For several years it has been recognised that the Cattle Council of Australia no longer has the financial resources it needs to effectively represent the interests of gassfed cattle producers at national level.
Many have pointed to the roughly $56 million in funds generated annually from compulsory cattle transaction levies as an obvious source of potential funding for the council going forward.
However, there are different interpretations as to whether existing legislation technically allows an industry policy setting and advocacy organisation to access funds generated from compulsory levies.
Ultimately it will be up to the Federal Government to decide if Cattle Council of Australia should be able to access funds generated from cattle levies in future.
Under the previous Labor Government there was little certainty on the issue. Then agriculture minister Joe Ludwig declined to publicly clarify the Government's position on the issue when asked. However advice passed on to industry representatives behind-closed-doors tended to be conflicting according to the varying accounts of different delegations that met with Mr Ludwig.
For example the Cattle Council of Australia says its advice from the former Labor Government was that advocacy bodies could not access funds generated by levies, because transaction levies were collected under national taxation law, and as such were regarded as ‘Government’ money and not producer-owned or industry-owned money. Taxation law would have to change for an advocacy group to be given access to compulsorily-acquired funds, and that in turn would require a significant shift from prevailing policy.
On the other hand the Australian Beef Association and others maintain that they were told by Mr Ludwig that, provided levy proceeds were not used to directly fund political candidates or political parties, funds generated from compulsory levies could be used by industry representative organisations such as Cattle Council. They offered the fact that Australian Pork Limited, an industry policy setting and advocacy body, is currently funded by statutory levies, as evidence.
Cattle Council says it would be happy to receive direct funding from the levy, while giving producers who don't want their levy payments to go toward funding national representation and policy setting activities the choice to "opt-out".
The key quesiton now is where the Abbott Government stands on the issue.
In response to that question from Beef Central yesterday, agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce said he will be guided by what the forthcoming Senate Inquiry into industry structures and levies in the grassfed cattle industry recommends.
Mr Joyce said he did not have a position on the issue of whether Cattle Council should receive access to levy funds and would rely on the outcomes of the inquiry to provide more information.
After calling for the senate to conduct an inquiry into industry structures and levies, the Senate confirmed on December 12 that the inquiry will commence, with a reporting date of March 28, 2014.
Mr Joyce said the inquiry provided the industry with a chance to “lance the boil” of industry infighting once and for all.
“Everybody is seeing a thief in the woodpile on this one and I wish they would stop,” he told Beef Central.
“It is quite simply this – I have one group of people come in and tell me that the other group of people are terrible and the other group of people tell me that the first group are terrible, and it goes round and round in circles, with everybody is talking behind everybody else’s back
“So let’s act like adults, let’s lance this boil.
“Say what you’re going to say, put it on the record, give the other person the capacity to read it, and they then can reply in kind.
“And they themselves will put what their views are on the record, and then conversations that are happening in quiet will happen in public.
“And you’ll have one day to make sense and it will be completely at arm’s length.”
Mr Joyce said that now was the time for honesty.
“I am hoping that people realise that ,say what you like, but the other person gets to reply, it’s on the record, but if it is not correct it is a contempt of the senate, (and) it is punishable by two years in jail.”
The senate inquiry will be chaired by Labor Senator for Western Australia Glenn Sterle.
Submissions must be received by January 30, 2014.
To lodge submissions or for further information on the inquiry click here