Immediate past chairman of the Australian Meat Processor Corporation, Peter Noble, shares his thoughts on industry restructure
SITTING down for an afternoon of pondering on the state of the red meat industry in Australia, I had at hand the Green Paper, the White Paper and the operational plan (‘AOP’) from Meat & Livestock Australia.
To fortify myself for the afternoon, I grabbed a well-chilled bottle of Les Maillons Rosé de Saignée Extra Brut NV (2015) from the great wine maker, Oliver Collin. Even though it’s a great aid for relaxation, concentration and gives great insight, there is great method in this madness.
Why this bottle of Champagne? The Collin family had been growing grapes in this tiny, rural zone of Congy just southwest of the Côte des Blancs since 1812. They had always sold their fruit and eventually rented the entirety of their 8.7 hectares to a large Champagne house, an arrangement that continued through the late 1990s.
Oliver, a trained lawyer, wished to gain control of his family estate and set about to renegotiate the Byzantine contracts that tied up his family business. The champagne system was excessively complicated, and typically involved a great deal of administrative detail, all at the mercy of unaccountable bureaucrats.
Sound familiar? Anyway, it’s a shame that Teresa May had not read this story before she started on her Brexit adventure.
So, after a mammoth battle of some seven years, Oliver was free to produce and market his own wine.
And what did Oliver teach me about the White Paper, the MOU and the Red Meat Advisory Council as an accidental producer?
It taught me that you need great tenacity, persistence and a clear understanding of a process to change a moribund bureaucrat system excessively complicated and involving a great deal of administrative and governance obfuscation into a dynamic, democratic system where there is a powerful advocacy body and a clever, innovative but yet very accountable RDC.
A pipe dream?
A pipe dream perhaps?
So, I poured my first glass of chilled Saignee and marvelled at the power of the effervescence, the steady stream of fine bubbles and the rose hue. Surely this fine drop will aid my understanding and create great insight into the problem. The first taste confirmed my high expectations of the wine, but what now of the industry reform?
How did we end up at this point in the reform process where the body roundly criticised by Senate Committees puts together a reform package that puts it at the head of the industry while it is hopelessly conflicted?
You could be excused for thinking that Senate Inquiries are a waste of time, and a Senator in a private moment reflected on this. This is not the only Senate Inquiry that has largely been ignored, so what role should the Senate now play especially if their recommendations are largely ignored?
The Australian Senate is the upper house of review. All legislation must pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Originally the Senate was created to protect the rights of the individual states, as senators were not elected on a population basis.
Today both functions have largely disappeared. Both the Senate and the Commonwealth have increased their power by creeping grabs since the founding fathers created Australia’s governance structures. Perhaps we should have a look at the role of the Senate now we have proportional voting and the results of its inquiries are continually ignored.
Our founding fathers would be aghast at the thought that they created a governance structure where a senator with a couple of hundred votes could determine the outcome of legislation passed by the people’s house.
Time for another sip of the beautiful Saignee and a return to the point of my thinking.
Rather than gaining control of the expenditure of my levies, that control is now embedded deeper in the Byzantine regulations and further away from my control, or even my view.
Funnily enough, it is also those very levies which are being used to create the Byzantine structures to make my input even more remote, and disenfranchise my involvement and many thousands of others who are also accidental livestock producers.
Based on Oliver Collin’s experience, I believe that there are two immediate priorities which should require an immediate rethink. As an accidental producer how do you become vested in the industry? I am sure there are many accidental producers in the long tail of levy payers who feel just like me.
First, we need to embrace the old tenets of democracy and give each sector a democratic forum for control over their levies. And secondly, we need to find a way to create a powerful advocacy body for the producers; one not saddled with inherent and crippling conflicts.
Luckily, some friends arrive, and I turn back to the Saignee and happily share this wonderful drop.
In passing, though, I reflect on the fact that the whole levy structure is up for renewal in 2023. It is just a few years away, and I wonder why this peculiar restructure is proposed at this time.
I might turn to the Languedoc region of France to search for another unique wine with a story to assist my thought process.
- In tomorrow’s second installment in his opinion piece on industry structures, former AMPC chairman Peter Noble shares his thoughts on the history of red meat governance in Australia, and why tensions among industry players cannot be assuaged by the creation of Red Meat Australia.