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Exclusive: CCA facing membership crisis

Jon Condon, May 23, 2011

Cattle Council of Australia is facing a crisis of major proportions, with one state-based member organisation sidelined for being unable to pay its dues, and another threatening to launch a breakaway national cattle body under the auspices of the NFF.

The nation’s peak cattle representative body is confronted with unrelated, but in some ways parallel membership issues from Victoria and NSW state member groups.

Sources close to CCA say the Victorian Farmers Federation has been stripped of three of its four votes on the CCA board, as part of a sanction over being in financial arrears. That has dramatically reduced the Victorian beef producing sector’s influence over CCA vote outcomes.

In a second issue, NSW Farmers currently has before it a resolution that threatens to break ties with CCA to form a ‘national’ cattle representative body under the umbrella of the NFF.

It is widely known that the VFF has been facing serious financial difficulty for a lengthy period.

The state’s representatives on CCA wish to remain as members, however, and as recently as last week VFF was examining ways that it might pay its debts in order to remain active on CCA.

CCA changed its constitution several years ago to recognise that some state organisations were having cash flow difficulties. The Council, which is essentially owned by the state farming organisations, has not increased its fees or adjusted for CPI for almost ten years, effectively passing those savings on to the state constituents.

Under the former CCA constitution, if a State farming organisation was unfinancial, it immediately lost all voting rights. Changes have since been made, allowing States under financial stress to retain some voting entitlements, depending on circumstances. VFF, for example, currently holds a single vote instead of four, greatly diminishing its impact on CCA’s voting process.

Funding cutback

CCA’s issue with NSW Farmers is a vastly different story.

The matter can be traced back to a decision taken by NSWFA four years ago to unilaterally cut fees to various commodity councils by 20pc, given 12 months’ notice. Under the constitution of CCA, of which NSWFA is a part owner, there is no provision for such action – only a clause requiring 12 months’ notice before withdrawing from CCA.

Eventually NSW Farmers did cut its CCA funding by 20pc. That has resulted in the loss of one vote around the CCA board table, declining from six to five, which has also diluted that state’s representation.

A further complication arose over NFF funding. Part of the money paid by the States to the CCA is directed straight to NFF. Previously, under what was known as the ‘Longreach Agreement’, struck at a time when there was concern that some State commodity councils were at risk of going broke, State farming organisations agreed to pay the NFF component of what their respective commodity council’s membership fee was.

Currently, while NSW Farmers has reduced its levies paid to CCA, but continues to pay its full component share to NFF.

In the case of VFF, which reduced its payments across the board, CCA is having to use other states’ funds to cover the cost of Victoria’s share for CCA to stay within the NFF.  

More recently, issues have emerged between CCA and NSW Farmers over alignment with NFF, due to ‘personality issues’, as one stakeholder described the situation. Differences of opinion, or more to the point, changes of opinion over BSE policy appears to have been one of a range of issues.

CCA’s policy on BSE has remained unchanged over the past five years – it basically supports a science-based approach to any changes in legislation, regarding the beef-off-shelves issue.

Motion seeks radical change

As a result of this and other matters, the NSW Farmers board now has a motion before it, which is under consideration for annual conference in July, which effectively seeks to abandon CCA in order to establish a national cattle commodity committee within the NFF.

The NSW Farmers cattle committee itself is opposed to the motion, and is discussing the matter with the NSWF board to overturn or rescind it, before it gets to conference. At least four other State constituents of CCA are understood to be directly opposed to any direct alignment with NFF, which would effectively isolate NSWF at a national level. But at the same time any move by NSW would obviously also dilute CCA’s representation in Canberra. 

Currently the cattle industry has ‘very little’ representation on the multi-commodity NSWFA board. Unlike cattle-specific farming state organisations like AgForce Cattle in Queensland, and the NT Cattlemens’ Association, all other states have multi-commodity representative bodies. In the case of NSW Farmers, it represents a wide range of food and fibre commodities from oysters to eggs, grain, horticulture and numerous others, meaning the beef industry may get marginalised.

A decision about whether to proceed with the NSW Farmers motion could be made at a NSW Farmers boardmeeting on May 30, expected to be attended by CCA President Greg Brown. Mr Brown is currently recuperating after an accident involving livestock in his cattle yards.

Survival solution

One survival solution seen within broader CCA ranks is for the beef representative components within Victoria and NSW Farmer ranks to break away from their (multi-commodity) parent groups.   

“The parent bodies don’t seem to understand that 65 percent of Australia’s beef is traded globally, and not sold only on the domestic market,” one source close to the issues said.

CCA has rejected the notion of becoming a NFF sub-committee outright, because it would “dilute CCA’s authority to do its job,” a stakeholder said.

“What they don’t recognise is that CCA is mentioned in Federal legislation with regard to its watchdog role with MLA,” the source said.

For example the peak beef councils, theoretically, can still choose not to endorse MLA’s annual operating plan. That authority was used as recently as last year, when CCA was not happy with the original marketing plan put forward. Changes were eventually made to MSA and other programs in order to get the operating plan endorsed.

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