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Cattle Council Saga Ongoing

On Thursday 27th June, Cattle Council was in Canberra talking to the Federal Minister for Agriculture about the restructure of the grass-fed cattle producers’ Peak Body, the Cattle Council of Australia. 

This restructure has been going on for 18 months now, and apparently CCA are seeking support from the government.  So, CCA had a 5pm meeting with Minister Joe Ludwig, which was then followed by the leadership spill, and by 7.30pm the Minister had resigned.  Where to now? 

I find it amazing and disturbing that after 18 months there is still no clear direction on the restructure of how grass-fed producers’ are represented and their levies are managed. Ministerial support has not dealt with this effectively, and we think this lack of timely action clearly tells a story on the effectiveness of Cattle Council, and highlights the desperate need for a restructure to happen.

There is strong support for change, and many in the industry have been calling to have a better resourced and more accessible body to look after the interests of all producers. More particularly, to look after the enormous financial investment grass-fed producers make thru their levies…$56million in the last financial year!   Clearly due to lack of resources, and perhaps direction, Cattle Council has been a liability to grass-fed producers over many years.

Cattle Council says it oversees the annual expenditure of levies to the tune of $56 million.  In theory, this is what is supposed to happen, however Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) treat Cattle Council with complete disdain as they (MLA) are the ones who receive and manage the whole of the $56m of grass-fed levies, and then ‘give’ CCA some money with which to manage their office.  There is a complete lack of financial and intellectual capacity (due to tight funds) in the Cattle Council in its present state, and is nothing short of a disaster for producers.

Cattle Council, who is meant to be the Peak Council for grass-fed producers, has very little independence or indeed ability to represent producers.  It is dependent on MLA for its very survival, has only 5 employees to represent/manage our huge industry, whilst MLA has close to 300, and uses the grass-fed levy to do R&D etc. for the whole of industry.

 Many think that is okay, but the reality is that only the Sheepmeats Council and the grass-fed cattle producer have ALL their levies sent directly to MLA, while the Processors (AMPC), the Lot Feeders (ALFA) and the Live Exporters (ALEA) all receive their own levies and tell MLA how and where to use their money.     

 To make matters even worse, Cattle Council is now sub-contracting work from MLA.  Surely this is a conflict of interest and demonstrates poor governance.  It seems as though  MLA are quite happy to throw a few crumbs to Cattle Council to undertake work and keep them afloat, however this will  come at  a cost when Cattle Council, as a representative of  grass-fed producers, finds it has  an issue with the way  MLA has treated grass-fed producers, and then the Cattle Council is compromised.

Grass-fed cattle producers pay MLA $50-$60million annually, but according to Cattle Council the figure is more like $72 million!!  By MLA only giving Cattle Council a few crumbs, it compromises the very reason Cattle Council was formed in the first place.

 Cattle Council, in frustration, proposed a restructure at Longreach in November 2011.  The proposed new board was to have 25 people sitting around the table; however the largest majority of Board members will be state farming organisations (SFOs) officials, who will still control Cattle Council whilst using diminishing   producers’ membership funds to remain functional. At a time when organisations are moving away from large cumbersome sectorial boards, Cattle Council and the State Farming Organisations are pushing for the old cumbersome model, is this a case of jobs for the boys, let’s keep the status quo?

Proposed funding arrangements of this new Board for grass-fed producers would see $0.38c out of every $5 going to the Cattle Council, still effectively only giving them a part of the money raised by from producers’ levies, and still allowing the bulk of the money to still go to MLA.  So CCA still does not truly represent their producers. 

There would also be a ‘opt-out’ clause for levy payers who choose not to fund the new structure, meaning you tick a box that says ‘No’ to .38c going to CCA.   Surely it would be more democratic if producers had an opt-in clause, however nothing about the new structure is Democratic.

Cattle Council have had two attempts to find a structure that will work. The first was a writing group (set up in Nov 2012 after 9 months of consultation) who spent a significant amount of unremitted time and effort in developing something that may be workable. Once that report was submitted to the Cattle Council board, they a wasted no time in putting a red line through the lines of new innovation and new thinking, which had been based on a review conducted within industry asking what they wanted.  

In March 2013, another committee was established (without any of the first writing group included), which was chaired by, and run by,  actual Cattle Council veterans who made recommendations,  only to have those also knocked on the head by board of Cattle Council,  which of course is run by state farming organisations. It amazes me that many of the SFOs have not, can’t, or won’t, pay their annual $25000 subscriptions for years towards Cattle Council, thus leaving CCA even more stranded for funds to operate.  Surely this is wrong, and those who don’t pay should not have their feet under the desk, or have any say in policy or management; and should not hold the whole of industry to ransom.  They are wanting to maintain their same level of control without paying their dues.

 And by constantly telling the writing committees how they want the new board designed, they obviously want to remain the same structure with just a new way of raising increased income.     

 Confusion and lack of direction is so great, some members of Cattle Council say that in the end it may come down to a ballot, and then producers can decide which way they want to go!!

I have said before, we should be following the model of AWI which keeps a database of all their growers, and sends their calculated (on sales for that year) vote to every levy payer. Surely it is critical that we have a database where all cattle levy payers can be identified and presented with their rightful number of votes before any votes are needed to be used. Apparently the beef industry cannot access their records of PICs, LPAs, saleyard sheets, and kill sheets to even know how many producers there are in Australia, let alone give them their rightful votes, unlike other primary industries!!  The $5 levy is collected by Agents, processors, saleyards and others, and one wonders how the government or whoever can conduct an audit to see if all these levies are passed on.

Jed Matz CEO of Cattle Council said it was up to the industry to identify the most appropriate structure. From where I sit, people already have sacrificed time and effort to try and find the most appropriate (and more transparent and democratic) structure, however as  previously demonstrated, the Cattle Council have insisted on having the final say, and have proven to be nay-sayers.

The Australian Beef Association for its part feels that we should identify all levy payers who could then elect a board to represent them. This producer funded organisation would then take control of the $56million to $70 million of producer funds. In this model MLA could become as a service provider it is supposed to be to this new organisation.

It seems to me that people have forgotten that MLA is a service provider only, and that producers should be telling the MLA what to do. As it stands now MLA spent our funds as they see fit, despite complaints from producers.

Processors are a great example. As managers of their own $9m worth of levies, they tell the MLA where and how MLA will spend processors’ money. This is in direct contrast to the producers who have no say what so ever

Following the recent failure of the 2nd writing of the restructure, and numerous other concerns, the Australian Beef Association will be conducting a forum at the Roma Showgrounds on July 10th, starting at 9:30 AM, and finishing about 1:30 PM.   The ABA will be putting forward its ideas for this very necessary change to the way we producers do business.

Cattle Council’s   Jed Matz and Andrew Ogilvie have agreed to attend and will present the case for CCA’s modelling. 

LNP’s John Cobb has been invited, and when we know who is the new Primary Industries Minister, they will also be asked to attend.

This is short notice we know, but the last 15months of internal meetings has come to nothing, and producers should be made aware of ‘where to next’.  This is their industry, their money, their Peak Council, and their representation that seems to be in disarray, and producers need to start asking questions and requiring effective, representational results.

So, ABA wants to give you all the information, give you a forum to hear the facts, and perhaps then we can collectively make something happen for ourselves.   

The whole forum is also an opportunity for producers to have a say and ask questions. Though we may not agree with what some speakers will say, we will make sure that everybody is treated with respect.   

This is your opportunity to have a say into the future of our great industry.  Producers can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution

 We would like to run an on-time and organised meeting, with efficient catering, so ask that you tell us if you are coming.  Below is a list of contacts for your easy reference.

 Catering will be available immediately after the Forum, to allow you to stay in one spot and access lunch and drinks, and discuss the day.  This is why we ask for notification of attendance.   

 We hope that we you on July 10th at 9.30am.  

It’s all about you and your business!!

Author: David Byard

Mobile: 0409 426 7810

email: ausbeef@bigpond.com

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