A former manager of the Department of Agriculture levies collection unit says the Federal Government does not examine how compulsory beef industry levy funds are spent, and says an independent audit is needed.
Spiro Adamopoulos managed the Government’s levies collection unit for several years, and oversaw the transition of the cattle transaction levy from $3.50/head to $5/head in 2004.
In January, no longer working with the department, he set up the Agricultural Levies Institute of Australia to serve as a watchdog over how compulsory levy funds are spent, performing a similar role to that played by the Shareholders Institute of Australia on behalf of small shareholders.
Giving evidence to a public hearing for the senate inquiry into grassfed levies and industry structural arrangements in Albury on Tuesday, Mr Adamopoulos said that within the Department of Agriculture, there is “little or no understanding from the secretary down about how the levies are spent”.
He said every agricultural levy was collected for a specific purpose, but the Department was focused only on whether levies were collected, and now how they industry bodies that received the funds were spending them.
Labor Senator Alex Gallacher asked Mr Adamopoulos if the Department “properly scrutinised or audited” the almost $500 million that is raised in total agricultural levies each year.
Mr Adamopoulos replied that the only auditing that occurred surrounded whether levies had been collected.
“You just made sure it was collected?,” Senator Gallacher asked.
“That was it,” Mr Adamopoulos replied.
“But there is no audit on it being spent on marketing, R&D, animal health and that, in all of those individual components, it is complying with the rules?” Senator Gallacher inquired.
“Not to my knowledge,” Mr Adamopoulos said.
From every $5 cattle transaction levy paid, $4.58 is allocated to MLA to carry out the specific tasks of research ($0.92) and marketing ($3.66) for industry. 29c goes to the National Residue Service and 13c to Animal Health Australia.
The government matches dollar-for-dollar the funds received from the 92c/head research component.
Mr Adamopoulos told the Senators the Department did not “feel a necessity to understand levies”.
“Within the department there is little or no understanding from the secretary down about how the levies are spent.”
Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan said he understood that a large number of research projects conducted by MLA had not been reported back.
Mr Adamopoulos replied that his institute had done “some research on the way that the money is spent”.
“There is not any evidence that it is spent in accordance with the special purpose nature of the original intent of the levy,” he told the Senator.
Yesterday’s story reporting Rod Polkinghorne’s comments to the Senate Hearing has generated a strong reaction from readers, click here to see what they’re saying