Cattle levy register may be in place later this year: MLA

James Nason, 13/03/2020

In late 2014 a Senate committee recommended Australia’s grassfed cattle industry establish an automated cattle transaction levy system to identify levy payers against levies paid and to accurately allocate industry voting entitlements.

Picture: Australian Beef Sustainability Framework.

Of the seven recommendations made by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Senate committee it was one that appeared to have universal support, with strong public backing for the specific recommendation at the time from Cattle Council of Australia, Meat & livestock Australia and the Federal Government.

In June 2018 legislation was passed enabling all rural research and development corporations (RDCs) to establish a levy payer register, if they choose, enabling each RDC as the levy recipient bodies to identify and consult directly with the levy payers that fund their activities.

However, almost six years after the recommendation was made and greeted with apparent widespread industry support, there is still no register in place for cattle transaction industry levy payers, as the Australian Beef Association and then Cattle Producers Australia have recently pointed out.

Why not?

Beef Central has also been asking questions about the issue for some months.

In November last year the Department of Agriculture said it was ready to establish levy payer registers for every industry but could only do so at the request of the relevant research and development corporation, which,  for grass-fed cattle, is Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).

The Department said it has the technology in place to establish a register for MLA by July 1, 2020, but, for that to happen, MLA must first consult with key with stakeholders, including industry and levy collection agents, to ensure all parties are aware of their potential obligations, and then write to the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management advising the outcome of those consultations and MLA’s intention to establish a register.

“If MLA can undertake these activities before July 2020, to allow sufficient time for the Secretary to consider the request and publish a Notice to Establish a Levy Payer Register, then a start date of 1 July 2020 can be achieved,” the Department said.

Cattle Council of Australia also recently told Beef Central it still strongly supports the development of a levy payer register, and said it wrote to Meat & Livestock Australia in early December 2019 requesting it write to the Minister for Agriculture to request a register be established.

CCA CEO Travis Tobin said in the same letter to MLA, Cattle Council also requested that it be granted permission to use the register for approved purposes so it could better engage and consult with all grassfed cattle producers paying the levy.

Under existing legislation such a request would be up to Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment to approve, and could only be considered if the relevant RDC requested permission on behalf of the third party.

MLA: Work to create a register is underway

In response to our recent inquiries about the status of a levy payer register for grassfed producers MLA issued a statement to Beef Central on Friday.

MLA’s full response is published at this link but key points include that work is currently underway to develop a register and MLA expects will be in place either late this year or in 2021.

MLA says it has been assessing various options available to develop a levy payer register, including issues around cost and ease of adoption, and has also been reviewing the outcomes and benefits of a levy payer register pilot project undertaken by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

It said it is about to commence an internal project to progress a similar levy-payer register for cattle transaction levy payers and is working on completing the consultation requirements mentioned above.

It points out that this is a significant task as there are more than 1000 agents that currently submit returns with levy-payer information who need to be consulted.

Once the consultation process is completed, MLA says there is further significant work required with agents to make technical changes to software and systems they use for their operations to interface with Levy Revenue Service (LRS) data requirements.

MLA said that by waiting for the GRDC to undertake its pilot and assess the outcomes and benefits of its project, it was now in a significantly stronger position to establish the best system for the red meat sector.

Who can use a levy payer register?

It has also moved to clarify exactly what a register is and what it can be used for.

For example the current legislation very specifically defines ‘eligible recipients’ of levy payer information as the RDCs (in this case MLA) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), which can seek access to the data to perform any of its functions.

Once established, an RDC can use the levy payer information from their register for the following purposes:

  • to maintain a register of who has paid a levy and/or charge;
  • to maintain a register of persons eligible to vote in a poll conducted by, or on behalf of, the RDC;
  • to make public information of a statistical nature;
  • in performing its functions under a law of the Commonwealth or under a contract or other agreement with the Commonwealth;
  • to determine whether a person is or remains eligible to be a member of the RDC.

Access to the levy payer information by a third party (that is anyone outside of MLA) can only occur with the approval of the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment.

In making an approval, the Secretary must take into account whether the proposed use of levy payer information fits into one of the above permitted uses under the legislation.

Levy payer registers have been created to allow RDCs to consult with their levy payers to help them deliver the functions and services for which they were established.  The RDCs functions are set out in the legislation that establishes them and in statutory funding agreements with the Commonwealth.

As such, levy payer information may not be used for purposes such as:

  • agri-political activities;
  • increasing the membership of an industry representative body;
  • an activity which would give a commercial advantage to a participant in the industry;
  • an activity unrelated to the function of the RDC.

(For more information on the Department website click here)

MLA also pointed out that it currently communicates with levy payers in a variety of ways include its own e-newsletters, publications and social media channels, which will soon be expanded to include a podcast being launched this month.

The Levies Notice process is currently the way MLA members provide voluntary information about the amount of levies they have paid during the previous financial year, which is used as the basis for determining full voting entitlements at MLA’s AGM.

“When established, the red meat levy-payer register would offer another dataset to MLA (on top of existing information) to further improve collaboration and communication with red meat producers,” MLA said.

While there is no set date for the implementation of a levy-payer register, MLA said it expects to have an operational system “towards late 2020 or 2021”.



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  1. Jock Douglas, 16/03/2020

    This is a critical issue for grass-fed cattle producers. What is needed is a Property Identification Code (PIC) industry database for communication with all levy-payers. With all grass-fed cattle levy payers in one accessible database there is the ability to communicate effectively to take the industry forward. There is also the essential communication capacity to deal effectively with inevitable biosecurity incursions. Having all 60,000 grass-fed cattle levy payers accessible through a PIC database enables voting rights for all and 60,000 enfranchised grass-fed cattle producers offers unparalleled influence for an Australian agricultural sector.

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