11 September 2020
The independent review into the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards revocation of the national title and merit awards from Nick and Rosemarie Bertram has been completed by Susan Hughes QC.
After being announced as 2020 Share Farmers of the Year on Saturday 04 July 2020, it became clear that Nick Bertram had published tweets in 2017 which were contrary to the standards expected by the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards Trust. As a result, the award was revoked from the couple, who had entered the Awards as a partnership.
The purpose of the review was to understand more detail about what was known of the tweets, how that knowledge (of the tweets) was dealt with at the time, and how a similar situation could be avoided in the future.
After speaking with all those directly involved, the report concludes:
· At the time the tweets were made, there was no application by the writer of the tweets for an award.
· At the time the tweets were published in 2017, contact was made with the writer of the tweets, by people associated with NZDIA, to express concern at their content and request that they be taken down.
· The contact that was made was made in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the Trust.
· Those who made contact all believed they were doing so out of a sense of responsibility as alumni of the NZDIA and concern regarding the ill-advisability of the tweets in question.
· The General Manager and other Trustees, including the Chair, did not know of the tweets until after the winner had been announced.
· The tweets were still live in 2020.
Susan Hughes, QC, says in conclusion that “it is clear that all I have interviewed are passionate about the dairy industry. All want the New Zealand dairy industry to be seen as world leading, all strive for excellence.”
“All of those interviewed expressed sadness that such an event could have been avoided if the tweet was declared as part of the declaration or if the matter had been raised.”
Ms Hughes suggests it is important that “all involved in these awards recognise the dangers of social media and the need to remind all parties of this issue at repeated points along the application trajectory, so as to avoid a repetition of these events.”
Following the report, the Trust formed a review committee comprising trustees with no prior knowledge of the tweets or conflict of interest and sought a legal opinion for guidance.
No trustees have resigned as a result of the review and the Hawkes Bay/Wairarapa regional placings will remain. A screenshot of a historical deleted tweet by a trustee was brought to the Trust’s attention in August 2020 and is currently under investigation.
“The mission of the NZDIA is to provide a platform to reward excellence and showcase best practice within the farming sector,” says NZDIA Trust chair, Natasha Tere.
“This includes rewarding leaders and building respect and pride for the industry. A title holder is an ambassador for NZDIA and the farming community as a whole.”
“Where an entrant has been disqualified as a result of falling short of the required standards, reallocation of the place to the next placegetter is fair and reasonable and recognises the purpose set out in the Trust’s mission and vision statements to recognise achievement in the industry and reward leadership.” she says.
With this in mind, the title of 2020 New Zealand Share Farmer of the Year has been offered to Sarah and Aidan Stevenson, from Waikato, which they have accepted. NZDIA congratulate the Stevensons and believe that Sarah and Aidan are great ambassadors for the New Zealand dairy industry and the Awards.
Runners-up are Samuel and Karen Bennett from Southland and the third placegetters are Simon and Natasha Wilkes from Taranaki.
National merit awards have been reallocated where necessary as follows:
· Federated Farmers Leadership Award - Adam and Maria Barkla
· Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award - Aidan and Sarah Stevenson
· Westpac Business Performance Award - Aidan and Sarah Stevenson
· DeLaval Interview Award - Aidan and Sarah Stevenson
Moving forward, the Trust have updated Conditions of Entry and the entrant declaration and all finalists’ social media will be reviewed prior to awarding places and expect all entrants to take ownership and responsibility for their social media behaviour.
“We are sad that these events have happened, however we are grateful for the support of our national sponsors and acknowledge the patience and honesty of everyone involved in this review,” says Natasha. “We know the review has taken some time to complete but it needed to be thorough and concise.”
“The dairy industry is made up of real people and families who are striving to do their best for their community and this country and their efforts deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated without distractions,” says Natasha.
“Now, more than ever, it is important that success within the dairy industry is celebrated and the sector’s contribution to the nation as an essential service is acknowledged. It’s critical that the dairy industry move on from this event as the industry is just too significant to New Zealand.”
“The NZDIA Trust, Executive and Management remain committed to offering a 2021 Awards programme with more focus on social media in declaration and interviews, that will showcase best practice and allow entrants to benchmark and improve their own farming practices and we are looking forward to entries opening on October 1st.”