Northern producers push for greater MLA board representation

James Nason, 29/07/2011

The AgForce Cattle council is calling for an extra seat to be added to the board of Meat and Livestock Australia to improve representation for northern producers.

If a diagonal line was drawn across Australia from Brisbane to Perth, the area to the north of that line would account for more than 50 percent of Australia’s beef cattle herd, but just one of the 10 directors currently sitting on the MLA board.

That position is held by MLA chairman and North Queensland cattle producer Don Heatley, who is stepping down from the board in November.

The other nine seats are held by MLA managing director Scott Hansen; Sydney-based business executive and former Unilever Foods Australasia managing director Peter Boyden; Brisbane-based chairman of JBS Australia Iain Mars; Brisbane-based CSIRO livestock scientist Greg Harper; Tarcutta, NSW, sheep producer Grant Burbidge; Narrogin, WA, sheep and cattle producer Peter Trefort; Victorian-based producer and former NAB agribusiness chief Mike Carroll; Culcairn, NSW stud cattle producer Lucinda Corrigan and Mullaley, NSW beef producer Robert Anderson.

Meat and Livestock Australia’s board selection committee is currently short-listing candidates to fill three independent director positions, after calls for nominations closed in June.

The three positions comprise the vacancy created by Mr Heatley’s decision to retire from the board in November and the seats held by Peter Boyden and Grant Burbidge, which have rotated for compulsory re-election after their three-year terms.

MLA’s constitution requires directors to be selected according to skills. It does not provide for directors to be selected as representatives of specific geographic zones, but in calling for new directors the selection committee will often call for applicants with skills in particular fields such as southern or northern production or cattle research and development.

However AgForce Cattle chairman Grant Maudsley said that while the AgForce cattle committee respected the need for a skills-based board, there was a strong view the northern industry did not receive adequate representation when it came to seats on the board. 

“The northern beef industry is quite poorly represented, we think, and you only have to look at the numbers,” Mr Maudsley said.

The AgForce Cattle board believes a northern producer should remain part of the regular board, and wants to see the number of board positions increased from 10 to 11, with the additional position to be filled by a northern grazier.

An MLA spokesperson said the board reduced the number of seats from 11 to 10 following the retirement of a director in November 2009, because it was determined at the time that the 10-person board had the appropriate skills to maintain the required balance of expertise.

However the MLA constitution allows for the number of director positions to be increased to a maximum of 11 seats at the board’s discretion.

Mr Maudsley said that while it was too late to increase the number of positions this year, AgForce Cattle would push for an increase next year.

MLA selection process

AgForce Cattle has also questioned the need to have three MLA directors involved in the board selection process.

The nine-member selection committee that oversees the director-selection process comprises one person elected by cattle producers, one person elected by sheep producers, one person elected by lot feeders (with each elected at MLA annual general meetings), one representative each from the Cattle Council of Australia, the Sheepmeat Council of Australia and the Australian Lot Feeders Association, and three incumbent directors of MLA, which must include the chair.

Mr Maudsley said AgForce Cattle had a standing policy that called for the number of MLA board directors on the panel to be reduced from three to one.

Under current arrangements there was a feeling that grassfed producers were not adequately involved in the process and lacked ownership of the outcomes he said.

“We think there are too many board members on the selection panel that can influence the outcome,” Mr Maudsley said.

“You can still take advice from the MLA board about the specific skills it needs, but we do not think three board members are needed there in a selection capacity.”

MLA investment in Indonesia

AgForce Cattle met with MLA managing director Scott Hansen and chairman Don Heatley last week.

Mr Maudsley said that while AgForce supported MLA’s work in Indonesia, it was vital that money was wisely to achieve long term improvements in animal welfare, rather than wasted on short-term remedial action.

Ill-founded or hastily-prepared policy with regards to traceability or processing techniques would have negative ramifications not only for cattle and beef, but also for other agricultural exports.

To jump back in “boots and all” via poorly conceived supply chains, or further rash governmental decisions, could jeopardise much more than just live exports

It was important that Indonesia and other export markets were given appropriate time to meet any new protocols enforced by Australia.

AgForce was concerned by early data from ABARES suggesting 365,000 live cattle destined for the Indonesian trade are in a ‘holding pattern’ at the moment and a large number of them may head to southern markets.

The board heard predictions that an extra 80,000 cattle could be diverted into Queensland markets by the end of 2011, and that another 200,000 plus head could follow in the longer term.



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