“I am 100 per cent committed to the Western Force and securing the future of rugby union in Western Australia,” Forrest said. “Any suggestion to the contrary is complete and utter nonsense.”
RA’s relationship with Western Australian rugby understandably deteoriated in the years after the Force were axed and Forrest stoked the fire by claiming the sources of the suggestion he may walk away were the same driving forces behind the decision to pull the plug on their involvement in Super Rugby three years ago.
“We strongly suspect these rumours are being sown by the parties that sought to damage the Western Force in the past,” Forrest said. “It is this off field disharmony that led to the disastrous near terminal funding decisions of the former board of Rugby Australia.
“Our commitment to grassroots rugby cannot be questioned – as recently as July, Nicola and I announced another $5 million to create an elite pathways program in Western Australia. This is on top of the $2 million we had already committed to women’s and children’s rugby in WA.
“We want to build and support our passionate rugby community – the young players, the mums and dads, the schools, the clubs, the volunteers – and make Western Australia a true rugby heartland.”
Now Forrest has secured the “rebirth of the Force”, he claims he does not intent on passing the baton back to RA. Instead, Forrest wants to make the Force – who did not win a game in this year’s Super Rugby AU – the strongest club in world rugby.
“The rebirth of the Force is one of Australia’s great sporting stories. My ambition is to now make the Western Force the strongest club in world rugby, with far more locally grown players,” he said. “We have only just begun on this journey and I am committed to seeing it through for many years to come.”
Iconic outfitter RM Williams is back in Australian hands, with its new owner vowing the company will manufacture more of the brand’s footwear and clothing locally as support grows for Australian-made products.
Investment group Tattarang has bought RM Williams for about $190 million
About 2 per cent of the brand’s products are made overseas
Economist Marian Makkar says the brand should do well during a recession when Australians “want to support their country”
The Australian cattleman’s brand was sold offshore in 2013 to LVMH Group, which owns French luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton. LVMH Group was rolled into a private equity firm L Catterton several years later.
After years owning RM Williams and trying to market it to an overseas audience, L Catterton tried to sell it again in mid-2019.
Investment company Tattarang, owned by mining magnate and Australia’s second-wealthiest person, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest, and his wife Nicola Forrest, announced on Monday it had bought the brand, returning it to Australian ownership.
RM Williams is based in Adelaide and was founded by bushman Reginald Murray Williams 88 years ago.
Tattarang chief investment officer John Hartman confirmed the company had been circling the bootmaker for close to a year.
“I was fortunate enough to go to the workshop in Salisbury in Adelaide back in December before coronavirus started to have its impact,” he told the ABC.
Mr Hartman said Tattarang had no plans to close any of RM Williams’ 63 Australian stores.
It also has one store in New York and one in London.
Mr Hartman said Tattarang decided to buy the luxury brand in the middle of Australia’s first recession in decades due to the opportunity it presented.
“In business, sometimes you have to take an approach to get a reasonable deal,” he said.
“We all are aware it’s a challenging time for many in the community.”
Calls for manufacturing of textiles to return to Australia
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall has taken to social media in the wake of the purchase, describing it as “great news for local manufacturing and local jobs in SA”.
RM Williams has a factory in Salisbury where its boots are made. The factory expanded last year to hire 100 more people.
While some production has moved offshore in recent years, Mr Hartman said most of its products were still made in Australia.
“There are a few products made offshore but it’s only 1 or 2 per cent,” he said.
“In this time of reflection on our manufacturing base, we’re certainly committed to maintaining the Australian manufacturing focus.”
There’s also an affordability challenge — people often will need to pay a bit extra for Australian-made products.
Mr Hartman said Tattarang would “work through” the idea of moving manufacturing entirely back onshore in “coming months” but made no firm commitment to going 100 per cent Australian made.
“The business strategy is one of growth.”
After decades of seeing Australian brands moving production offshore, RMIT design and technology teacher Andrew Robinson said he was happy RM Williams was back in Australian hands.
He said it could become the catalyst for the growth of local manufacturing and help Australia bounce back from the COVID-19 recession.
“Governments need to invest in onshore manufacturing to skill up a new generation,” he said.
“It would be fantastic to bring manufacturing back here.
“It’s been dwindling for the last 25 years and going offshore, but with COVID-19 pandemic people are starting to realise we need to bring it back.”
Mr Robinson said there was talk of several Australian brands bringing manufacturing back onshore.
Consumers show support for Australian-made products
Australia Made chief executive Ben Lazzaro said the coronavirus pandemic had created demand for goods that would support Australian jobs — despite the extra cost of buying Australian-made products.
Research by Roy Morgan in July found 90 per cent of Australians surveyed wanted more products produced locally, up from 88 per cent in January.
The most common reason given was the pandemic had “highlighted Australia’s reliance on other countries”, the second was new employment opportunities needed to be created in Australia.
Mr Lazzaro said there was “a very pro-Australian sense in the marketplace at the moment”.
Mr Lazzaro said since state-based closures associated with the pandemic began in late March, Australia Made’s social media platforms had reported a 300 per cent increase in traffic.
“Consumers are taking time to consider the impact of their purchasing decisions given what we are going through,” he said.
RMIT marketing lecturer Marian Makkar said there was “a lot of potential” to sell the luxury product locally and overseas, even during a global recession.
“People aren’t going anywhere so they’re are shopping online, and the brand experience of RM Williams is really highlighted online,” Dr Makkar said.
“This brand is powerful and there’s an Australian trust that goes with the brand.
“People want to support their country, especially when so many have lost their jobs.”
Fortescue Metals Group will pay a record dividend to shareholders, sending nearly $2 billion into the bank account of Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest for the year, on the back of the miner’s biggest-ever profit.
Boosted by strong Chinese demand and elevated prices for exports of the steel-making material iron ore, Fortescue’s profit soared 49 per cent to $US4.73 billion ($6.5 billion) for the full year. The mining giant exceeded market analysts’ forecasts by also announced a higher-than-expected full-year dividend payout of $1 a share, bringing total dividends for the year to $1.76 a share.
The price of iron ore, Australia’s top export, has recently surged above $US120 a tonne on the back of robust demand from China’s steelmakers and weaker-than-expected output from exporters such as Brazil’s Vale which has faced COVID-19-related workforce disruptions.
Mr Forrest – Fortescue’s founder, chairman and major shareholder – increased his stake in February and now owns more than 36 per cent of the company.
Rumours of Brett Sutton’s demise are enormously exaggerated, the one particular topic Andrew Forrest is not going to weigh in on and is the govt bringing back again the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition?
Former Wallabies captains Michael Lynagh and Simon Poidevin have also given a big thumbs up to the plan.
Pocock played in 69 Super Rugby games for the Force between 2006 and 2012. He is ecstatic that Forrest is digging deep to help rugby thrive.
“When I heard about what they were doing, I wanted to give back a bit and volunteer a bit of time,” Pocock told the Herald. “It’s great vision from the Forrests, wanting to really invest in the grassroots and getting young boys and girls going. They obviously have an interest in developing the professional pathway as well in WA.
“A lot of the [rugby] headlines you read, there is a lot of doom and gloom, but when you look at some of the stuff happening at the grassroots level … there’s a lot of boys and girls excited about rugby. They’re the stories we’ve got to be telling and working to get more people involved.
“I got to see during my time in Perth how much the game grew and I think this is an exciting next step in really creating a better future for rugby in the west and ensuring they are competitive and there are a lot of young West Australians coming through and having that professional pathway.”
The Force have agreed to take part in the revamped Super Rugby AU competition, but their long-term future is unclear. The season kicks off on Friday, although they won’t play their first game until the following week.
Rugby administrators are working overtime to come up with a competition model for next year. New RA chairman Hamish McLennan said his preference was for something between Australian and New Zealand teams. Pocock said the Force had to be there.
“If you haven’t lived in Perth, it’s hard to understand just how passionate the Western Force fans are about rugby and how much they support the Force,” Pocock said. “I think finding ways to have Western Australia involved in whatever the format looks like going forward is great for Australian rugby and really important for Australian rugby in continuing to grow the game at all levels over there.
“We’ve seen some great talents come through to the Wallabies level and we’ve also lost a bunch of young players overseas who started in Perth. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep more of those players from going overseas.
“You look at the under-20s; there is some great talent coming up and if we’re able to keep developing that and nurturing that talent, then I think there is a bright future despite a lean few years of results.”
Forrest said his ambition was to see WA become a “real powerhouse” rugby state.
“Nicola and I firmly believe we need to grow this from the ground up,” Forrest said. “Our ambition is to provide young talent with the skills, support, competition and a clear pathway to the highest level of the game, feeding into the Western Force men’s and Rugby WA women’s professional teams.
“We have a clear vision to shape an exceptional rugby product within WA, rather than our talented youth looking to eastern states or overseas for opportunities.”
Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald