Australian Meat Producer’s Group spokesperson Joanne Rea responds to Australian Farm Institute executive director Mick Keogh’s recent opinion piece ‘Grab for compulsory funds won’t help grassfed industry’. This will be the fourth and final article in this exchange – any further comments/debate can be continued in the comments section below this article…
I can only agree with the basic economic analysis of Mick Keogh in his opinion piece of 10 March in Beef Central, but productivity increases are not a universal panacea without increased profitability and when it comes to MLA he seems to have an exaggerated perception of how much of the output is directed at increasing production productivity in any meaningful and profitable way.
The Senators who ran the Inquiry into grassfed levies and systems easily grasped, with new eyes, the structural impediments in the system and have given us seven very thoughtful and perceptive recommendations to use as a basis for an integrated whole of industry structure that will serve the interests of producers and revitalise the grassfed industry.
MLA has become the behemoth that is unresponsive, has a direction of its own and is uncontrolled by anyone including its statutory masters such as Cattle Council of Australia.
Quite rightly the Senators were shocked by how badly grassfed levy payers were served by the present system.
They were shocked by the very poor record of completed reports and the volume of commercial in confidence material. The percentage of funds which flowed to companies associated with directors is an extremely serious governance issue.
It is also impossible to see how patenting the output of research and selling it to competitor countries benefits Australian producers or processors.
It is obvious that the major beneficiaries of the research and marketing efforts have been the processors and supermarkets who have successfully managed to not pass too much of the customer dollar back down the supply chain. The cattle farmers of Australia have not been the major beneficiaries as claimed by Mick Keogh.
At any level if the managers of your money are using it badly or not for your benefit it is just common business practice to regain control of it. To characterise this as a “grab” for the money as is being done in some circles is inaccurate and offensive.
Most of the opposition to change has come from those who are comfortable beneficiaries of the present system. Grassfed levy paying cattle producers are not prominent among that number.
In submissions made to the Inquiry and appearances before the Inquiry across State and Territory borders, individual producers and organisations outlined what was a remarkably similar catalogue of the failures of MLA.
It was failure to respond to producers at the individual, organisational or producer peak council levels. There is no ability to influence policy, to choose or remove Board members, a failure to resist the undue influence of processors and failure at individual issue levels. Most importantly the Board lost the vision of Former Agriculture Minister John Anderson of what MLA was supposed to achieve. It became an animal feeding off itself buried in process and with no vision of the end game.
The consistency of criticism was so vivid that all Senators across party lines recognised recalcitrant problems.
With such consistency of failure as indicated by producers the only remarkable thing about this debate is that there are any supporters of the status quo. Australian Pork Limited model has been investigated and the embargoes on political activity are not overly onerous. Certainly the Senators did not see a problem. If there is an advocacy vacuum I am sure that there will be groups who fill the void.
There are no shortcuts and there is no grab for money.
Formulating policy on all seven recommendations will be a huge and drawn out job involving discussion and debate. No recommendation can or should be lightly dismissed.
The only levy money issued will be to a properly constituted body approved by the Minister. With producers able to elect the Board, unresponsiveness will attract the expected penalty.
If a body is monolithic and unresponsive, lobbying to have it changed is an entirely appropriate response.