Don Heatley, former MLA chairman, previous CCA director and a past Queensland Country Life Red Meat Achiever of the Year, shares his opinion on current industry politics.

Time to move on from restructure talk: Don Heatley

Respected beef identity's take on peak lobby group politics.

EXCESSIVE focus on the make-up of cattle producer representation could well come at the expense of progress in more pressing beef industry matters, respected industry stalwart Don Heatley OAM has warned.

To his mind, the attention being afforded the latest fracture in efforts to create a new, united advocacy group - the decision by peak group Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) to go it alone - is undue.

He stopped short of advising producers one way or another in terms of which representative group to support, saying the more pertinent point was that “it is people who do the work that creates change and benefits, not the structure of any organisation.”

“The question that has been going through my mind as I’ve watched all this at arm’s length is this: When you have an industry which has, over the past two years, delivered historically high prices for beef and livestock and profitability, why are we spending an inordinate amount of time going back and forth on the overall structure of that industry?” Mr Heatley said.

“The structure we have has delivered some very reasonable outcomes.

“While there is always room for improvement, a massive restructure of our peak lobby group seems like overkill.”

Mr Heatley is a former Meat and Livestock Australia chairman, previous CCA director and a past Queensland Country Life Red Meat Achiever of the Year.

He won the prestigious award, given out every three years at the big Beef Australia event in Rockhampton, in 2012.

With his wife Laurel and sons Scott and Peter and their families, he runs a breeding and fattening operation at Byrne Valley Station, south east of Townsville.

The Heatleys have a 2500 head Bos Indicus based herd and have been moving more towards Brangus in recent years.

He said there was no doubt Australia’s beef industry was in a good position and given the confidence levels about, Beef 2018 from May 6 to 12, would be a fantastic place to be.

It will be at this national beef expo that the latest QCL Red Meat Achiever of the Year is announced. Nominations are now open.

“We have seen the highest prices on record for the product we produce, be it live or in a box,” Mr Heatley said.

“While the low supply situation in Australia has driven this, there is a strong demand cycle going on around the world in importing countries that has to give rise to optimism.

“Still, nobody with a grey hair on their head would say this will go on forever so best we make hay while the sun shines.”

His ideas on doing that: Bring debt down as the first priority - “that’s what hurts most when a market falls away” - then look to invest in genetics and herd improvement to stand you in good stead for the long term.

At an industry level, beef needs to be at the negotiation tables with a united voice, he said.

“Everyone knows fractured representation is death to any sector,” Mr Heatley said.

“Yet we seem to constantly be at each other’s throat.”

For years, the topic of a restructure of the peak producer group has been on the agenda.

“If we have been unable to find a new structure suitable to all in this long period of time, is it likely we ever will?” he said.

Move on - it’s the people who deliver the outcome in any case.

Along with Mr Heatley, previous QCL Red Meat Achiever Award recipients have included David Crombie, Larry Acton and David Larkin, with the inaugural winner, at Beef 97, Woolworths meat executive Phil Morley.

The award recognizes an industry stakeholder who has contributed significantly to the betterment of Australia’s beef industry.

“We promote these awards to acknowledge the hard working people within our industry and give them due recognition,” Fairfax’s Agricultural Publishing general manager John Warlters said.

Nominate here.

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