Cattle Council of Australia president Howard Smith, chief executive officer Margo Andrae and vice president Tony Hegarty at the organisations annual general meeting in Alice Springs late last year.

CCA opts to goown way

PEAK grass fed producer lobby group Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) has promised a more demographic model and greater transparency as it reinvents itself.

It’s decision to break from government-endorsed efforts to create a new producer advocate group called Cattle Australia has sent shock waves through the beef industry.

That decision was not taken lightly, CCA boss Margo Andrae said.

Far from discounting the views and desires of producers, senators and ministers, CCA has listened and learned and was set on delivering the type of organisation they sought, she said.

The unanimous support by State Farming Organisations (SFOs) for that move meant the new-look CCA would have a funding stream but it was also recognition the existing model needed to be enhanced, she said.

Ms Andrae said the bottom line was it was time to get on with the job of talking cattle business rather than restructure.

CCA was a key member of a committee tasked with designing and seeing to fruition Cattle Australia, which would bring into the fold the numerous smaller breakaway producer groups and operate under a direct-elected model.

This has been the recommendation of at least two beef industry senate inquiries and also appears to be the overwhelming preference of producers.

Ms Andre says CCA still supports that type of body.

It just believes the best road there is via a restructure of what currently exists.

"The reality is after three years we no longer believed the committee tasked with designing the new structure had the ability to deliver, not because of a lack of will, but because of a lack of long term sustainable funding,” she said.

“Creating a new organisation only to have it fail almost immediately would have put the grass-fed beef industry, and grass-fed producers, in an even worse position.”

CCA has now issued the challenge to producers to unite and get behind it.

“As an industry, we must acknowledge we aren’t always going to agree but we are better off together than apart,” Ms Andrae said.

CATTLE producers driving the move to create a completely new peak advocacy body have vowed to stay the course in the wake of CCA’s exit.

They are adamant long term sustainable funding is not a sticking point.

Cattle Australia (CA) was to be the new body and by all accounts it was on the verge of being launched.

The fact it had become abundantly clear that the new body would never have access to a portion of the $5-a-head levy collected on each cattle transaction was one of the key drivers of CCA’s decision to pull out of the transition.

This funding stream was the recommendation of a 2014 senate inquiry but the Federal Government’s response was that what is effectively tax money can not be funnelled to a lobby group.

Indeed, the government has confirmed that while its desire was to assist with the establishment of one, direct-elected cattle producer group, levy money was definitely not on the table.

CCA, like many agriculture lobby groups, has struggled in recent times to entice producers to fork out for membership fees.

Understandably, many beef farmers believe given the relative size of the levy they pay, they shouldn’t be hit yet again for the right to have a say in how that money is spent.

As such, CCA has argued a long term, sustainable funding source had to be the key foundation for the new, re-designed representation model.

However, other members of the Cattle Australia Implementation Committee, who represent smaller break-away producer lobby groups, pointed to everything from corporate funding to fee-for-service as funding streams.

Outgoing chair of that committee, respected agribusiness leader Troy Setter of Consolidated Pastoral Company, Australia's largest private beef producer, believes an effective, united organisation would ultimately be well-supported by producers.

Mr Setter stepped down as chairman, due to work commitments, in the same Brisbane meeting last week that CCA resigned.

He was extremely diplomatic in his comments on the latest development, saying the task given to the committee by the former minister for agriculture was an extremely difficult one.

Considerable progress had been achieved but confirmation that access to a portion of the levy would not be an option was a hurdle, he said.

However, he did say his view was there needed to be just one organisation representing producers and the split was disappointing “given we were just about there.”

New chairman Paul Wright, from the Australian Meat Producers Group (AMPG), said: “It is a shame CCA has pulled out but it makes no difference to the responsibility that exists to give producers a direct say in how levy funds are spent.”

CA was the only structure that would deliver that, regardless of what promises CCA now made to try to fix itself up, he said.

A press statement issued by AMPG was much less subtle.

CCA and its founding members, the State Farming Organisations, had thumbed their noses at representative democracy, it said.

Not at all, says CCA’s Margo Andrae.

In what she described as a ‘total reset’ for the peak group, opportunities would be developed for increased direct member involvement at all levels within the council's representative structure and it was even envisaged an independent chair would soon head the organisation.

"CCA have recognised the need to increase communications with all stakeholders as a key priority for 2018 and the need to continue to improve  the effectiveness of the organisation around policy development, advocacy and levy oversight," Ms Andrae said.

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