Former Cattle Council of Australia Chairman Andrew Ogilvie got it right when he stated that “no change is not an option” concerning the restructure of the grassfed cattle industry.
But ‘no change’ looks like becoming a likely option for the unfinancial and ineffectual peak council of grassfed cattle producers.
The restructure process of one of Australia’s largest industries is being personally funded by dedicated individuals and small organisations, and support is hampered by a lack of interest within industry management to bring about change, which leaves many important questions unanswered.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce told grassfed cattle producers that levies cannot be used for advocacy.
‘Advocacy’ as described in the dictionary: “support; encouragement; backing; sponsorship; promotion; activism”. Really? Producers cannot have these?
And if this is the case, then why has the Minister allowed Meat & Livestock Australia to use levy money – $750,000 per year under the current service agreement – to prop up the industry’s Peak representative and advocacy group CCA?
This funding, given to the CCA under ‘service agreements’ means CCA has to carry out ‘contract jobs’ for MLA – time that should be used supporting the grassfed industry. Are these service agreements delivered under a contestable tender? Are other organisations or bodies given the opportunity to compete for this same funding?
Is it possible that if these ‘service agreements’ were delivered at contestable rates, CCA would make insufficient profits to render the exercise worthwhile?
Does the Minister believe that CCA’s independence is compromised by its reliance on MLA funding, as CCA has acknowledged that these agreements have inhibited them as they cannot work with complete autonomy or flexibility?
Is it a fact that under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which is the agreement on how CCA and MLA will manage the grass fed levies, MLA is only obliged to consult with CCA, and is under no obligation to take direction from them?
The Meat and Livestock Act 1997 states that to be recognised as a Peak Body like Cattle Council, an organisation must clearly demonstrate that it represents wide coverage of an industry sector on a national basis. There are some 46000 producers registered with MLA. Is it possible that there are over 200,000 grassfed cattle producers in Australia.
CCA says it represents 15,000 grass fed cattle producers.
Does the Minister or CCA have any evidence to suggest this figure is correct? Is it possible that State Farm Organisations (SFOs), with a combined membership (of all sorts of rural ventures such as grain, wool, not just cattle) could have less than 15,000 cattle members?
Is Mr Joyce happy with the fact that the so-called Peak Council for grassfed cattle producers represents less than 10% of all producers?
CCA does not publish financial figures at its AGM. Is it a closed shop? Does the Minister believe it should be open and accountable to their producers?
The CCA board is dominated by SFO’s who elect their own delegates. These days, two independent directors can be “directly elected by producers” to the CCA board. However, 99% of those allowed to vote for these ‘independent members’ are SFO members. Does this give independents any chance of getting voted on?
When the SFOs do stop their funding of Cattle Council (said to be June 2016) will the SFOs still have influence and elect the board of CCA? How will the (hopefully newly restructured) CCA then get extra funding to begin to balance their already in-the-red books?
Does Mr Joyce believe the restructured CCA should look at raising funding just like WWF and Animal Rights Australia do? Does he believe that financially stressed and droughted cattlemen who already pay over $70m in levies yearly should have to fund raise to function their board?
Does the Minister believe that there is any chance that producers will ever be able control their levies in MLA on the same basis that we see the processors and live shippers? Their service providers decide their levy contributions to MLA, and decide their own policies and research. Both these organisations have reserves of cash, while the highest contributors of levies, the grassfed cattlemen, have nil reserves.
The Wool industry seems to be able to identify all its levy payers and have full voting rights to all growers. So does the Wheat industry. Why are grass-fed cattle producers different?
Processors (abattoirs) receive all of their $23m of levies, contribute $12.3m towards MLA, and stash the rest in their reserves (which is nearly $50m!). The Live Exporters’ contribute $2.4m toward MLA.
Grass fed cattle producers in 2014/15 paid $67 million to MLA (after having deductions taken out for Animal Health Australia and the NRS!) yet have no control, no financial reserves, only ‘consultation’.
Lamb and sheep producers seem to have more input into their $35 million in levies than grass fed cattle producers have into theirs.
“No change” is definitely not an option. Andrew Ogilvie was right on this one.
So who is stalling the process?
David Byard is the chief executive officer of the Australian Beef Association.