We cannot let the perfect become the enemy of the good. For years the Australian grassfed beef cattle industry has needed reform of its peak industry body. We’ve come close, but so far finishing the job has been evasive and we need that to change.
As we go through the restructure process, we’ve got to remind ourselves what’s important. A transparent, financially sustainable, and democratic new organisation, which is within reach once more.
The key to achieving what we need is greater democracy, and Cattle Australia will deliver this. Once it becomes the new peak industry body, it will have a model where any Australian grass-fed cattle levy-paying producer can join, vote, and run to be on the board. This matters more than anything because as soon as your organisation becomes democratic, it gives a much higher level of assurance that the organisation will reflect the will of the people it represents.
Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) has never had this. Currently, eight of the ten board positions are only open to candidates selected by the State Farming Organisations (SFOs). In 1979, involving the SFOs to elect board members made sense as they have always represented a substantial base of most producers. This model is outdated. With technology such as email and online voting commonplace, it is significantly easier for a peak industry body to interact directly with all Australian cattle producers. As the world around us changes for the better, so too should your representative body.
Right now, CCA is facilitating between the SFOs, who as founding members effectively own CCA, and members of the Grass-fed Cattle Restructure Steering Committee (RSC) to finalise a constitution. The current draft constitution has had substantial input from Cattle Producers Australia, Northern Pastoral Group, CCA and the SFOs. This draft has provided the core architecture of what will eventually become the Cattle Australia constitution.
It is important to acknowledge CCA’s role in this phase of the process – we are an intermediary. Any changes made to the draft constitution will be to accommodate the needs of the SFOs, the RSC or through legal advice which must strengthen the intent, provide clarity, or ensure the new constitution meets its legal requirements so Cattle Australia is put on a firm footing from day one.
I have heard many disparaging comments about the SFOs’ role in the restructure process, but we really must give them credit as they are offering to forego significant power for the good of the industry. The SFOs are no longer guaranteed a spot on the board and their candidates will have to compete in a democratic election for those positions. The buck stops at the board and they are no longer assured of being at the table. Any suggestion the SFOs are acting in a self-serving manner is simply wrong, and extremely disrespectful given the sacrifice they are making for the good of every Australian grassfed beef producer.
We must keep in mind that it’s the constitution that counts. A constitution is a founding document that governs how an organisation will operate, how it elects and appoints office holders, how it sets its priorities and how decisions are made. It will make Cattle Australia a completely different organisation from CCA, and we must remember this. Calling Cattle Australia, a rebadged Cattle Council is like calling the United States a rebadged British colony that’s still under the control of the Queen – we all know that’s not the case.
The matter of funding has also been subject to significant misinformation. A portion of the levy has never been promised to fund the organisation. The previous minister David Littleproud said he would consider any proposal, which he is obliged to do by law, but that never meant it would be approved. Yes, we need to pursue a more sustainable funding model and democratic reform is the important first step in this process. It is hard to justify membership fees for individuals when they have limited opportunity to be involved at the highest level of decision-making – but this is set to change. Ultimately the new board will be responsible for deciding how the organisation is funded. Our job is to put Cattle Australia in a position where they have funding options they can pursue.
We need to focus on what’s at the core of this. Cattle Australia will deliver democracy and that gives every person in our industry the ability to put up their hand and make a difference on an even playing field. The cattle industry needs unity – CCA will work with all parts of the industry for unity and Cattle Australia will deliver it.