Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, has issued a statement to media this morning confirming that he will today request the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs Legislation Committee consider conducting an inquiry into the collection and disbursement of levies in the beef cattle industry.
As revealed by Beef Central on Friday, Mr Joyce has decided to ask for a senate inquiry after hearing concerns from producers for a number of years that they do not have sufficient influence over how levies are invested in R&D and marketing in the cattle industry.
In an official statement released this morning, Mr Joyce said the beef cattle industry has primary responsibility for its own affairs and strategic direction, and the government supports this through the collection and dispersement of levy monies.
“It is vital the beef industry has the right systems and structures in place to capture the opportunities in the coming decades in Asia and elsewhere. Australia is a major player in the global beef trade, but as with anything, there is always room for improvement.
“I want to ensure that the best possible arrangements are in place for the benefit of the whole industry. This is part of the government’s commitment to work with industry to reinvigorate agriculture and help farmers,” Minister Joyce said.
Minister Joyce said he understands the difficulty of establishing a system that satisfies every producer and acknowledges that some producers will always want more control over the statutory levies.
“A Senate Inquiry offers the best avenue to open the issue up to a debate, and provide opportunity for groups on all sides of the issue to lay their cards on the table. Such an inquiry would be a fair and transparent way forward, it would be at arm’s length from the government,” Minister Joyce said.
“For a number of years there have been concerns that some producers, particularly grass-fed producers, believe they do not have sufficient influence on how levies are invested in research and development and marketing for the beef industry.”
The terms of reference of any inquiry are a matter for the senate, but Minister Joyce recommends the inquiry be specifically focused on the collection and disbursement of levies for the beef industry.
Mr Joyce said the beef industry is Australia’s second largest agricultural industry with a gross value of production at farm gate of $6.8 billion, with $4.9 billion of this being exported. The government assists the industry by collecting more than $100 million in statutory levies for various purposes. The government also provides matching funds for research and development on a dollar-for-dollar basis. In 2012-13 this amounted to $37.4 million.
A spokesperson for the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs Committee told Beef Central this morning that the request for an inquiry will have to be referred to the committee through the Senate Chamber. If it is passed in the Senate it will then be referred to the committee.
"It depends on how fast they act on getting it through the chamber. We dont really know their time frame until we see it listed on the order of business for the senate," the spokesperson said.
The first sitting of the 44th Parliament will run from November 12 to 14 (next Tuesday to Thursday), followed by a week of Senate Estimates hearings. The Parliament will then sit again during the first two weeks of December.
A decison on whether a senate inquiry will proceed could occur at any time during those sittings depending on how quickly the request is acted upon and other issues being considered by the chamber, the spokesperson told Beef Central.
Just minutes ago, Cattle Council of Australia issued its own response to Sen Joyce's announcement.
The Cattle Council of Australia is willing to engage with the Senate Inquiry proposed by Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, into the collection and disbursement levies in the beef industry.
Through consultation with beef producers Cattle Council has been made keenly aware of the issues that Minister Joyce raised; for a number of years grass-fed producers have felt that they do not have sufficient influence on how levies are invested in research and development and marketing for the beef industry.
“The Cattle Council is committed to engaging with the Government to ensure that the best possible arrangements are in place for the benefit of the whole industry and to capture the opportunities for Australian beef producers in the coming decades,” Jed Matz, Cattle Council CEO said.
“CCA has been working to take responsibility for its own affairs and strategic direction through the development of its strategic plan ‘Beef 2015 and beyond’, released in February this year.
“The development of the strategic plan included a two year consultation process,” Mr Matz said. “Cattle Council is currently undergoing a restructure process which will ensure that all Australian beef producers have the opportunity to engage with and participate in importance strategic policy decisions affecting the beef industry.
“Cattle Council is looking forward to providing feedback to the Senate Inquiry in order to achieve the best outcomes for the whole Australian beef industry,” Mr Matz said.