Senate inquiries under fire
THE decision by Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) to walk away from efforts to reform producer representation via a new body has raised big questions about the value of senate inquiries.
Australia’s beef industry has been subject to 13 senate inquiries in the past 17 years and two Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) examinations.
They have become increasingly high-profile and criticised for bringing economically significant industries into unfair disrepute.
Now, with a key recommendation from the past two beef senate inquiries around grassfed cattle producer representation being ignored by both industry and government, they are being labelled irrelevant.
The 2014 grassfed cattle levy inquiry’s recommendation for a new producer-owned body established by legislation and with the authority to receive and disperse transaction levy funds found no political appetite.
The recommendation late last year from the inquiry into red meat processing, seeking to replace CCA with a “transparent and accountable producer-owned body”, has now been shunned by CCA.
Of course, senate inquiries are conducted with the understanding they have an advisory function only.
However, given the cost of conducting these inquiries, where recommendations go nowhere, it seems fair to ask what is the point?
Plenty, says former Liberal Party senator and Junee sheep and grain producer Bill Heffernan, one of the past stars of the senate standing committee for rural and regional affairs and transport.
Ignore senate inquiry recommendations at your peril, he warns both industry and government.
There are many differences between a bureaucratic brief and the paddock and senate inquiries had proven that time and again, he said.
They were perhaps the best tool available for taking an objective, commonsense approach to looking at problems and solutions, he said.
Their successes had made a big difference, he said, citing protected biosecurity status of Australian primary industries and systems like traceability in beef.
There were also many examples, he said, of where the warning had been sounded via a senate inquiry and ignored to great cost.
One of those was with white spot disease in the prawn industry.
“The bottom line is a senate inquiry is not some political BS exercise,” he said.
“We don’t play politics, we do what was right for the industry.
“The expose of the strengths and weakness of an industry is accurate. A senate inquiry tells it as it is.”
Who is in government should be of no consequence and if the recommendations are knocked back, it was up to senators to “jam it up them,” according to Mr Heffernan.
“Make a fuss and follow up because history has shown us the consequences of not listening to the outcomes of these inquiries can be dire,” he said.