Meat & Livestock Australia managing director Scott Hansen says the producer-owned service delivery company supported the principal of a Senate Inquiry into the collection and disbursement levies in the beef industry, as proposed by ag minister Barnaby Joyce on Monday.
Mr Hansen said any opportunity to enhance systems for consultation between levy payers and the service delivery company that invests in the industry’s R&D and marketing programs to provide opportunities for them was a ‘positive thing.’
“There’s been considerable work carried out over a period of time to look at how we strengthen those consultation mechanisms,” he said.
“As technologies and the structure of livestock production systems evolve, we need to keep the process of engagement between levy payers and those investing in programs and activities on their behalf evolving, also. It’s critical to the success of our programs, as well as delivering that sense of ownership by producers.”
“If this Senate Inquiry proposal is a mechanism by which ideas flow as to how to strengthen that engagement, then we welcome it,” Mr Hansen said.
“We see that there is benefit in allowing all parties to offer their thoughts and views on how best to structure the engagement between levy payers and the service providers,” he told Beef Central this morning.
While MLA currently relies on forums such as next week’s Annual General Meeting in Wodonga, and numerous consultations and forums with stakeholders and levy payers throughout the year across the continent to receive that two-way feedback, there was always scope for new approaches..
“There’s a range of avenues available at the moment, but who’s to say that there aren’t more efficient or effective avenues that can be created? We’re hoping that if that’s the focus for this Senate Inquiry, that might actually help draw-out other processes for ensuring levy payers have a greater involvement and say where MLA invests levy dollars, on their behalf.”
Beef Central asked Mr Hansen whether MLA had sought to influence the scope of the proposed inquiry, once the issue started to gain momentum last week.
It had been suggested in some quarters that MLA had spent last weekend ‘lobbying’ the minister’s office and the department for changes to what was originally a much broader scope for the inquiry. In direct contradiction, however, other sources suggested the decision to limit the inquiry’s focus to “collection and disbursement of industry levies” was entirely driven by the minister.
“Having read what we did on Beef Central on Friday night, we did contact both the minister’s office and the department, but it was specifically to get a clear understanding, for our own purposes, as to the scope of the proposed inquiry. It had nothing to do with trying to change the scope, or influence the terms of any inquiry,” Mr Hansen said.
“What we subsequently learned in the Minister’s media release on Monday morning was basically in line with what was suggested in Beef Central’s item on Friday afternoon. But it is obviously important now for MLA to gain a clear understanding about the specifics surrounding the inquiry’s terms of reference. That’s a process that will largely be in the hands of the Senate Committee, should they agree to proceed with an inquiry.”
Again, there is not yet a lot of clarity around what the timeframes for deciding the terms of reference might be.
But Mr Hansen said MLA recognised that the description used by the minister – “collection and disbursement of levies” – could open the path for discussion not only around levy collection, but also provided the opportunity to discuss how producers are engaged in working-out where the levies are invested, and where the priorities are.
“I see this as being in line with what we’ve heard as feedback from last week’s meeting held in Townsville, and prior discussions, and it’s consistent with the information the minister’s office provided in his media release on Monday morning,” he said.
“But in terms of the specifics about what the terms of reference might or might not be, that ultimately is likely to fall into the hands of the Senate Committee, rather than the Minister or the department.”
Prospects for next week’s AGM
Asked whether the developments since Friday would create a change in focus for next Thursday week’s industry annual general meeting in Wodonga, Mr Hansen said the issue was perhaps more likely to be aired during the Red Meat Advisory Council-hosted industry forum to be held during the morning, prior to the separate event from MLA’s AGM that afternoon.
“With regard to our own AGM, I don’t see this as changing the tone or the nature of the meeting at all. We already have comprehensive systems in place for being accountable to government and stakeholders about the expenditure of our levy dollars.”
For example, the week after the AGM is Senate Estimates, and the week after that is MLA’s statutory funding agreement meeting with the Minister (which is often delegated out to senior DAFF officials) held on a quarterly basis.
“Those government engagement processes will continue, and next week’s AGM is a key part of our process for accountability and transparency directly with our producer stakeholders,” Mr Hansen said.
“The stakeholders attending the AGM will no doubt be as interested as ever in terms of our performance and service delivery over the past year, and our thoughts going forward,” he said.
Mr Hansen said for a large number of Australian livestock producers at the moment, their number one priority was in surviving current drought conditions, and preserving as much of their breeding herd as possible.
“We’re looking forward to the AGM to be able to talk with stakeholders about the challenging market conditions that are out there at the moment, plus the opportunity to highlight what we see as some of our successes in levy investments, in terms of creating opportunities for increased demand out there in the marketplace, and delivering tools that are going to be of benefit to producers in reducing their cost of production.”
HAVE YOUR SAY