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31/10/2014

Winemakers’ Federation accepts report, commits to recommendations

An independent review into the way the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia handled a document relating to Entwine Australia and the McLaren Vale Grape, Wine and Tourism Association has found no impropriety.

In September, the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA) referred the matter to David Bleby, a retired Supreme Court judge, for an independent assessment. WFA President Tony D’Aloisio said the board met this week and adopted the report in full, including recommendations to improve future processes.

“Importantly there was no finding by Mr Bleby of unethical conduct or dishonesty or fraud on the part of any of those involved,” Mr D’Aloisio said. “Nor was there any finding of any systemic issues within WFA or WINEC that needed to be addressed.

“Now that this is behind us, I am looking forward to meeting with the McLaren Vale Grape, Wine and Tourism Association to see how we can work together to improve our great wine industry.”

The key findings of the Bleby report included:

  • The motive for the omission was to protect Entwine from disparaging criticism from McLaren Vale together with a possible misunderstanding of the terms of the contract between the parties;
  • The omitted paragraph was of marginal relevance to the conclusion in the report, noting “[the omitted para] was critical of one aspect of Freshcare, [and] I have little doubt that it was withheld because of a fear, in the prevailing atmosphere of distrust and suspicion, of pointed adverse publicity, harmful to Freshcare, in the elation of McLaren Vale’s success after four years”;
  • Nevertheless, he said that the deletion was “a significant error of judgment in an emotionally charged atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust which could only exacerbate such problems and bring the reputation of WFA into disrepute”; and
  • Bleby concluded there was no doubt that the Aus-Qual report, “whether or not there was a misrepresentation of the letter, would inevitably have resulted in Wine Industry National Environment Committee recommending the granting of equivalence and the WFA board adopting the recommendation, as indeed subsequently happened. The conduct has only served to harm further already fractured relationships”.

With Bleby’s report in hand, the WFA board has reviewed the role of the chair of Wine Industry National Environment Committee and concluded that an error of judgment did not involve dishonesty or fraud but was based on a motive of protecting Entwine from disparaging criticism and a misunderstanding of the disclosure arrangements between the parties. It has also concluded that when examined fairly and dispassionately and with the benefit of Mr Bleby’s report, asking the chair to resign would neither be fair nor proportionate. Indeed such a step would deprive WINEC of the chair’s commitment and skills and expertise to the detriment of the wine industry.

Recommendations from the Bleby report include:

  • A program of rebuilding trust and respect between the various organisations and relevant personnel should be undertaken;
  • In the best interests of the whole Australian wine industry the McLaren Vale Grape, Wine and Tourism Association should discourage disparaging public criticism of WFA and its institutions and, if it is part of their agenda, seek greater co-operation and reform from within WFA;
  • All employees of WFA should be counselled that apparently misleading and deceptive conduct will not be tolerated, and that if it is sanctioned or encouraged by members or committees, they should refrain n from the conduct and report the matter to their immediate supervisor or, if he/she is not available, to the chief executive; and
  • There should be developed, if not already part of the Entwine Refresh program, a clear statement of the minimum requirements for accreditation of a program for Entwine purposes.

Marc Allgrove, the McLaren Vale Grape, Wine and Tourism Association chief executive officer, said people in his region were delighted the Sustainable Winegrowing Australia program had been certified by Entwine Australia, the wine industry’s national environmental assurance program.

“Sustainable Winegrowing Australia has international recognition and is the only sustainability assessment program for wine growing of its kind in Australia,” Allgrove said.

“Developed by Doctor Irina Santiago-Brown, one of the leaders in her field, the program is now able to positively contribute to the whole Australian wine industry.

"The McLaren Vale Grape, Wine and Tourism Association board will meet to discuss the report and will make a formal comment in due course, but there is some disappointment that Dr Santiago-Brown, the most technically-qualified person in her field, was not interviewed as part of the review."

The full explanation offered by D’Aloisio to WFA members is available here

The complete Bleby report is available here

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