THE Cattle Council of Australia, after much soul searching, has finally announced its plan to restructure the organisation.
Part of the restructure will see four independent producers being able to nominate for the council’s board. This has been done to allow people other than state farming organisations (SFOs) to be represented.
However the devil is in the detail.
Under the proposed structure SFOs will be guaranteed eight seats. If 200 producers pay to become a member of the Cattle Council then two seats will be made available for independent producers. If 500 producers join then another two can stand.
The proposed voting rights are interesting. An independent director will get one vote but a representative of a SFO may get multiple votes.
Under the proposed rules there is nothing to stop SFOs directly putting a member up for election. Clearly if this did happen by a SFO with a large membership base, a independent candidate would stand little chance of obtaining a seat on the board.
Cattle Council talks about their success in restructuring their financial position, but they admit their success in keeping financial is due to getting indirect access to the $5 levy we, the producers, pay to Meat and Livestock Australia for every sales transaction.
The Cattle Council’s core funding comes from SFOs membership fees.
Everyone knows that money is tight, and some SFOs are not contributing financially, but still sit at the table, and is likely that more SFOs will simply drop off owing to the fact they can’t afford to pay their subscriptions. This situation may get much worse as time goes on.
The Cattle Council talks of receiving or negotiating indirect access to the transaction levy that is paid to MLA and there is talk of new service agreements, with income from these agreements bringing in about $800,000. Remember this is our levys.
The governance of this relationship is open to question.
To me this is like the lower house of Parliament giving the Senate enough money to keep it running so long as it passes all the legislation the lower house agrees upon.
It would seem these arrangements being spoken about will leave the Cattle Council with no autonomy, and will be the servant of MLA and SFOs.
The Cattle Council says it will be $500,000 to $700,000 better off in terms of resources at its disposal through indirect funding, which has lifted the financial pressure of the organisation.
But questions are being raised about the levy situation and the weakening of the council’s position as a peak body representing producers.
When one compares how well resourced other peak agricultural organisations are and the influence they wield, it makes Cattle Council look weak.
We are told all these changes are leading to a more democratic Cattle Council.
The fact is council represents only 15,000 people (how many are croppers, wool lamb producers) out of 120,000 commercial producers who pay $56 million into MLA via the statutory levy.
With the present structure and propose structure the council may represent at best 5 to 7 per cent of cattle producers. Democracy at its best _ you decide.
Whilst restructuring talks go on and there is a focus on the organisation and the needs of the unrepresentative present membership, key issues that affect red meat producers will continue to fester.
It is clear producers need a clear plan and strong a strong representative voice.
The fact is nobody has any idea of how many producers pay the transaction levy (in direct contrast to AWI whereas levies attract a vote ) and until we can give all levy payers a vote then MLA will continue to spend huge amounts on processors, retailers and supermarkets whose interests may clash with grass fed producers interests.
Those in a position to make change so red meat producers can have equitable national representation need to make the changes now.
The Cattle council has had the opportunity but it seems clear they have squandered the opportunity to look after themselves, perhaps the new Minister for Agriculture can help facilitate change.