Federal agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce will approach the Rural and Regional Affairs Senate Committee early next week to request it to consider conducting a Senate Inquiry into the collection and disbursement of levies in the cattle industry.
Beef Central can confirm the minister has decided on the move in response to ongoing concerns expressed by groups of cattle producers calling for the grazing sector to have more control over the grassfed levies it generates.
Such concerns were again raised with Mr Joyce when he met with graziers and other industry stakeholders in Townsville while he was in the city to address the LiveXchange Conference.
Stakeholders who attended a private meeting with the minister outside, and not linked to, the LiveXchange conference yesterday, have told Beef Central that concerns were raised with the minister about the control of grassfed levies and about the perceived performance of Cattle Council of Australia and Meat & Livestock Australia.
Beef Central understands the minister told the group he had heard concerns expressed about levies in the beef cattle industry over a lengthy period of time.
He indicated that a Senate Inquiry could offer the best avenue to open the issue up to debate, and provide the opportunity for groups on all sides of the issue to lay their cards on the table.
When contacted by Beef Central on Friday afternoon Mr Joyce’s office confirmed that the minister will approach the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee to suggest that it conduct an inquiry into the collection and disbursement of levies in the cattle industry.
A spokesperson for the minister said that a senate inquiry was the fairest and most transparent way to go forward.
“Being transparent requires an arm’s length approach, and the best arm’s length approach is a senate inquiry,” the spokesperson told Beef Central.
“For a number of years there have been repeated allegations and counter allegations surrounding the collection and disbursement of levies in the cattle industry. It is addressing an issue that has been in the industry for some time.”
“A senate inquiry will allow all participants to advocate or defend their positions as well as having the ability to read the submissions and alternative views.”
The spokesperson said that as a member of the House of Representatives, Mr Joyce could not officially call for a senate inquiry. Rather, he will approach the Senate Committee to ask them to consider conducting such an inquiry.
The spokesperson stressed that the terms of reference for the proposed inquiry will be specifically focused on the “collection and disbursement of levies”.
“It is in no way to target any particular group, it would have very specific terms of reference.”
Mr Joyce is expected to announce he will approach the senate committee on Monday.
"We will willingly engage": Cattle Council
Cattle Council of Australia president Andrew Ogilvie told Beef Central this afternoon that he had heard similar rumours since yesterday about the prospects of a senate inquiry being launched, but had received no confirmation yet that the Minister planned such a move.
“Regardless, if a Senate Inquiry was to occur, Cattle Council is totally prepared for it, and would willingly engage,” he said.
“We believe it could be an opportunity to strongly present our case. We’ve been involved in two years of close consultation with industry, and have produced a (restructure) model that reflects the views of the overwhelming majority of producers.”
Mr Ogilvie said the restructure proposal put forward would never satisfy ‘one small element’ within the industry, but he believed CCA was going to produce a model that “your average producer is going to be satisfied with, in supplying better representation, and more opportunities for producers to engage in the process.”
“We’ve done a huge body of work in this process over the past two years, and would be proud to present that before a Senate Inquiry,” Mr Ogilvie said.
“At CCA’s annual general meeting yesterday, our proposed model and constitution for structural change received unanimous support from members.”
“It gives the average grassroots producer the opportunity to participate strongly in the affairs of CCA – their organisation. If they want the opportunity it’s there, but if they don’t, then they have nothing to complain about. Through CCA, they have the opportunity to direct where their dollars are spent.”
“We feel we are in a very good spot to take forward our reform: this is just the first phase of what we intend to do.”
Mr Ogilvie said following the unanimous support for the new constitution from all State Farm Organisation members, a Special General Meeting would now take place within the next 21 days, at which members would be asked to endorse the new constitution.
“We expect that to pass at that meeting,” Mr Ogilvie said.
“We finally have all members of CCA completely on board and comfortable with where we are up to.”
Beef Central contacted MLA managing director Scott Hansen for a comment on the Senate Inquiry developments this afternoon. He said at that stage (5pm Sydney time) he had heard nothing from the Minister’s office about any senate inquiry into CCA/MLA matters.
In passing comment, however, he said that MLA fronted the Senate Estimates Committee on a regular basis, at which the committee had every opportunity to ask whatever questions they wanted about program activities and expenditure.