BEEF’S most influential body Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) does not rely on peak producer bodies to consult with levy payers.
Since a senate inquiry into the grassfed cattle levy four years ago recommended an overhaul of producer representation, MLA has moved to set up a number of avenues to allow direct consultation with its levy payers, according to managing director Richard Norton.
Following the recent collapse of efforts to consolidate peak representative bodies in the cattle production sector, Mr Norton was grilled a senates estimate hearing this week in Canberra on the issue.
While adamant that MLA had no agri-political advocacy role, therefore making it inappropriate for the service provider to be commenting on representative group dynamics, Mr Norton did say a strong peak industry council providing strategic direction on what producers wanted MLA to work on was “in the interests of the industry.”
Whether he believes that is currently being provided by Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) is still left to the imagination, despite forceful pressing on the part of Queensland Senator Barry O’Sullivan.
The estimates hearing of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee raised the fact the implementation process put in place by the former Minister for Agriculture, to create a new direct-elected, unified advocacy body for cattle producers, had failed.
CCA walked away from the process in January, saying it would instead put its resources into enhancing what currently exists.
The big producer body has the support of state farming organisations but MLA has not weighed into the matter.
Other breakaway producer groups have vowed to continue to put together a new body, which effectively means two major advocacy organisations will eventually exist - precisely the opposite of what the senate inquiry recommended.
The new body has been named Cattle Producers of Australia and its drivers say it must replace CCA as it had been well-established CCA’s current structure was inadequate.
Senator O’Sullivan indicated a sign from MLA on whether that was or was not the case would go a long way to guiding producers and sorting the mess out.
Mr Norton replied: “I think we need to be very careful in asking MLA to get into agri-political areas because that is something specifically not part of their charter.”
Senator O’Sullivan said the fact MLA provided funds to CCA justified an interest in its structure.
Mr Norton explained: “We have a service agreement with CCA, and other peak industry councils, whereby funding goes to services around capability building within the respective council.
“CCA would contest that money is keeping them afloat.”
Senator O’Sullivan said the fact was “there is a serious void of representation of cattle producers in this country.”
“It’s not being filled by CCA as it is currently structured - we’ve had a long inquiry and heard from a lot of people and in effect that was our finding,” he said.
“Our recommendation to the government was for some form of restructure.
“All the grown ups in this industry should get together and sort this out themselves, but that hasn’t happened.”
After many years of work, it was back to the status quo, he said.
“This ought to be a significant issue for MLA, whose charter is to see we have the strongest, most productive functioning red meat sector,” Senator O’Sullivan said.
“There is an argument there is an absence of a strong peak body representing the 50,000 to 60,000 cattle producers in this country.”
Mr Norton said he was not consulted on any changes to peak industry councils around their structure and was only made aware of the fallout “through the media, like everyone else.”
MLA had an obligation to send a signal, Senator O’Sullivan said.
“You’re not without power and influence in this space,” he said.
“Are you prepared to come out and defend the structures within the peak industry body representing producers? Because that would put this bed.”
Assistant Minister for Agriculture Anne Ruston effectively shut down the line of questioning at that point, saying it was tremendously unfair given the fact MLA had no advocacy role whatsoever.
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The story MLA pushed to take a stand on producer lobby group drama first appeared on Farm Online.