David Palmer reflects on 35 years of Cattle Council history

James Nason, 29/08/2014
Former CCA executive director David Palmer and shadow agriculture minster Joel Fitzbiggon cut Cattle Council's 35th anniversary cake in Canberra on Wednesday night.

Former CCA executive director David Palmer and shadow agriculture minster Joel Fitzbiggon cut Cattle Council’s 35th anniversary cake in Canberra on Wednesday night.

Most of its work has occurred behind the scenes, unseen, unheralded and often unrecognised.

But despite often lacking visibility, the benefits brought to Australian grassfed cattle producers by the work of the Cattle Council of Australia over the past 35 years are clearly visible today.

This was the message of former Cattle Council of Australia executive director and former Meat & Livestock Australia managing director David Palmer at the CCA’s 35th anniversary dinner in Canberra on Wednesday night.

Mr Palmer’s 20 minute reflection on Cattle Council’s past 35 years focused on four particular examples of how work by the peak industry council, particularly in areas relating to improved export market access, were now paying significant dividends for all cattle producers across Australia today.

While the Australian domestic market remains the Australian cattle industry’s largest and most important market, work by industry leaders to develop export markets had stood Australia’s cattle industry in enormously good stead compared to other agricultural industries that remained wholly dependent on the export market, Mr Palmer said.

The four examples he highlighted were:

Hormonal Growth Promotants and EU access: In the 1980s CCA was “front and centre of the debate” around the use of Hormonal Growth Promotants, and successfully lobbied for the introduction of detection markers in HGP implants which enabled the continued use of the scientifically-proven production tool and the protection of important markets.

“At that stage the European market was worth less than $30 million per annum,” Mr Palmer explained.

“The discussion at the time was, ‘well lets not bother with the European market, at just $30m it is not worth the effort.

“But quite rightly the council was of the view that the European market like any market was absolutely worthwhile and must be retained .

“To forgo the European market would also send an appalling message to our other sophisticated markets which at that time were starting to be Japan and possibly Korea.

So the council with the work of other organisations fought for the retention of HGPs, the introduction of a market and the continuation of the European market.

“Today that market is worth around $250m.”

US Meat Import Law: Mr Palmer said that during the 1980s and 1990s the Cattle Council fought “tooth and nail” for the repeal of the US meat import law and the prohibitive system of tariffs it involved.

The US Meat Import Law involved a bizarre counter cyclical formula that would trigger tariffs on imported  products from time to time, and Australia constantly found itself falling foul of the law.

“CCA attended routinely meetings with out counterparts in the US led by Wally Peart,” Mr Palmer said.

“The first time I went over there was with Wally and the arguments were fierce and torrid around the applications and the effects of the US meat import law.

“Through the works of this council and the other advisors through the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, as it was then, and of course through DFAT and DPIE, the meat import law was repealed in the 1995 GATT round.

“Through the FTA agreement signed with the US in 2005, Australia now has the world’s largest quota into the US, completely unimpeded by tonnage and inbound duty, which was also appealed in the FTA, and today the US market for beef is worth $1.4b.”

Japanese and Korean market liberalisation: Japan commenced the liberalisation of its beef markets from 1988 to 1991. Prior to 1988 Australian export tonnage to Japan totaled less than 100,000t.  Today it has more than trebled in tonnage and is now worth $1.5b per annum to the Australian market.

A condition of Korea winning the Olympic games in 1988 was that they had to re-open their beef market. Prior to that time Australia’s beef trade into the market was virtually nil. Today Australia exports approximately 150,000t worth nearly $900 million to Korea.

“And again it was the work of Cattle Council, AMLC and other institutions and Government agencies that way back then saw some value and opportunity in these markets and today’s outcome is pretty valuable one,” Mr Palmer said.

“The industry has a presence in Seoul, through AMLC and now MLA, with the strong support of CCA through that time, and now also has a strong presence in Tokyo and other regions including the United States.”

BTEC Campaign: The Brucellosis and Tuberculosis eradication program from the 1970s to 1990s was by any measure the single largest endemic disease eradication program that had been undertaken anywhere in the world, Mr Palmer said. By his own best estimates something like $1600 million was spent over 25 years eradicated Brucellosis and Tuberculosis from the Australian cattle herd. The success of the program is reflected in the fact that a detection of Brucellosis or TB has not been found in Australia now for more than 20 years.

“It was an enormous achievement back then and against all the odds… John Stewart was one of the greatest ambassadors of Cattle Council, he was our BTEC person and he argued and gouged and fought for all sorts of measures to ensure this program got done and got finished and completed.

“I think that is another great tribute to what the council achieved then, today is an enormous achievement and gives us access into virtually every market anywhere in the world.”

Industry cannot afford to reduce lobbying efforts

Mr Palmer said it was critically important for producers to continue to fund and support industry advocacy efforts through groups like Cattle Council.

“In my view if the industry doesn’t have a presence, in this town (Canberra) in particular, then you will be left behind.

“There is an old saying, you are either at the table or on the menu, and absolutely the case applies when you are lobbying for your pursuits.

“The advocacy role, the lobby role of the Cattle Council, it usually goes unheralded and unremarked, but the work that was done back in the 80s and 90s, by the people we have talked about, Wally Peart, John Wyld and others who aren’t here, the benefits today is now what is being really measured.

“If the industry is not banging away hard on what they want then the DFATs of this world will go elsewhere and will look to those industries who have got an argument that they want to put in.”

No problem with CCA-MLA service agreements

The former CCA executive director and MLA managing director also weighed into the debate about whether CCA should accept direct levy funding from the service organisation MLA. CCA’s reliance upon MLA for funding in return for providing producer consultation services has generated criticism that the arrangement compromises the master-servant relationship between CCA and MLA and CCA’s ability to independently oversee how MLA spends grassfed levy dollars.

Mr Palmer said he saw no problem with such an arrangement.

During his years as executive director CCA operated on an annual budget of around $1m (it is currently $1.3m), about 40pc of which came from the statutory bodies AMLC and the Meat Research Corporation.

“I know the arguments today that you might feel compromised,” Mr Palmer told the CCA dinner. “Let me assure you, I don’t know that I can recall anyone at Cattle Council or the AMLC or the MRC feeling either compromised or in some position of power or authority over the organisation.

“In fact again John Stewart was a most strident ambassador for the Central and Northern Queensland Cattle R&D program, and I can assure you that no one at the MRC ever felt in some stand over position in respect to John Stewart.

“So the idea of public resources helping the advocacy and mounting the argument from the specialist group of producers, the Cattle Council, was not in dispute in my time at least.”



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  1. John Michelmore, 29/08/2014

    I’m sorry I can’t agree. I have friend whom went thru the BTEC eradication program and was paid a small proportion of what his stock were really worth. He and his family still suffer the effects of this “program” today.
    While it might have achieved eradication the program was poorly designed and as usual the cattle producers carried most of the cost.
    Exactly the same as today, nothing has changed and levies (taxes) are still paid without democratic representation.
    The problem where Cattle Council attempts to be an advocacy group and also a prescribed industry body under the direct control of the Minister continues. Until they are either and advocacy group, or part of government, the poor livestock grower acceptance of the CCA mixed roles will continue to fester.

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