Leaked documents concerning the restructure of Cattle Council have attracted much press in the last few days. The media enjoys calling the ABA a ‘maverick’ group; however several directors from ABA have been part of the committee invited to look into the restructure of Cattle Council.
Cattle Council have established two review panels within the 15 months of considering the restructure, and both times ABA directors have contributed enormous amount of time and effort into these committees. Both times, the CCA itself did not accept the recommendations of these review panels, demanding changes that made the new CCA almost a replica of its failed self.
The common link with both reviews/committees is that they were to make recommendations to the present CCA based on what producers wanted, and saw as the issues for the future. CCA, currently run by un-financial and divisive state farming organisations, will make the final decision on the restructure of themselves and are arguing over who will have the most representation. It is believed that one of those SFOs leaked the new committee’s draft, despite being told to wait for agreement from everyone involved. Minister Ludwig wants a united front on the restructure before he agrees to allow it to go ahead, and he is being shown disharmony by the very people who asked for the change.
ABA points out that CCA board have continually made changes to both committees’ submissions, which smacks of them wanting no change but permission to collect more money, and which the ABA feels
may not be in the best interest of levy payers. ABA further points out that despite intense pressure, they abided by the instructions to not release any information until it was bedded down. It is not the so-called mavericks who are working against this, it is the organisation itself.
Furthermore there seems to be confusion in the Cattle Council about their statements. They claim to have wide spread support for this restructure, and in the next statement they express disappointed that the report has been leaked. How can you get industry support when the document has been kept under wraps until somebody within their own organisation leaks it?
CCA then went to press saying it will not be making any comments until it has the opportunity to discuss with shareholders. Hardly widespread support!
ABA, given a copy of the structure and asked to treat it as a confidential, did just that. Now the information has been leaked the ABA feels obliged to put out in the public what they see as the problems because of restrictions constantly imposed on the process, and because democracy and ownership are still not pillars of this new producer peak council.
Not all the information currently in the press is correct. Many observations made are done without the understanding of how hard the restructure group worked to try to satisfy or represent everyone….in an industry so divided by personal and state issues that everyone seems to have forgotten that this is a National Beef industry producing a large national income and employing a large number of people.
In the current proposed structure the SFO’s will pay $275000 for their 11 seats. For the last 4 or so years, several of the SFOs have been unable to pay their membership fees of $25,000, leaving CCA struggling financially, so will they in the future? These are the very people who want to maintain all the control in the organisation.
The proposed 8 independent board members, voted on by the levy paying producers, will ‘pay’ $3m plus for their seats (loosely calculated as .38c of the levy by 8million of slaughtered head). The previous (2nd May version) structure at least had equality of 8 SFOs and 8 Independents on the Board, but that was not accepted by the current board of CCA, or the SFOs.
The corporates, if they choose to, will pay $25,000 each for a seat, limited to six seats available, and those corporates must be accepted by 75% of the Board. If not all those seats are taken up, it was thought that the SFOs who are financial could buy extra seats, ensuring income for CCA. Associates may also buy a membership at $2000 which allows them seats on sub-committees of this new structure.
With financial logic like this one it is left in little doubt as to why the producer sector of the beef industry is nearly broke. ABA’s Linda Hewitt has, from the start, begged these committees to require that the new CCA receives the whole of the grass-fed levy of approx $56m a year, and that MLA earn its ‘service company’ logo by being paid for all the services it provides to our industry, as happens with the other Peak Councils who receive and control their own levy portion.
The grass-fed producers and the sheep meat producers are the only two organisations whose total levies go straight to MLA, with MLA deciding who will sit on their Board, how the monies will be spent, and what will the R&D projects be, with NO consultation to the people who actually pay for them. It’s a case of give the paid employee the cheque book and see if he will consider giving you back your money, or managing it wisely!!
Linda Hewitt constantly pushed that the total $56m needs to be in the hands of the producers’ Peak Council because having to ‘ask’ for a portion of their own money will always put them on the back foot. In the future, today’s amount of money will again not be enough to keep CCA functioning, with MLA unwilling to allow more funds (as has happened over the past several years) and the producers will be on the back foot once again, with a similar torturous process like this one being carried out again.
This question then leads to the second important issue of having a Peak Council of independently selected and voted producers. It has been constantly stated that producers are incapable of managing their beef industry, which ABA says is insulting and unfounded prejudice against a sector of the industry. ABA has always demanded an independent, transparent, and answerable Board for producers. Now is the opportunity to get that into place.
After careful consideration the ABA board has decided it cannot support the restructure in the form that CCA board are pushing for.
For its part the ABA is in favour of change, and that change must be democratic and transparent to ensure levy payers get a fair representation. Therefore, these are the changes ABA wishes to see on behalf of producers.
- A register of all levy payers so the industry itself knows who is entitled to vote before any election (similar to AWI who automatically sends voting rights to growers based on their wool clip for that year). This issue of privacy is constantly thrown up here, but the reality is that there is no register of who pays what in levies to the DAFF, and producers must demand that that situation is changed.
- One vote-one man, similar to our political system or incorporate a weighted voting register.
- All grass-fed levies collected must be managed by the new cattle board (at present $56 million)
- This board could then decide the amount of the levy that producers would pay
- Grass fed producers would be only people eligible to vote for their Board members, and who should be on the Board. Having a ‘skills based board’ is not a clever use of a seat, whereas skilled people in specific areas should be invited to consult or advice that Board.
- The Board would decide whether R&D marketing is done in-house or send to a service provider like MLA.
- Board members would have to face regular elections and be answerable to producers.
- No reserved seats for state farming organisations; however the SFOs may stand candidates for election, which might then ensure that SFOs select the correct person to represent the beef industry
These points should be seen as a draft and such to be manoeuvred by a new beef board to establish something that is very workable for and by the grass-fed beef industry.
David Byard & Linda Hewitt