Meat & Livestock Australia’s new commitment to transparency and grower-responsiveness is starting to pay dividends, according to producer representatives who attended this week’s AGM in Brisbane.
The levy funded marketing and research organisation has just come through a tough restructure process which has seen dozens of staff, including several senior and long-serving executives, depart the organisation since August last year.
The restructure was sparked by the grassfed Senate Inquiry process last year, which saw several producers express the view that MLA was no longer transparent or responsive to producer wishes in its levy investment decisions.
However some producers who attended this year’s MLA AGM say they believe the organisation is again on the right track following the restructure overseen by chair Dr Michelle Allan and MD Richard Norton.
Central Queensland cattle producer Ian McCamley, who represents grassfed cattle producers on the MLA Board Selection Committee and the Cattle Council of Australia marketing taskforce, said MLA seemed to be going in the right direction.
“They have been through a cultural change and you have to give credit where credit is due,” Mr McCamley said.
“It has been a breath of fresh air. They’re actually listening which is really good, it is a big difference to the old days.
“They are keen to engage now and have discussions and actually listen to producers’ thoughts about what we are going to do, and they are prepared to make the change.
“Whereas in the past it was more about arguing why they were going to do what they were going to do and there was very little opportunity for producers to influence that.
“That is how it should be, we can’t afford not to work together.”
Tasmanian cattle producer and Cattle Council of Australia director Paul Saward said that after a period of upheaval and uncertainty the organisation now appeared to be focused on the right areas.
“You got the sense that they were all looking over their shoulder and wondering who was going next, which would have been tough on morale, but they seem to have rebounded from that,” Mr Saward said.
“They certainly seem pretty focused and pretty positive about where they are going.”
Australian Beef Association director and executive officer David Byard also agreed there had been some positive progress made, but said there was still a long way to go.
He said there had still not been significant structural change made in the industry, and voiced concerns that the producer peak council, Cattle Council of Australia, continues to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in direct levy funding from MLA under a service agreement arrangement.
“I just think we have to be very careful window dressing, I can’t see any real structural change that has taken place,” Mr Byard said.
“When the people you are supposed to be auditing are paying you money, to my way of thinking you have got to be very careful when you do those sort of things.”
Mr Byard said he would also like to see more progress made on implementing the seven recommendations made from last year’s grassfed senate inquiry.
One change at this year’s AGM involved members of the MLA board selection committee standing to explain why each of the three board candidates had been selected by the committee from a field of 91 nominees.
In previous years the board selection committee members have not addressed the AGM, but this year Ian McCamley, CCA president Howard Smith and SCA president Jeff Murray each took the microphone respectively to explain why candidates Robert Fitzpatrick, Steven Chaur and Erin Gorter had been selected.
“I think that helped to dispel some of the myths around the selection committee and to help members understand why the selections are so important rather than simply picking someone out of the hat so to speak,” Mr McCamley said.