THE Cattle Council of Australia says it is still on track to a move to a fully directly elected board later this year.
State Farm Organisations will continue to contribute to the council’s funding, but have agreed to surrender their right to an automatic board seat.
Instead each State’s seat on the board of the peak industry council will be contested by producers standing for election and being voted on by producers in their state.
SFOs are effectively prepared to back the size of their industry memberships to win the support needed to get their preferred candidate elected onto the CCA board in future.
In effect they are laying down a challenge to the other various groups that also claim to speak for grassfed cattle producers to put their own industry support to the test.
“It is time to put up or shut up,” was AgForce cattle president Will Wilson’s summary of what the changes mean when he spoke to Beef Central.
A catch cry of CCA’s critics has been that its board and membership are dominated by SFOs and therefore it cannot claim to truly speak for the whole industry, because many producers are not paid members of SFOs.
SFOs pay membership fees to CCA, contributing about 20pc of the council’s annual funding, and in return have the right to appoint their own member to the SFO board. (A complicating factor in this debate has been the fact that some smaller SFOs have not been able to make their annual payments to CCA due to financial constraints, but still have a seat on the Board in order to maintain CCA’s status as a national voice).
In 2014, in response to criticism that it only represented producers who were members of SFOs, CCA introduced a direct membership pathway, allowing producers who were not SFO members to still participate in national policy setting as a CCA direct member, for an annual fee of $100 plus GST.
Two additional independent seats were also added to the CCA board, one representing northern Australia and one representing southern Australia, which allowed direct members to vote for an independent director to represent them on the board.
The move did not satisfy the council’s critics, however, with SFOs still controlling eight of the 10 seats.
By virtue of the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars they pay each year to be a member of CCA, it is easy to understand why SFOs felt entitled to a seat in return.
However, in a move few probably expected and one that addresses the long-running calls for a directly elected board, the SFOs have agreed to give up their guaranteed seats on the CCA board.
In doing so, their obvious hope is that the critics will be silenced, those making loud noises will have to demonstrate they have the support to justify their claims to represent the industry, and industry leadership will be able to move beyond the distractions of internal infighting and focus time and energy on advocating for the issues that matter to grass roots producers.
The council is expected to hold a special general meeting in August to vote on the concept. If supported at that meeting, candidates could stand for board seats for their state at CCA’s 2019 annual general meeting at Tamworth in November.
Details still be to resolved
Some important details are still yet to be resolved before that vote occurs.
Yet to be clarified questions include whether all levy paying producers will be able to vote, or whether they will have to be formal members of CCA (either through being a member of an SFO, which grants them automatic CCA membership, or as a direct member of CCA). Also, how corporates with multiple properties in multiple states will be treated in the voting process is yet to be determined.
Legislation which was passed in 2017 will in future enable peak industry councils and Research and Development Corporations to access levy payer databases for certain industry-relevant purposes, such as holding elections. The levy payer databases are still being developed, and currently the grains industry and the red meat industry are part of a trial with the Department exploring legal requirements and privacy rules. At this stage the databases are expected to become available in 2020.
Cattle Council CEO Margo Andrae said that despite other significant industry reviews concurrently taking place, in particular the red meat MoU review, the Cattle Council believed it was important to drive forward with its restructure plan.
“We committed to a direct elect model, and we have spent the last two years rebuilding Cattle Council from the ground up,” she said.
“Reforms can take years, but we are committed and we’re still on track for November elections.
“The key thing for me is that there was a call for a directly elected board, and we are committed to that, so now I’m interested to see whether the other bodies will actually back themselves and put their hand up.”
“We’re backing ourselves”
VFF Livestock president Leonard Vallance said the move towards a fully directly elected CCA board was very positive for the industry.
It was now up to smaller groups ‘with a handful of members’ to put their money where they mouth is and demonstrate they had producer support.
“Collectively between the State Farmer Organisations we have got about 20,000 members,” he said.
AgForce cattle president Will Wilson said previous criticisms that SFOs ‘wanted to keep control’ had been “completely deleted and made irrelevant now”.
“We’re backing ourselves on the fact we represent the numbers and if someone else wants to have a go, then get your finger out and have a go,” he said.
“If people want to support change that is going to be inclusive of everyone in industry, this is it.
“We as SFOs have given up our seat, we have given the opportunity to everyone to elect themselves, but we’ll be able to elect the people that we want on there if we represent the majority.”
The current CCA board members are compromised by CCA’s ownership structure. There are 16 shares owned by the state farming organisations (SFOs) and 6 of these are held by AgForce. As farmers left the VFF and NSW Farmers in past years, their financial capacity was weakened and so they decided not to pay the annual fee of $25,000 per share. In doing this, they passed back shares to CCA and today only have one vote each. AgForce did not follow this path and today are over represented when voting on matters to do with CCA. Our understanding is that this was not the case when the vote was taken on the decision to leave the Implementation Committee in February 2018. Despite having 6 of the 16 votes, AgForce were unable to garnish support to continue membership of the IC and the other states voted them down. Even if the new voting system (whoever gets to vote) does return a truly representative board of directors, it will still be compromised by the imbalance in ownership of CCA.
The SFOs need to return the ownership of CCA to grass-fed cattle producers who pays the levies. We need to stop the gravy train and reverse many of the poor decisions taken by CCA in the recent past. J-BAS, Integrity Systems, re-accreditation of LPA, biosecurity plans and BJD compensation are just some of the issues to be addressed by a properly representative industry organisation.
If a person needs 20 Cattle Council members to sign off on his/her nomination to the Cattle Council, how is the average person ever to be elected? It seems like a pretty closed shop to me. As such, I resent my NSW FA membership subsidising this body.
Paul Franks raises a very interesting point in asking. “I wonder if there is the same number of critics of CCA prior to the 2000’s or whether in 2019 the number has expanded”.
I would suggest that in 2019 the disenfranchised minority have far more opportunity to criticise through new communication mediums, therefore greater exposure. I would suggest that the numbers have not changed at all. Its just the minority have this platform. Industry never see’s documented proof of membership levels from the noisy minority groups.
In the recent past, minority organisations have had information days with attendance levels being dramatically over stated in their own press releases. Why would they do this? I suspect they don’t have the on the ground support they thought they had.
Will Wilson’s summary of “its time to put up or shut up” is spot on and directed at these minority groups that currently offer industry very little, and despite their claims do not speak for the silent majority of producers.
I suspect when the time comes for these groups to put their hands up and get involved in a positive and progressive manner they will come up with every excuse under the sun to not be involved and to try and derail and/or take over the process. We shall see!
CPA welcomes the CCA move back to the previously agreed directly elected body along the lines of the CPA model which stipulates that levy payers have both voting entitlements and a right to stand for election. CPA is committed to the establishment of a truly representative organisation for Grass-fed cattle transaction levy payers and would welcome any opportunity to discuss these reforms with CCA in order to affect a seamless transition.
Does anyone know why people are critical of CCA?
I wonder if there is the same number of critics of CCA prior to the 2000’s or whether in 2019 the number has expanded. For those wondering why I chose that date, that was about the time a regulatory scheme that continues to grow larger today was placed upon producers by the industry leaders. Which I think has lead to a large amount of disenfranchisement of producers towards the industry heads, whether they be CCA or MLA, I do not think people distinguish between them nor do they care.
I personally do not think direct electing the board is going to change much. I think some producers simply want to go back to the 1980’s when they could just produce the worlds best beef same as they do today without government or industry on their backs.
Well done CCA