As an industry we keenly feel the impact of federal, state and local government regulations.
Our farmers and processors everyday pay a bill in regulatory costs imposed by Australian governments from 5 – 25 per cent of their total profit.
Costs in our post farm gate sector in particular are skyrocketing and in some cases are 75pc more than that of our major competitors in Brazil and the USA; whilst many in the farming community on the East Coast continue to battle the drought with no break in sight.
Ping-pong policy following changes in state and federal governments is a large challenge for our producers everywhere – think vegetation laws in this country, as well as renewed foreign investment hurdles.
This cycle simply must stop for both our business security and development, and Australia’s sovereign risk.
This week the Australian House of Representatives and the Senate re-meet for the spring; and will be last spring sitting before the next federal election.
It is time to turn our eyes to what future governments may look like and what this will mean for Australia’s 75,000 red meat farms, feedlots, retailers, manufacturing facilities and livestock exporters.
In this term of government, and even before, our industry seems to face constant government scrutiny. This ranges through formal processes via Senate committees and independent commissions – from the ACCC right through to the Productivity Commission.
More recently the current live sheep trade situation has become a political football characterised by calls by both government and opposition for leadership from industry not necessarily in turn matched by policy certainty offered in the long term by government and shadow government.
The cause of this is not quite apparent, especially putting into perspective what’s going on in other businesses sectors such as the Financial Services Royal Commission.
It’s clear now more so than ever that maintaining and enhancing the trust of the public through a transparent approach by all parts of the red meat sector is vital and is a major focus across the whole industry. Without this, uncertainty will continue to be a driving fact for policy moving forward.
It’s clear now more so than ever that maintaining and enhancing the trust of the public through a transparent approach by all parts of the red meat sector is vital.
The opposition have made clear should they win the next federal election their intent is to close the live sheep industry.
They have also indicated they will review all thirteen industry service providers and the role of levy investment to ensure they are truly achieving real innovation across the chain.
Similarly, too, the government has tasked the Council of Rural Research and Development Corporations to understand what is it they should be delivering for Australia’s agricultural industries at large.
Australia is the lowest subsidised agricultural sector in the world and this is something we should be proud to maintain. Our focus and that of governments should be on delivering tangible reform and investment back to our businesses so we can get on with delivering nutritious, sustainable and world class food products and building stronger communities.
We do however need policy and regulatory security and to stop the cycle of government-led inquiries and policy uncertainty. We must future proof our industry to be more sustainable and prosperous regardless of election outcomes and single interest activist groups.
How can this be done?
I am convinced that one part of this future proofing (in its 20th year of being) is the need to review the Red Meat Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which is the 1999 high-level partnership document between industry representative organisations, service providers and the Commonwealth.
It also explains the role and responsibilities of organisations like Aus-Meat and Safe-Meat which was spearheaded by the then Minister Hon John Anderson.
No longer should our industry be reliant on a government or a minister to lead and reform our industry. Our message is clear: we want less government interference, not more. We need to focus on driving a prosperous and sustainable industry ready to respond to any challenge from our competitors or the public.
We also need to ask some serious and honest questions. Given we are already breaking all records globally for input costs – should we continue to pay levies at all?
Or conversely given our role in feeding Australia and supporting 400,000 plus Australia jobs – should we be seeking double – or triple the government investment in our research and marketing?
Or is it that we should we be refocusing this substantial investment instead in crucial supply chain infrastructure like our rail, ports and road network; or making a National Broadband Network a reality for all red meat producers?
In my view the reality is the roles of industry service companies and government advocates alike are vital and important.
Service providers will never be able to fill the advocacy role while they receive compulsory levy funds; and the Australian government being their principle investor. They do however play a crucial role in delivering research, development and marketing as well as customer assurances through the Industry Integrity Systems Company.
We also need a core of high skilled chief advocates constantly reducing our government regulatory bill, expanding our infrastructure network and market access and strategically ironing out the ping pong of policy.
But we can and must do it better. There is great merit in exploring the risks and benefits of turning three service providers into one; and merging our six red meat industry councils. This needs to be assessed based on industry benefits; not emotion and in-fighting.
As Independent Chair of RMAC and the ultimate custodian of the Red Meat MOU, it is my firm view we can do better. Our industry is much better than a series of Senate Inquiries and would exponentially improve with a more agile way of delivering policy, advocacy, research, marketing and industry development.
Australia’s 75,000 red meat businesses, 405,000 direct and indirect jobs and $15 billion in export earnings rely on it.
- Don Mackay is the Independent Chair of the Red Meat Advisory Council