ABA on industry restructure: Where to from here?

David Byard, Australian Beef Association, 28/06/2013


Beef Central on Wednesday carried a story about Cattle Council of Australia talking to the Federal Minister for Agriculture that day, apparently seeking support for the industry restructure that has been going on now for 18 months.

Of course to add to the intrigue, Minister Ludwig has now resigned.

ABA finds it amazing and disturbing that after 18 months there is still no clear direction on a new restructure and Ministerial support had not been dealt with earlier, this lack of timely action clearly tells a story on the effectiveness of CCA and the desperate need for a restructure.

There is strong support evident for change, and producers have been calling to have a better-resourced and more accessible body to look after the interests of all producers, but particularly grassfed.

Clearly due to lack of resources and perhaps direction, CCA has been a liability to grassfed producers over a period of many years.

The Council says it oversees the annual expenditure of levies to the tune of $72 million, (these levies are collected by MLA). In theory this is correct, however in our opinion, MLA treats CCA with complete disdain and a lack of financial and intellectual capacity within CCA in its present state is nothing short of a disaster for producers.

Cattle Council has very little independence or indeed ability to represent producers. It is dependent on MLA for its survival, and has only five employees, where MLA has close to 300.

To make matters worse, CCA is now sub-contracting paid work from MLA: surely this is a conflict of interest and demonstrates poor governance.

It seems as though MLA is quite happy to throw a few crumbs to Cattle Council to undertake work and keep the organisation afloat, however this will come at  a cost when CCA, as a representative of  grassfed producers, finds it has an issue with the way  MLA has treated grassfed producers. In that situation, the Cattle Council is compromised.

Grassfed producers pay MLA $56 million (according to Cattle Council the figure is more like $72 million). By giving Cattle Council a few crumbs, it compromises the very reason Cattle Council was formed in the first place.

CCA proposed a restructure where the new board would have 25 people sitting around the table. However the biggest majority will be state farming organisations who will still control Cattle Council, while using producer’s funds to remain functional. At a time when organisations are moving away from large, cumbersome sectorial boards to smaller more skills-based boards, Cattle Council and State Farming organisations are pushing for the old model. Is this a case of jobs for the boys, let’s keep the status quo?

Proposed Funding arrangements would see 38c of every $5 of levies going to the Cattle Council, however there will be an opt-out clause for levy payers who choose not to fund. Surely it would be more democratic if producers had an opt-in clause, however nothing about the new structure is democratic.

Cattle Council have had two attempts to find a structure that will work. The first was a writing group which spent a significant amount of time and effort in getting something that may be workable. Once the report was submitted to the Council board, it wasted no time in putting a red line through the lines of new innovation and new thinking.

Recently we had another committee chaired by and run by Cattle Council veterans who made recommendations and even some of these were knocked on the head by the CCA board, which of course is run by state farming organisations.

It amazes us that many of the State farmer organisations have not, cannot or will not pay their subscriptions towards Cattle Council membership. Surely this is wrong, and those that don’t pay should not have their feet under the desk.

Confusion and lack of direction is so great CCA says in the end, it may come down to a ballot – then producers can decide which way they want to go.

ABA has previously stated that the industry should be following the model AWI uses, which keeps a database which sends out to all people who have paid levies into the system.

Surely it is critical that we have a database where all levy payers can be identified and presented with a vote before any votes are called for. The $5 levy is collected by agents and processors and one wonders how the government or whoever can conduct an audit to see if all levies are passed on.

Cattle Council CEO Jed Matz said it was up to the industry to identify the most appropriate structure. From where I sit people have sacrificed time and effort to try and find the most appropriate structure, however as previously demonstrated, the Cattle Council has insisted on having the final say.

The Australian Beef Association for its part feels that we should identify all levy payers who could then elect a board to represent them. This producer-funded organisation would then take control of the $56 to $70 million of producer funds. In this model, MLA would become a service provider to this new organisation.

It seems that people have forgotten that MLA is a service provider only, and that producers should be telling the MLA what it should or should not be doing. As it now stands. MLA spends our funds as they see fit.

Processors are a great example: as contributors of $9 million, they tell MLA where and how they will spend processors money. This is in direct contrast to producers who have no say what soever on expenditure of their levy.

Roma forum July 10

For its part, the Australian Beef Association will be conducting a forum at the Roma Showgrounds  on July 10, starting at 9:30am and finishing about 1:30pm, where the ABA will put forward its ideas for  restructure.

Cattle Council will also be also given time to explain how it is going about the new restructure. Both Jed Matz and President, Andrew Ogilvie, have agreed to attend to present their case. Politicians and others will be also present and be speaking.

The forum is an opportunity for producers to have a say and ask questions. Though we may not agree with what some speakers will say, we will make sure that everybody is treated with respect.

This is your opportunity to have a say into the future of our great industry.  People can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution.




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