A cattle producer who met with agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce in Townsville last Thursday as part of a group to voice concerns about grassfed cattle industry structures has welcomed the minister’s requests for a Senate Inquiry into cattle levies.
Whether a Senate Inquiry proceeds in response to Mr Joyce’s request is yet to be debated in the Senate, and should be decided within coming weeks.
However, should an inquiry eventuate, Central Queensland cattle producer Cameron McIntyre believes it will give all groups the opportunity to argue their case as to which industry representative structure will be best suited to meet the collective needs of the industry for the next decade.
Mr McIntyre was part of an initial cross-sectoral writing group appointed by Cattle Council of Australia to help guide its restructure process, but says that in the end the council demonstrated it was not receptive to change.
Mr McIntyre said he and others on the writing group called for an end to State Farm Organisation appointed councilors to the board of Cattle Council, because SFOs now represent less than 20pc of all cattle producers.
Their view was that the new board should be fully democratically elected by a vote of all levy paying cattle producers via a two-tiered voting system, which would legitimately enable the new group to speak with one voice on behalf of all Australian cattle producers.
He said that he and others also advocated for Cattle Council to be given full control over the roughly $56m generated in grassfed cattle levies annually. This would ensure the new body would be well resourced, and would not rely upon direct funding from SFOs, or from Meat & Livestock Australia which the council is meant to independently oversee.
The council could then directly oversee the allocation of levy funds to R&D and marketing and extension projects on behalf of cattle producers as required.
"We were just cracked off"
However, Mr McIntyre said that after significant investment in the process and after gaining a lot of traction, the writing group was suddenly “just cracked off” and its ideas abandoned.
“All of a sudden they put John Wyld, who didn’t contribute (to the earlier process) in any shape or form, in charge of the next committee, and they came up with a ridiculous plan (to allow producers to directly join Cattle Council for a $110 (inc GST annual membership fee).
“It was absolutely hopeless, people won’t join the SFOs, so why will they pay up to join Cattle Council?
“The Cattle Council’s own restructure proposals are really based on a refinance package.
“They represent less than 20pc of cattle in Australia, and I’d like to know what gives them the right to throw out committees that are appointed and the recommendations that are around.
“What they have done is to keep going and going and going until they find the right people to give them the result they always wanted to preserve the body that is there.”
Mr McIntyre said he was not against SFOs and believed they played an important role in managing state-based-issues.
However, he said they were no longer relevant to the national cattle industry. Producers needed a new body that could speak for the entire cattle industry and give clear direction to the Government, the public and the media.
“(Former Ag Minister) Joe Ludwig made the point to us that there were nine bodies that could claim to be speaking on behalf of the cattle industry.
“And he said who do I take advice from?
“And of course he just said go away and sort it out.”
Council was never going "to pull trigger on itself"
He said it became clear during its restructure process that Cattle Council was “never going to pull the trigger on themselves”.
The Cattle Council’s preferred structure, which it endorsed at its AGM in Canberra last week, will result in SFOs retaining a dominant say on Cattle Council.
Mr McIntyre said this had left producers disenfranchised and feeling that they had no effective way of having input into CCA policy.
Mr McIntyre said Mr Joyce gave the delegation a favourable hearing last week and for the first time in a long time he felt as though there was now genuine opportunity for all groups to lay their cards on the table in a fair and independent forum.
“I would hope that if we could go before an unbiased hearing or senate inquiry and that if all interested parties can and go there and present where we should be in 10 years time, I think you’ll find any fair minded and intelligent group will have to come up with a model that includes many of the changes suggested in our initial proposal,” he said.
He added that SFOs should not fear a fully democratic process, because their resources and membership base meant they would have a significant head start in promoting candidates in direct elections over other independent candidates.
He also argued against calls for a skills-based board. He said producer boards could hire people with professional expertise such as solicitors, accountants and corporate governance experts as required, without giving them the power to run the industry.
“You can give them a contract or pay them an hourly rate, but you don’t let those sort of people with no skin in the game run your business.”
Mr McIntyre said he hopes the process will ultimately result in the industry being allowed to start with a clean slate.
“Our industry needs a reformed CCA with a commercial focus and a board that has the recognition of Government and community and the authority to have a far greater influence that affects our bottom line.”