Key groups involved in the grassfed cattle industry restructure process say they have reached a consensus position to take Federal agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce next week.
Representatives of grassfed producer groups including Cattle Council of Australia, the Australian Beef Association, the Australian Meat Producers Group, the Concerned Cattle Producers Group and State Farm Organisations (SFOs) met in Sydney on Monday to attempt to find common ground.
The groups say they have now reached a uniform position on the key issue of how a future national peak body to represent grassfed cattle producers in Australia should be structured.
However, the groups have pledged to keep the full details of their proposed model under wraps until they have a chance to present it to Mr Joyce, which they hope to do next Thursday.
Cattle Council of Australia president Howard Smith said Monday’s meeting went well, but said the groups had agreed not to discuss the proposal in detail until next week.
“To be fair to the Minister we want to present it to him and give him the heads up before he sees it in the media.”
However he said the model “was basically what all groups had been striving for”.
It was based around a fully directly elected board which will give grassfed levy payers the ability to elect their representatives, he said.
The next issue to be played out is how the new organisation would be funded.
Moving to a fully directly elected board will mean that SFOs will no longer have the right to appoint their own representative to the board. That in turn means that the new peak council will lose access to the existing $400,000 that SFOs pay in membership fees to Cattle Council each year.
What grassfed growers clearly want –borne out in CCA’s extensive industry consultation process three years ago and again in last year’s Senate Inquiry – is full control by grassfed producers over how grassfed levies are spent.
How can an adequate level of control be achieved?
Some groups argue that the only way is to redirect all grassfed levy revenue from MLA to a new grassfed producer owned, elected and controlled organisation.
Others argue the required level of control can still be achieved without gutting MLA by making the new peak body full directly elected, by improving its resourcing and oversight ability by re-directing some levy funding towards the new body, and by strengthening oversight rules to force MLA to follow the direct instruction on grassfed levy expenditure by the new peak body.
Mr Smith said that how the funding situation plays out will ultimately be up to the Minister.
“If we are going to have a new CCA it has to be funded by grassfed levy payers in some way,” he said.
“The existing funding arrangement through SFOs will cease to exist.
“If it is a new board that is directly elected, it needs to be funded somehow, and it will have to be done by the levy payers.”
He said there were numerous options to achieve that which included redirecting a portion of levy funding to the new peak council or increasing the new body’s control over levies through the Memorandum of Understanding and Statutory Funding Agreements.
“There are ideas floating around both sides, but the first thing we had to do was to get consensus on the structure first,” Mr Smith explained.
“There is no point moving forward unless the industry agrees with the structure, and then we can talk about funding and all of the other things that go with it.”
Any redirection or re-purposing of levy funds would require possible changes to Federal regulation and/or legislation, which positions the Federal Government as a key player in the grassfed cattle industry restructure process.
Since the restructure journey began in November 2011, the Federal Government has continually impressed upon the industry the importance of arriving at a consensus position on a restructure outcome.
That was not achieved the last time the industry went through a major restructure process in the late 1990s, which led to then Primary Industries Minister John Anderson being forced to form a committee to devise a new structure which was then imposed on industry.
Australian Beef Association chief executive officer David Byard said it was pleasing that the various groups at Monday’s meeting were able to reach a unity position on a structure to move forward.
Another question yet to be resolved is how the new peak industry council will be identified.
Whether it will keep the existing and established Cattle Council of Australia branding or whether the new organisation should move forward under a new name and brand was a source of debate at Monday’s meeting.
For his part, Mr Byard said the structure was what was most important.
“In my view if it is a new rebadged cattle council run by cattle producers for the benefit of producers, what else would we want?”