains over union-lead labour demands;
  • The Shearing Wide Comb Dispute - advocating and securing the need for efficiency gains through adoption of new technologies; and
  • The Mudginberri Dispute - the AFFF's first case, against the Meat Industry Employees' Union, enabling the sector to challenge and overturn long-standing inefficiencies, securing major outcomes, which wore down union dominance in Australian industrial relations.

These were all precedent-setting cases in upholding farmers' rights.

The NFF's tenacious approach to negotiation with the unions, and representation in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, has ensured that federal agricultural Awards are the least prescriptive industrial Awards in Australia.

Changing focus

In 2003, Peter Garrett (left), then-President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, and Peter Corish, then-President of the NFF, discuss modern farming's role in sustainable environmental management.
In 2003, Peter Garrett (left), then-President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, and Peter Corish, then-President of the NFF, discuss modern farming's role in sustainable environmental management.

Shaping the direction for agriculture in the 1990s, and beyond, was the policy 'blueprint' New Horizons, launched by the NFF in 1993.

It was the culmination of a series of seminars and meetings the NFF conducted across Australia throughout 1992, to gather information on the future direction of agriculture from a broad range of views.

Free Trade

Achieving liberalisation of the agricultural trading system has been one of the highest strategic priorities of NFF since its inception - with the organisation leading the way as the first industry body in Australia to embrace and advance a free market philosophy.

Farmers were among the first to realise that, in many cases, protectionist government policy did more harm than good... reducing the competitiveness of the farming sector.

The NFF was the only advocacy group to earn a hearing with United States' (US) President George Bush Snr during his Australian visit in 1992 - expressing the Australian farm sector's outrage at the US farm subsidy program.

The NFF presented a petition of over 60,000 signatures calling on President Bush to support fair trade by halting US agriculture export subsidies and to lobby other world leaders to do the same.

For the first time, President Bush acknowledged the damage American policies were causing Australian farmers, thereby, giving the NFF's call widespread national and international coverage.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 farmers subsequently reinforced this message in a protest march on Parliament House.

Continuing to lead on international trade reform, in 1998 the NFF initiated the Cairns Group Farm Leaders Forum - comprising international farm organisations from the 17 countries whose Trade Ministers formed the Cairns Group alliance in the mid-1980s - to press the cause of fostering world trade and bringing down trade barriers.

Tax Reform

Another ongoing issue for the NFF is tax reform. From 'Day One', the NFF has called on governments for broad-based tax reform and the removal of taxes on farmers' productive inputs.

In the pursuit of this cause, the NFF has achieved several significant breakthroughs on behalf of farmers, that have bolstered the efficiency of the Australian economy.

Native Title

The Mabo and Wik High Court decisions in the late 1990s presented the NFF with one of its starkest challenges. The Native Title debate raised doubts over land tenure and plunged farmers into unprecedented uncertainty over their property rights.

The NFF strongly defended the rights of Australian farmers and campaigned for certainty, while maintaining its preference in settling native title issues through agreement - rather than litigation.

Education and Training

Recognising the importance of ongoing education and training in enhancing the competitiveness of Australian farming, the NFF has been instrumental in developing initiatives to deliver relevant, quality training and information to farmers.

Initiatives include developing the:

  • Rural Training Council of Australia;
  • Rural Skills Australia;
  • Chemcert Australia;
  • Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (formerly Agrifood Awareness Australia); and
  • The Rural Education Forum of Australia.

These organisations continue to make valuable contributions in enhancing the competitiveness, sustainability and viability of Australian farming.

The Environment

Again establishing its credentials for forward-thinking, the NFF has led Australian farmers in being pivotal in the development of some of the most significant national environmental initiatives of the past 20 years.

A highly successful partnership with the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) led to a national land management program, Repairing the Country and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.

NFF lobbying also won the expansion of the One Billion Trees program - the biggest tree planting exercise in Australian history.

Both the NFF and ACF were fundamental in establishing Landcare, a program that promotes the importance of sustainable agricultural systems and sustainable natural resources.

One of the most significant achievements in natural resource management came in 2003, when the NFF successfully lobbied the Australian and State Governments for an Intergovernmental Agreement for a National Water Initiative, the aim being to provide environmental sustainability and long-term resource security for farmers, the environment and all Australians.

Land and water resource security remain a strong focus for the NFF, with Australian farmers collectively investing billions of dollars of their own money, and time, each year sustainably managing environmental outcomes on behalf of future generations.

In fact, Australian farmers plant over 20 million trees each year, soley for conservation purposes.

This reflects the strength and ongoing relevance of the NFF in that, since 1979, the organisation keeps pace with, and leads, contemporary Australian values.

Today, the NFF is a key player in the major issues confronting modern Australia, including:

  • Climate change and the development of an effective emissions trading scheme for Australia;
  • Water resource management and water reform;
  • Environmental Stewardship; and
  • Drought-proofing Australia - through appropriate drought management and preparedness.

Then-NFF President David Crombie flanked by former Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Malcolm Turnbull (left) and former Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile, with then NFF Water Taskforce Chair Laurie Arthur (behind), having secured agriculture's role in developing the Australian Government's national 'Water Plan' on 14 February 2007.
Then-NFF President David Crombie flanked by former Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Malcolm Turnbull (left) and former Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile, with then NFF Water Taskforce Chair Laurie Arthur (behind), having secured agriculture's role in developing the Australian Government's national 'Water Plan' on 14 February 2007.

The United Voice

History demonstrates that a united voice for Australian farmers is a powerful and extremely successful vehicle for agriculture to acheive substantial gains that benefit farmers - and Australia - economically, environmentally and socially.

Now, more than ever, it is essential Australian farmers continue to speak with one united voice. While the achievements of the NFF are impressive, the challenges ahead for agriculture are equally great.

From 1 July 2009, the NFF established a new membership structure recognising the changing face of farm production and farm business integration.

It also provided the basis for broadening the representative base of nation's peak farm body, with numerous organisations seizing the opportunity to join the NFF. The new membership model is a launching pad for the NFF's next phase in farm representation, taking the entire farm sector forward with a modern, inclusive and more powerful presence.

The NFF is determined, on behalf of Australian farmers, to see our ability to lobby, advocate and effectively lead continue in taking modern farming needs and issues to key decision-makers and the broader community.

Strong leadership

The NFF has always been synonymous with strong leadership - those who are not afraid to fight for what is right for the farming sector.

Presidents

  • The late Sir Donald Eckersley OBE, WA dairy farmer. NFF President, 1979-1981
  • Michael Davidson OBE, NSW grazier. NFF President, 1981-1984
  • Hon. Ian McLachlan AO, SA, VIC, NSW woolgrower and pastoralist. NFF President, 1984-1988
  • The late John Allwright AO, TAS grazier and poppy grower. NFF President, 1988-1991
  • Graham Blight, rice, corn and grain farmer. NFF President, 1991-1994
  • Donald McGauchie AO, VIC grain, dairy and merino stud farmer. NFF President, 1994-1998
  • Ian Donges, NSW cropping, prime lambs and beef producer. NFF President, 1998-2002
  • Peter Corish, NSW/QLD cropping, prime lambs and beef producer. NFF President, 2002-2006
  • David Crombie, QLD cropping and beef farmer, NFF President, 2006-2010
  • Jock Laurie, NSW farmer and grazier, NFF President, 2010-2013
  • Duncan Fraser, NSW farmer and grazier, NFF President, 2013-2013
  • Brent Finlay, QLD grazier, NFF President, 2013-present

Executive Directors/Chief Executive Officers

  • John Whitelaw, NFF Executive Director, 1979-1985
  • Hon. Andrew Robb AO, NFF Executive Director, 1985-1988
  • Rick Farley, NFF Executive Director, 1988-1995
  • Wendy Craik, NFF Executive Director, 1995-2000
  • Anna Cronin, NFF Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer, 2000-2005
  • Ben Fargher, NFF Chief Executive Officer, 2005-2011
  • Matt Linnegar, NFF Chief Executive Officer, 2011-2014
  • Simon Talbot, NFF Chief Executive Officer, 2014 - Present

NFF Honour Board
The NFF Award of Honour was introduced in 1987. It recognises those individuals who have made an important contribution to a strong, progressive and sustainable farming sector and to the NFF.

  • 1987 W.E.L (Bill) de Vos AM
  • 1988 J (Jim) Tehan AM
  • 1990 D (David) Partridge
  • 1993 R (Roy) Smith
  • 1999 J.W.S (John) Mackenzie
  • 2000 A.K. (Alick) Lascelles
  • 2002 G.J (Graham) Blight
  • 2004 Hon. Ian McLachlan AO
  • 2009 Geoffrey Crick
  • 2009 John Underwood
  • 2012 Alex Arbuthnot AM

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