THE Australian cattle industry is on the cusp of achieving a reform of national producer representation that has been sought for decades, and one that has the potential to transform the effectiveness of the sector’s advocacy and power, Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says.
But he has also sounded a warning that the industry should not let the “pursuit of perfection” get in the road and derail the progress that has been made by industry representatives to create a new representative platform for all levy paying cattle producers.
“What I would say to the industry now is once they’re presented with what this committee has been able to achieve, I think they need to understand they shouldn’t let the pursuit of perfection get in the road of what will be a significant achievement,” Mr Littleproud said in an in interview with Beef Central in Darwin this morning.
There have been multiple attempts to reform national cattle producer representation in Australia over the past decade in response to criticisms that existing structures do not adequately represent the interests of all levy paying producers, or do not allow the large sector to speak with the power and influence its size and scale warrants.
Several months ago Mr Littleproud re-instigated the reform process with Cattle Council of Australia and Cattle Producers Australia and representatives of other producer groups in a bid “get on with the job” of delivering a reform producers have long said was necessary.
That process has resulted in the development of the proposal of a new organisation to be called Cattle Australia to replace Cattle Council of Australia as the peak industry council advocating on behalf of Australian cattle producers from July 1 this year.
Cattle Australia will be overseen by a nine-person Board of Directors, seven of whom will be democratically-elected Directors, who will in-turn appoint two skills-based Directors. All directors will then elect a chair.
The board will be supported by a Policy Advisory Council comprising 15 directly elected levy paying producers from identified Meat & Livestock Australia Regional Advisory Council regions and eight State Farming Organisation (SFO) representatives, appointed by their respective SFO, with oversight of an Independent Chair.
A consultation process is now under way for producers to have their say – See more on the Cattle Australia website here
Mr Littleproud paid tribute to the work of the industry representatives in developing and progressing the Cattle Australia concept – an achievement he said was in some ways akin to “achieving peace in the Middle East”.
“I think we’re on the cusp of achieving something the industry has wanted for probably 40 years,” told Beef Central.
“My job at times is probably to give some tough love but to clearly define the parameters of how this could happen, and I have got to say the industry themselves have taken the ball up and done much of it themselves.
“I have got to say to Markus Rathsmann in particular, the previous CCA chair wouldn’t have a bar of it, Markus has had the courage and conviction to go forward with it again, and the CPA (Cattle Producers Australia) came back to the table.
“I think this is something the industry needs.
“What I would say to the industry now is once they’re presented with what this committee has been able to achieve, I think they need to understand they shouldn’t let the pursuit of perfection get in the road of what will be a significant achievement.
“They should be within the tent trying to get that perfection over time rather than sitting on the sidelines knocking.
“If you don’t have a peak body, one single voice that walks the halls of Canberra, that fragmentation means that politicians don’t then have to listen to them.
“This is something that I think is very close.”
Mr Littleproud met with industry representatives in Darwin yesterday who have travelled to the NT capital for the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association conference on Friday.
He said groups are working together to enable Cattle Australia to be in place and operating by July 1.
MLA had agreed to play a role in ensuring all levy payers are informed about the Cattle Australia proposal and have the opportunity to have their say, he said.
The process of transitioning CCA to Cattle Australia will be supported with the $500,000 of Government funding that was originally announced to support this process by then agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce back in 2017.
Additionally there have been discussions with RMAC around generating an advanced payment of Cattle Council of Australia dividends to support the process.
Going forward, Mr Littleproud said it will be up to the new organisation to show to levy payers that there is value in them becoming paid members of Cattle Australia.
“They (Cattle Australia) will wield a fair bit of power in terms of corporate attractiveness,” he said. “It represents a significant portion of the red meat sector, when you think that supermarkets and a lot of suppliers into the beef industry should be part of this as corporate sponsors I think there is a financial sustainability model there.
“So the stars are aligning I think. They are on track for 1 July and I think that would be an enormous achievement, one in which I think in some cases is akin to getting peace in the Middle East.”
In response to the question of whether there was any suggestion a portion of the cattle transaction levy being could be used to support a new organisation in future, Mr Littleproud said the only way the levy system could be changed is if all levy payers agree.
“There can be no change to the levy system, there is a structured process, there can only be a change to the levy structure process if the levy payers agree.
“And so that is why it is important that Cattle Australia is able to articulate not only the value proposition in terms of advocacy for people to be members, but also in terms of their financial sustainability, not just from membership dollars but also from corporate sponsorships and other means.
“That is part of the business plan they should be demonstrating to those levy payers out there that may want to be members.
“And I would encourage and would strongly encourage every levy payer to join up, because this is your one opportunity, one that you haven’t seen for over 40 years, to actually have a united single voice that can walk the halls and make a difference.”
Industry has to “get on with the job”
Asked why he has actively engaged in a process that has dragged on with division and fighting but no resolution for a decade, Mr Littleproud said he believed it was time for the industry “to get on with the job”.
“To be honest, it was something I had a gutful of watching from the sidelines, and was sick of hearing the people say that something had to happen,” he said.
“…This was about making sure they understood the clear parameters of what they were trying to achieve and egos and that history was left at the door.
“If we got hung up on that and we get hung up on that now, this will fall over.
“I think it is something that the industry should be proud of, that we actually had the conviction and courage of these men and women to put their own reputations on the line to try and facilitate this was important.
“I think if we can achieve this by the 1st of July, I think this a moment the beef industry will look back on and say transformed the beef industry into the future in terms of its advocacy and power in remining Australians the important role they play in feeding them every day.”