For more than a decade grassfed cattle producers in Australia have been calling for a more democratic system of national industry representation.
After several misfired attempts the latest collaborative push to achieve that goal is upon a key deadline.
How is it progressing, and, most importantly, is the process likely to deliver a fully democratic and transparent structure that will ensure every levy-paying producer can vote on who represents them nationally?
And, just as crucially, from where will the new body get the funding it require to operate sustainably and effectively?
Beef Central spoke with grassfed cattle industry restructure committee steering independent chair Andrew Macaulay to find out where the process to replace Cattle Council of Australia with Cattle Australia as the grassfed cattle industry’s peak industry council is up to.
The terms of reference under which the steering committee convened in October 2021 contained an objective “to realise the funding and formation of a new peak body by 1 July 2022”.
That date falls this Friday and it is now clear that specific objective will not be met, with November 22, the date of the 2022 Cattle Council of Australia annual general meeting, now listed as a target date for the formation of Cattle Australia.
Mr Macaulay said the steering committee is working finalise “as much as we can” the draft constitution which it will hand to Cattle Council of Australia on July 1. “CCA will then need to begin their process, because under law it is they who have to move this forward,” he said.
Mr Macaulay said the constitution of Cattle Council of Australia requires its founding shareholders – the various State Farming Organisations around Australia – to make decisions about changes to its constitution.
He said SFOs had been actively consulted throughout the process by the steering committee and “are committed to reform”.
“So I am relatively confident between the steering committee handing over on June 30, and CCA board having resolved that they will move forward at their scheduled AGM on the November 22.
“CCA is the legal recognised entity and its directors have a fiduciary duty to its shareholders,
but CCA has resolved that it wants to move towards handing to Cattle Australia at what was scheduled to be its AGM, but which is now intended to be the inaugural AGM of cattle Australia on November 22.”
Asked if the committee was missing a deadline by not having a new organisation on 30 June or 1 July, Mr Macaulay said he did not believe that was the case.
“Because of all of the regulatory and legal processes, and the number of industry stakeholders that are required to do that, plus keep policy engagement with the Federal Government in this critical time, with Lumpy Skin Disease and Foot and Mouth Disease, and a change of Government which is not insignificant in itself, the RSC resolved to keep the momentum up on all the good work that the CCA policy council has done.
“At the same time, creating a new overarching governance body with a new constitution, and by the 22 of November, if all goes to plan, there will also be an entirely new board of Cattle Australia.
“The steering committee has delivered a clear and actionable plan at this point and the process has enough momentum that the various parties involved who have legal standing, CCA directors and shareholders, can make the decisions and can make it happen to a clear timeline, and can drive this over the line now.”
Will the end result be that every cattle transaction levy payer will get to have a vote on who is on the board?
“Emphatically yes is the answer,” Mr Macaulay replied.
Details he provided from the draft constitution as it currently stands included:
– All cattle producers who are payers of the grassfed levy and have paid within 24 months are eligible to be members of Cattle Australia
– All eligible members are eligible to vote
– Producers can be an individual or an organisation, an incorporated entity, noting that the organisation needs to nominate a natural person as the representative and the voting member
– That nominated person must either be an employee or director or bona fide active participant in that respective grassfed business
– There will be full members who are grassfed levy payers and there will also be associate categories – people the board approves as being supportive of or aligned with the organisation but who will not have a vote.
– there will be a membership register which will be the name or the entity, the primary address and contact details for voting allocations, ABN, the primary PIC under which the entity trades, and additional PICS used by the entity.
“We said everybody is entitled to a vote, that is literally it, and any natural person who is a member, so that includes the nominated natural person of an incorporation is able to be nominated for election to the board or policy council, so it is truly democratic,” he said.
It is expected that ongoing funding from MLA, RMAC and the SFOs, with support from RMAC possibly including voluntary loans if required.
Initially all grassfed levy payers who confirm eligibility will be granted membership and voting rights in Cattle Australia.
In time it is envisaged the organisation will standalone from existing sources of funding through RMAC and Meat & Livestock Australia, which will depend on its success in developing a value proposition people are prepared to support.
“The organisation is going to have to evolve and make itself valuable to members enough that people will pay a membership fee to it,” Mr Macaulay said.
“Over the next three years the newly elected Board are going to evolve this organisation and its value proposition and its services and what it is delivering, which comes back to making the organisation market focused and member focused.”
The concept of a voluntary levy is also being explored, with existing information suggesting that a time line of two to three years would be needed to achieve that outcome.
“The medium term funding which will be the role of the new board would commence the process to seek a voluntary levy funding structure.
“The RSC has gone through this process with the department, and then the minister’s office, and we have gone through it with MLA and remembering that there is actually a levy review coming up, this will be part of the core business of the new board of Cattle Australia.”