The Cattle Council of Australia says this week’s senate inquiry report has missed the mark and disregards the important work it and State Farm Organisations do for the benefit of all grassfed producers, including those who don’t pay membership fees.
Council president Howard Smith said he believed the Senate Committee report which referred to a culture of collusion was denigrating Australia’s reputation on the international stage. “I think it is a disgrace what these Senators have done, it is very damaging.”
Mr Smith said Senators had listened to the same “squeaky wheels” in making the council a scapegoat for delays in the difficult task of trying to develop a sustainable funding model to support a fully-directly elected structure.
“If we step out there tomorrow and go to a directly elected model, and set up those 15 regions, those people will need resourcing, we will need to have elections, where is the money going to come from to do it?
“People have to understand there is a cost to this, and unless you get the funds to resource it, you cannot do it.”
Cattle Council had made progress in this area, and was in the process of engaging consultants to draw up proposals to fund the directly-elected proposal.
However he said that progress had now been put in jeopardy by the Senate Committee report and recommendations.
“All this has done has stifled that process. We are in a conundrum now – do we go ahead or do we just pull up? Do we go and spend good money on consultants to develop a business proposal for no good reason because this has gone and jeopardized the whole process?”
He said the Government also needed to acknowledge its own role in delaying the proposed industry restructure. In early 2015 he said the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources acknowledged the Council’s work in bringing industry groups together on a restructure plan, with an assurance the Government would work with industry to develop a sustainable funding model. However Mr Smith said there had been nothing from the Minister’s office since.
He said that in January the Minister’s office was handed an RMAC-funded Australian Farm Institute report which explored structural and funding options for all red meat peak councils, but was still sitting on the report and had not yet released it.
The Terms of the Reference of senate inquiries, including the red meat inquiry, include the words “Any other related matters”, a catch-all statement designed to allow Senators to follow new directions as inquiries unfold if they believe there are other issues that need to be addressed.
Mr Smith said the inquiry had missed the mark by starting out as an investigation into claims of collusion at a Barnawartha cattle sale in early 2015, and then ending with a recommendation to dismantle the cattle council.
“All I can draw on is they had a senate inquiry in the grassfed sector with seven recommendations, some which we agreed with and some which we didn’t, basically they didn’t get a win there and they look like they are not getting a win here, so they have tried to turn it into using the Cattle Council as a scape goat. I take offense to that,” he said.
“We promote and defend this industry every day and we are not going to apologise for that.”
He said the recommendations were a “slap in the face” for the producers who volunteer their time away from their own cattle businesses to work to develop policy on other producers’ behalf.
He said CCA itself had been transitioning from a large board made up of all SFO appointed members to a hybrid board of SFO and direct elected directors.
He said SFOs and CCA still provided an important mechanism for grassfed producers to have their voice heard nationally.
“The SFOs have been carrying this industry for a long time, and they should not apologise for us having them as members,” Mr Smith said.
“People are willing to pay to be a member of an SFO and then willing to pay to be a member of Peak Industry Council. If you want to have a say you have to pay.
“For too long the SFOs have been carrying the load for the rest of the industry.
“For every goal that an SFO or a peak industry council kicks, it is free for the person that is not contributing anything.”
A lot of the work performed by Cattle Council of Australia on behalf of grassfed producers was not visible to the broader industry, because crowing about progress had the potential to jeopardise negotiations.
Initiatives such as those led by CCA northern independent director David Hill to change carcase language for example involve significant debate and hard work over a long period of time to bring change, he said.
“Ian McCamley has been working on the Eating Quality Cipher for some 10 years and we have finally got an outcome.
He said voluntary council directors had also invested significant time and energy to progress Free Trade Agreements, which had given Australian producers a huge advantage.
Cattle Council’s work to develop the Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System had also helped to turn grassfed beef into a product that was treated as inferior in the market place into a superior product for which accredited producers could now earn up to 45c/kg more than other product.
CCA delivers producer feedback through a consultation framework that operates through four consultative committees – animal health and welfare; research and development, integrity systems and food safety and market, market access and trade. These committees consist of producer representatives from each state and Territory. Their main role is to oversight levy expenditure and develop policy for the benefit of all grassfed producers and the advancement of the industry.