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Industry-Wide Consultation…..or so they say

The most overused and ‘fly under the radar’ words in the grassfed cattle industry.

If a question is asked of any of the representative groups within the cattle industry by media, or government agencies or departments,  about whether  participants in the industry have been canvassed, or asked for their opinion; the answer is that ‘wide industry consultation’ has been undertaken!

Ask grassfed cattle producers  –   how often they have offered an opinion that has been followed thru by their industry boards;  been asked by any cattle Board what they think;  felt they have any power through their voting rights;  or felt empowered by influencing a decision in the industry?

Those who insist that they conduct ‘industry-wide consultations’ include MLA, Cattle Council of Aust,  Red Meat Advisory Council, the State Farm Organisations, to name a few.

This continued loose use of this phrase gives our governments, our politicians, our reading public, and indeed our own beef producers  the inference that someone in the grassfed cattle industry has been asked for their opinion;  that someone has actually been listened to.  The inference is that producers are being consulted.

Not true.

Well, to be honest, there was one consultative process in which quite a few producers were able to state how they wanted the industry to be managed, how their industry Board was to be selected and elected, how they wanted the levies to be used, how they wanted transparency and accountability of those levies, (and all the other things the ABA have been calling for!)……….and that was the review done for the intended restructure of Cattle Council.

This review was referred to during all the initial restructure meetings between ‘stakeholders’ – ABA being one of the attendees.

However, once it came to the actual design of this new restructure by a selected Writing Group, which included Tony McCormack of Stanbroke;   Athol Economou  – Victorian producer/ editor of meat industry magazines/Director of ABA;  Cameron McIntyre, Qld producer;  and John Wyld – ex President of CCA;  the plan flew out the window.

McCormack, Economou and McIntyre insisted on designing a democratic Board with all the facets producers’ wanted,  while Wyld attended the first meeting only and would not come back or submit a plan because he did not like the direction the Group was taking.

At their own cost and expense, with a lot of time put in, these three people designed several democratic options to be presented back to the ‘stakeholder’ reps (which included ABA).  An option called ‘Lite C’ was selected and presented to CCA.

It did not make it off the drawing board.

The Writing Group was ignored and sidestepped, and the CCA set up a new group with John Wyld as Chairman, and included Linda Hewitt. At every subsequent meeting of this group, their notes were sent back to them with lines thru their policies and options, and red coloured instructions as to how CCA wanted the new Board to look – which was no different to the old CCA Board – still run by the SFOs, but just with more money paid to them from the levies, 2 ‘outside’ people allowed onto the board (their token to democracy);   no wish for control over the grassfed levy;  and corporates and producers who could buy a membership (so as to increase the CCAs income).

That is where an expensive (and effectively written)  ‘industry wide consultation’ process ended up.  It was the Oct 2012 Inovact review by Brian Ramsey.  Ramsey did a great job.  Producers had a good reference point there.  CCA whitewashed it.

But, back to the ‘industry wide consultation’.  ABA recalls that those carrying out ‘wide industry consultation’ did not register in 2004 the overwhelming dissatisfaction of producers over NLIS (there was a loud and clear cry about that one),  concerns about LPAs – (concerns voiced but ignored);  outcry about our worrying involvement with the World WildLife Fund.   That’s because ‘industry wide consultation’ fails miserably every  time – mainly because it does not really exist!

The Senate Standing Committee’s Inquiry into ‘the collection and disbursement of the grasssfed levy’  held its first Hearing on Friday 7th  March. The Senate is carrying out a real ‘industry wide consultation’.  This time there really are some hard questions of our industry representatives, and  ABA feels this is one time when producers’ concerns are actually being listened to and noted.

The Senators ‘get it’.

Read the Hansard Report of the day’s meeting (sent around on Tictaks) and note the comments and questions by the Senators.  They understood that the grassfed cattle producer is paying the bulk of the levies and getting the least of the pie; the least of the return on investment.  They get it!

A frustrating and insightful day.  The frustration came from sitting there listening to the Industry Bodies give their submissions;  and that they had to take on noticenumerous questions from the Senators, as they seemed rather unsure of some of the most basic of information about their own industry, and their own finances!!

To ‘Take on Notice’ is to agree to return to the Senators the facts and figures, or notes, that concern a particular question.  ABA had to take on notice one question….It was “ Who gets what share of the retail and export dollar?”

It appears neither MLA nor CCA had done any modelling, whereas in contrast,  the ABA has even developed its own calculator for the producers’ and the retailers’ share of domestic meat sales.

The insightful part was watching the Senators really commit to understanding the problems, and probing right into the industry and its structures;  their clarifying of facts and figures;  the questions asked;  and their comments about the grassfed industry seeming to be paying the most but receiving the least.

One cannot pre-empt this Senate Inquiry, nor be presumptuous or assume anything. We must wait for the report that will follow these meetings.  But grassfed cattle producers can take heart that at least a tough, analytical look is being taken at the whole structure under which they have to function.

MLA’s CEO, Michelle Allen, stated that “It is important to note that MLA is not an Industry representative body, nor do we lobby government, nor do we set livestock prices, or regulate industry!!!!!”   So, please, somebody explain – what LPA is;   – what NLIS is (that is regulated by the State’s DPIs);   – where do the rules governing NVDs and LPAs come from?;   – who instigated them and lobbied government to have those rules set into the Food Safety section of the regulations governing the industry? Please explain why the grassfed Peak Body, CCA, was left outside Joe Ludwig’s office for over 2hrs while MLA was being consulted during the Live Export debacle.  Why did MLA use $100s of millions of producers levies to develop MSA, only to find industry would not take it up and so ‘sold’ it to Ausmeat – in other words the Processors?  Now they have a grading system that is really only a QA system, which they are manipulating and which was paid for by producers

Consultation: like the ‘sustainable beef’ program currently being introduced so that producers can once again be the wearers of all the costs and responsibilities, while the Processors and the retailers promote (and charge extra for) the newer, cleaner, greener image of beef.  And like NLIS, and LPA and other schemes, not one dollar of the resulting profits from this program will flow back to the producer!

There is a big part to the solution to much of this angst though.  (It’s actually old ABA policy)

Using sales accounts, PICs and the NVD,  all producers who pay a $5 levy each year are to be given an automatic vote.

And the first time producers use that vote would be in a Referendum.

That is when we can once again tell the legislators, the agricultural bodies, the ‘leaders’, how we want our industry managed.

And we all know what we are all going to say, don’t we?  No need to repeat it….we’ve been saying it for years now.

‘Industry Wide Consultation’  –  and if we are given the opportunity to be real participants in the management of our own industry then PRODUCERS MUST STEP UP AND USE THEIR VOTE  so that consultation across our widespread grassfed cattle industry really is about the industry’s  requirements.

Linda Hewitt

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