Three new directors joined the Meat & Livestock Australia Board and a second grassfed producer was elected onto the board selection committee at the organisation’s annual general meeting in Brisbane on Tuesday.
West Australian livestock producer, business management adviser and events planner Erin Gorter; industry business builder, technology specialist and post farm gate value-add expert Robert Fitzpatrick and global brand marketing expert and strategist Steven Chaur were elected to the MLA board.
They fill board seats vacated by Greg Harper, John McKillop and Peter Trefort. Mr Trefort has retired after serving on the MLA board for 12 years, making him the equal longest serving MLA board member alongside former chair Don Heatley.
A total of 91 candidates nominated for the three board positions and the MLA Board Selection Committee interviewed 12 before the final three candidates were selected and presented to a vote of members at the AGM.
A higher level of grassfed cattle producer representation was also cemented at the 2015 AGM.
It follows amendments made to MLA’s constitution at last year’s AGM in Sydney, when members voted to increase the number of cattle producer representatives on the Board Selection Committee from one to two.
The MLA board selection committee assesses the nominees for vacant MLA board positions based on their skills and the skills required on the board, and then recommends and endorses one candidate to fill each vacant position.
The move to increase the number of grassfed representatives on the selection committee reflected concerns that the grassfed sector contributed more than twice the amount of levy revenue to MLA than the sheepmeat sector and several times more than the grainfed sector, but received no more say on the MLA board selection committee than grainfed cattle or sheepmeat producers.
Five producers stood for election to the second grassfed producer representative position – Tim Burvill, Mark Driscoll, Liz Allen, Mick Hewitt and Noel Cheshire.
Emerald-based cattle producer Mick Hewitt was the successful candidate and now joins fellow grassfed cattle producer representative Ian McCamley, sheep producer representative Jane Kellock, lotfeeder representative Therese Herbert, as well as three representatives appointed by peak industry councils, and two non-voting MLA Directors on the Selection Committee.
MLA chair Dr Michele Allan welcomed the new Board members, as well as Mr Hewitt to the Selection Committee, acknowledging the importance of levy payer input into the process.
“Voting at the AGM is a very important way for levy payers to have their say in the way MLA is governed, in order to build a prosperous and sustainable future for Australia’s beef, sheep and goat producers,” Dr Allan said.
“The MLA Board is a skills-based Board. Directors have complementary skills in order to make sound decisions for the long term benefit of the livestock industry.”
About 100 people attended the AGM in Brisbane, primarily from industry representative groups, with some individual producers making the journey from Central and Western Queensland and from as far as the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Victoria.
Identification of levy payers
Several questions from the floor inquired about the progress of work to accurately identify all levy payers and the amount of levies they pay, and to ensure full voting entitlements are automatically allocated to each levy payer accordingly. This was a cornerstone recommendation of last year’s Grassfed senate inquiry.
The AGM was told that developing a fool proof system to accurately identify levy payers and levies paid may require changes to privacy laws, a legislative process which could take some years to achieve.
The industry had also looked at a similar plan in 2006 but decided against it because of the expense involved, the meeting heard.
No voting blocks
Concerns were also raised about the number of MLA voting entitlements now held by processors by virtue of the transaction levies they pay on cattle they own when they are moved from their feedlots into their processing plants.
However Mr Norton said processors do not have a voting block, and said it was up to producers to exercise their voting rights to ensure their voice was heard.
“It is a fact that a group of the largest 10, 50, 100 or even 200 members would not have enough votes to out vote the remaining members of MLA if the members of the company all took up their voting entitlements,” he said.
No questions for candidates
One curious moment occurred during the session where MLA members were invited to ask questions of the three candidates standing for election to the three vacant board positions.
One producer asked nominee Erin Gorter if she could outline her vision for the beef industry for the next five to 10 years.
However, MLA chair Michelle Allan did not allow the question, on the grounds that members were only allowed to ask about “each candidate’s qualifications and experience”.
While the ruling may have been technically in keeping with corporate governance procedure, it was a moment that did not align with MLA’s new commitment to transparency and accountability to shareholders, particularly when the only opportunity MLA members have to question each candidate before they vote is at the AGM.
As if on-cue, the following board nominee, supply chain expert Robert Fitzpatrick, in a pre-recorded televised address to the meeting, proceeded to deliver his vision for the future for the red meat industry, in what was a highly impressive presentation.
Will the domestic market fall victim to our export success?
Mr Norton told Beef Central that a fundamental issue facing Australian cattle now is a likely continued fall in currency, and what that will mean for the domestic market in Australia.
“If the currency drops then export markets will take over,” he said.
“A 5c drop in currency on 70c is about 8.5pc, so that means all of the meat we’re sending anywhere in the world is 8.5pc cheaper.
“It depends on the destination country’s cross rates as well, but you would say that our beef is then going to become cheaper than everywhere else.”
Mr Norton said that now more than ever, the industry needed red meat to be top of mind for consumers when they are at the red meat cabinet.
“With retail prices rising and more red meat being exported, we need now more than ever the need to keep communication going and to be reminding consumers about the safe, nutritious, convenient, versatile and great tasting product that it is.
“We need to ensure we give the shopper a reason to keep putting beef and lamb on the plate, and a really big part of our marketing strategy is to remind mum and dad that whoever is doing the weekly shop that red meat has a really high nutritional value in protein, iron and zinc, essential nutrients needed to keep our bodies and brains functioning well.
“We know that health benefits are drivers the shopper is thinking about when they are buying.”