The board of Meat & Livestock Australia has asked new managing director Richard Norton to oversee a complete review and restructure of its extension activities, triggered in part by a critical independent review of MLA’s Livestock Production Innovation (LPI) unit last year.
MLA chair Dr Michelle Allan told Senators during the grassfed beef cattle inquiry in Canberra last Friday that the review would be hard-hitting and MLA processes would “look completely different in six months time”.
Last year the levy-funded service organisation commissioned six independent R&D experts, at the request of Cattle Council of Australia, to review its approach to selecting, funding and managing on-farm research and development projects.
The resulting report identified “widespread and substantial dissatisfaction” with MLA’s existing processes within the R&D sector, and made 11 recommendations for change.
That MLA was seen as slow to act in releasing the findings of report to peak industry councils, the Department of Agriculture and levy payers, and in taking action on the 11 recommendations has been a repeated source of criticism for the organisation during the ongoing senate inquiry to date.
Dr Allan told Senators last Friday that MLA acknowledged it had to spend more time on extension and how it engaged with producers.
She said that at a Board meeting in Brisbane last Tuesday, the Board asked newly appointed managing director Richard Norton to do a full review of MLA’s extension activities and the “appropriateness and effectiveness” of those activities.
“We are doing a complete restructure,” Dr Allan told the senators. “That has been highlighted under the LPI review that one of the senators brought up.
“We as a board have taken that extremely seriously. We have two of our own, Lucinda (Corrigan) and Dr (Greg) Harper, who is ex-CSIRO, looking at the terms of reference of that committee and taking their recommendations.
“It will look completely different in six months time.
“It is not something that Richard (Norton) could do tomorrow, he needs to plan out what he is going to do, but he was under instruction right from the beginning that it is to look like a new organisation.”
While not disclosing further details on the scope or nature of the planned review and restructure, Dr Allan said it would be “pretty hard-hitting” and the outcome would be very different to “what is in place at the moment”.
Later in the one hour, 45 minute session, in response to questions from Nationals Senator John Williams, Dr Allan said that while eight of the 11 recommendations had now been acted upon, she conceded that MLA’s response had not happened in “an appropriate timely fashion”.
“MLA has taken that back, Dr Greg Harper has now presented to the board how we should structure our R&D processes going forward, and that process will be implemented by Richard Norton,” she said.
Senator Williams then asked: “So, Dr Allan, you are admitting that it took too long and you did not act appropriately?”.
“Yes,” Dr Allan replied.
“Have you learnt from that?” the Senator asked.
“Yes,” Dr Allan said.
Asked if MLA was now getting better results, Dr Allan said she expected that when Mr Norton finished his review it would get “very good results”.