By Sonia Campbell
When Doug Phillips took on the role of Chair of the Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC), he had no idea the challenges that would lie ahead.
He stepped into the role at a time when growers in Queensland’s far north were still getting over the devastation of Cyclone Yasi, and the industry in Western Australia continued to recover from the Carnarvon floods.
And then came the big one – Panama Tropical Race 4 (TR4).
“I could never have predicted the challenges the industry would face,” Mr Phillips recounted.
“I thought I was just going to go in there and do my little bit and contribute as I could, and go on my merry way. But even from the start it was pretty intense and it didn’t slow down from there,” he said.
By and large, Mr Phillips said he enjoyed his time in the role, despite some “very difficult and challenging times”.
“Were there challenging times where I thought, ‘What the heck am I doing…’? Absolutely. But I think, eventually, I’ll look back on those challenges and probably be proud of what I achieved as well.”
During the Panama TR4 outbreak, Mr Phillips was thrown deep in the media spotlight, becoming the overnight ‘face’ and ‘voice’ of the banana industry. This, he said was a particularly difficult time, given the critical decisions and actions that needed to be taken to try and protect and guide Australia’s banana industry at large.
“It took its toll. But I do believe we did the right thing. There were many difficult decisions to make and the results weren’t easy to achieve,” he said.
“I don’t think of myself as a natural leader. I don’t think I necessarily did too much different to what a lot of other people would do in that situation. I just happened to be the person in that position at the time.”
A humble statement, as Mr Phillips’ contribution to the banana industry was officially recognised at Queensland’s AgFuture Awards in Brisbane last November.
During the presentation, State Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Bill Byrne described Mr Phillips as having an “extraordinary and profound impact” on Queensland and the Australian banana industry through “exceptional leadership and vision”.
“Most recently, Doug has navigated a path for banana growers and the industry in the turbulent aftermath of the outbreak of Panama TR4 in North Queensland,” Mr Byrne said. “Doug’s continued leadership has ensured the integrity, sustainability and resilience of the industry.”
Since retiring from the ABGC, Mr Phillips has turned his attention back to his farm, where he still grows bananas, but recently planted his first passionfruit plantation to “fill the void” left from departing the board.
He believes the banana industry has a strong future ahead and will continue to be provided with solid leadership from the ABGC.
“I think there is always going to be challenges but the industry will continue to be strong and dominant into the future.”
“I certainly have every confidence in Steve Lowe, the current board of directors and the industry at large to continue to ensure a strong future for all Australian banana growers.”