BARNABY KICKS A GOAL
THE GRASS-FED CATTLE LEVY SENATE INQUIRY
There was nothing ‘hollow’ about Barnaby Joyce’s public call for the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee to hold an inquiry into the grass-fed cattle levy structures and systems. Barnaby’s call for an inquiry was timely and has hit a chord with grass-fed cattle producers across Australia.
The Avalanche of Submissions
At the time that the first Senate committee hearings into the grass-fed cattle levy structures and systems were held last Friday 183 submissions, including 50 Concerned Cattle Producers (CCP) electronic questionnaire submissions, had been posted on the Senate committee website. The Senate committee has also received an additional 67 Andy Rea pro forma submissions and Huntblog understands from the committee Secretariat that an additional 218 CCP electronic questionnaire submissions have been received that have not been posted and there are still another 2 submissions, including the AMPG/CCP submission, that have been lodged that are yet to be posted on the committee website.
So it appears that the final number of submissions lodged into the current Senate inquiry into grass-fed cattle levy structures and systems will be around 470, compared to the 29 submissions received at the last Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee inquiry into the Australian meat industry consultative structures in 2002.
All the published submissions to the grass-fed cattle levy inquiry can be viewed at www.cattlelevysenateinquiryinformation.com
The Industry Wide Message
The overwhelming message delivered by the submissions lodged in relation to the grass-fed cattle levy systems and structures inquiry and the evidence given on the first hearing day of that inquiry was a message of:
· dissatisfaction with the current grass-fed cattle levy systems and structures, and
· consensus that those structures and systems need to be changed in order to meet the collective needs of the industry.
Calls for change to the current grass-fed cattle levy structures and systems have come from all sectors and factions of the cattle industry including:
Ø the Red Meat Advisory Council (RMAC), who represent all sectors of the red meat industry, the Cattle Council of Australia (CCA), Agforce, NSW Farmers, the Australian Beef Association (ABA), the Richmond River Beef Association and the Australian Registered Cattle Breeders Association , as well as
Ø the overwhelming majority of submissions lodged by grass root cattle producers from the top end of the Northern Territory and northern Queensland to southern Tasmania.
The RMAC submission No. 165 to the inquiry notes the dramatic physical, social and economic and environmental changes since the current structures and systems were initiated in the 1997/98 restructure and notes the need for the red meat industry entities to adapt accordingly.
The Organisational Submissions
The RMAC submission notes:
“in the context of the changes and challenges outlined it would be very rare that any representative (or corporate) structure that was designed nearly 20 years ago – in the absence of some level of reform – continues to serve its customers with optimal efficiency.”
RMAC listed the following solutions as being worthy of consideration:
1-a direct membership structure with a clear line of sight between representative organisations and their members
2 -targeted systematic focus in operations focusing on the highest priority red sector issues which would be likely to yield quicker results and/or more money for levy payers
3- a sustainable funding base for industry bodies to maintain sufficient capacity to deal with a wide ranging portfolio of responsibilities that has left little option but to deliver some of these activities via levy funded service agreements.
The CCA submission No. 142 refers to the failing SFO model and the consequent inadequacy of resources for the CCA to deliver on its obligations under the red meat industry MoU.
The CCA submission states that it is clear to the “Cattle Council of Australia and other levy industry stakeholders that national producer’s representation requires significant reform.”
CCA consequently called for reform of the current grass-fed cattle levies structures and systems to provide CCA with a portion of the cattle transaction levy so that it can undertake strategic planning, strategic policy development and industry managed functions on behalf of beef producers.
Agforce submission 151 supports those CCA reform proposals to give CCA the opportunity to access a portion of the levies and notes that there are “significant systemic issues with various organisations across the red meat industry that need addressing”
Agforce state that these systemic issues include but are not limited to:
- MLA’s organisational culture noting that “concerns raised with MLA management on strategic and operational issues can be met with resistance and are often deflected with the argument of corporate responsibilities”
- AusMeat structure governance and technical issues
- MLA’s governance and organisational reform and the MLA constitutional amendments to allow levy payers a simpler process to bring resolutions before the board, and
- a more balanced MLA board selection committee process
NSW Farmers submission 168 recommended amongst other things that:
- the MLA Constitution be amended to allow/ensure that the MLA selection committee submitted more candidates than needed to fill the vacant positions on the MLA board for levy paying member vote at the MLA AGM
- an investigation is carried out into the possibility of introducing a reduced levy rate for lower value cattle.
NSW Farmers did not however agree with the Cattle Council of Australia call for access to part of the cattle transaction levy to fund its advocacy functions.
As Sarina Locke states in the attached ABC Rural article, the Federal Department of Agriculture agreed with the Senator’s comment on day one of the inquiry that cattle producers wanted greater transparency from Meat and Livestock stating that:
“it’s not just growers saying that, it’s MLA as well. Its own review (in 2010) report said they needed to improve transparency and consultation.”
The Australian Registered Cattle Breeders Association (ARCBA) submission was one of the most supportive submissions in favour of the current grass-fed cattle levies structures and systems, but even the ACBA contended that if the current structure was to be effective CCA needed to further reform its constitution to allow for all CCA board positions to be directly elected by cattle producers in order to ensure the requisite degree of connection between CCA board members and grass roots producers.
The Australian Beef Association submission was consistent with their long held position on the need to reform the current grass-fed cattle levy structures and systems calling for all grass-fed cattle levies to be paid to a Grass-Fed Cattle Corporation with a board directly elected by grass-fed levy payers who could properly control the expenditure and investment of grass-fed cattle producers levies.
The Grass Roots Cattle Producer Message in a Nutshell
The overwhelming majority of individual grass roots cattle producer submissions expressed dissatisfaction with the current grass-fed cattle levy structures and systems and proposed some sort of change to ensure more direct relationships between grass roots levy payers and elected board members. There was also an overwhelming call for separate producer and processor levy paying corporations and an industry wide consensus that the Cattle Council of Australia was strapped for cash and had insufficient funding to meet its wide ranging portfolio of responsibilities under the current structures.
The Need for Change
Consequently the submissions and evidence given to the Senate inquiry thus far make it clear that all factions in the grass-fed cattle industry believe that the current grass-fed cattle levy structures and systems are not meeting all the collective needs of the grass-fed cattle industry and that changes to those structures and systems need to be made.
Barnaby’s call for the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee to inquire into the grass-fed cattle levies structures and systems was therefore timely and has received a positive response from cattle producers. There is consensus for change and reform across all sectors of the grass-fed cattle industry and essentially the only real debate is about the form that those changes and reform should take.
Beef Central’s Misplaced Take On the ‘Hollow’ Opening To Day One of the Inquiry
James Nason’s literary allusions to the 1925 T. S. Eliot poem ‘The Hollow Men’ in his attached 10 March 2014 Beef Central article on the start of the Senate inquiry into grass-fed beef levies seem therefore to be somewhat misplaced. James Nason turns T S Eliot’s poem about the Versailles Peace Treaty at the end of World War I on its head to suggest that the Senate inquiry into grass-fed cattle levy structures and systems got underway last Friday “with more of a whimper that a bang.”
T.S. Eliot’s poem ‘The Hollow Men’:
o starts with a reference to the death of Kurtz the central character in Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘The Heart of Darkness’ which was the basis of the blood and guts 1979 film ‘Apocalypse Now’ about the Vietnam war produced by Francis Ford Coppola, and
o Eliot’s poem then refers to the hollow men, the stuffed men, listening together, whispering together (which are sentiments that many downtrodden cattle producers could relate to), and
o goes on to explores the hollow men’s, stuffed men’s aspirations of finding ‘deaths dream kingdom’ which was a concept of hope immortalised in Dante’s epic comedy ‘Paradiso'
o before concluding with the now famous disillusioned observation about the betrayal of the Versailles Treaty “This is the way the world ends-Not with a bang but a whimper”
The Oxford dictionary defines whimper as making feeble questions or frightening sounds, cry and whine softly and Google dictionary defines whimper as making a series of feeble sounds and expressions of fear, pain, and discontent or feeble and undignified complaints.
Those submissions to the Senate inquiry, which have been posted on the Senate committee website (which can be read at www.cattlelevysenateinquiryinformation.com), were forthright and frank in their almost universal call for change to our grass-fed cattle levy structures and systems.
The evidence given last Friday to the Senate Committee by the CCA President Andrew Ogilvie, Vice President Peter Hall, Director Mark Harvey – Sutton and CEO Jed Matz, the Chairman of RMAC Ross Keane and RMAC CEO Angus Hobson, MLA Chair Michelle Allan, MLA Director George Scott and the other staff from MLA, AMPC Executive Chairman Stephen Kelly and AMPC CEO David Lind, the men and women from ABA, Malcolm Foster from ARCBA, Dr Brian Creedy from the Richmond River Beef Producers Association and that old warhorse, John Carter all of which can be viewed online at http://parlview.aph.gov.au/mediaPlayer.php?videoID=220429 (Part 1) and http://parlview.aph.gov.au/mediaPlayer.php?videoID=220465 (Part 2) did express fear, pain and discontent about the current state of the beef cattle producer industry, but I didn’t hear much whining or crying.
Nor do I think that the comments and questions by the good Senators Sterle, Heffernan, McDonald, O’Sullivan, Gallacher, Whish- Wilton, Siewert, Back-et al were feeble or undignified- but better described I think as searching ,investigative and understanding.
The Mood for Change
Beef Central may have turned T.S Eliot’s 1925 poem on its head by referring to the grass-fed cattle levy inquiry starting with a whimper rather than a bang but from Huntblog’s perspective, without pre-empting the outcome of the Senate inquiry, it would appear from the evidence given to the inquiry thus far, that some sort of change and reform of the current grass-fed cattle levy structures and systems is now inevitable.
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce must be given credit for reading the mood of the cattle producing industry and making the Senate Committee Inquiry call that he did.
The real challenge for Barnaby and the grass-fed cattle industry in particular and the red meat industry generally will be to put a process in place that ensures that the reform outcomes necessary to meet the ongoing collective needs of cattle producers are achieved.
A Brighter Future
Huntblog remains confident of a positive outcome from the Senate Inquiry into the grass-fed cattle levy structures and systems and, by assuming the same literary licence as that adopted by Beef Central and also turning the end of T.S. Eliot’s poem on its head, predicts that the grass-fed cattle levy Senate Inquiry, unlike the Treaty of Versailles, will end not with a whimper, but rather with a bang that delivers the necessary structural reforms for grass-fed cattle levy payers and that Barnaby Joyce will be recognised as having kicked a much needed goal for Australia’s grass-fed cattle producers.