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ACCC must explain its Barnawartha investigation findings: O’Sullivan

James Nason, 12/01/2016

Queensland LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan will seek support from colleagues when parliament resumes for a special hearing of the Federal Senate Inquiry into the Red Meat Processing Sector to examine claims by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that it could find no evidence of collusion between meat processors to boycott the Barnawartha saleyards in February 2015.

Senator O’Sullivan believes the special hearing is needed to provide Senators with the opportunity to question the ACCC about its investigation processes and how it reached the conclusion there was no evidence of collusion despite nine meat processors failing to appear or buy cattle at the first prime cattle sale at the new Barnawartha saleyards, near Wodonga.

The ACCC found last month that while there was regular communication between processors before the Barnawartha sale, it could not establish evidence there was any breach of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

Given the controversy surrounding the watchdog’s findings, Senator O’Sullivan said it was important the ACCC’s investigation was placed under adequate scrutiny.

“The ACCC claims that its evidence clearly demonstrates the processors communicated to one another in the run up to the Barnawartha sale, yet we’re also supposed to believe that all nine processors independently decided not to attend the Barnawartha sale,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“It is nonsensical to suggest that nine processors separately made the same decision at the exact same time. It defies logic.

“There are just too many question marks hovering over the ACCC’s investigation and I want to know how they reached these conclusions. I think the ACCC should explain itself.”

Senator O’Sullivan said the ACCC’s investigation at Barnawartha had “only further weakened rural people’s faith in the watchdog”.

With the Federal Government recently forming an Agricultural Enforcement and Engagement Unit within the ACCC, Senator O’Sullivan said it was an important time for the ACCC to be held to account.

“The ACCC’s contribution in this space has been unhelpful and I want to know how it reached its conclusions,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“Every beef producer in Australia is watching this Senate Inquiry to see what the final outcome will be.

“This inquiry is about how profits are distributed in the supply chain, especially how farm gate price is impacted.

“The ACCC should be embarrassed that despite all the statutory powers at its disposal, it was still incapable of getting to the bottom of this issue.”

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