The Stock and Land held a discussion panel on ‘Making our Voices Heard’ in Melbourne recently about agricultural advocacy challenges. The structure of agricultural advocacy groups was discussed in depth as one of the key issues affecting successful advocacy and representation of farmers.
Cattle Producers Australia (CPA) Chair Dr Paul Wright said “the debate is highly relevant to the current red meat industry restructure and it is important to recognise that levy payers are the actual stakeholders and therefore should have a direct say in how their levies are spent and how policy is developed. CPA believes that improved representation of levy payers is an essential element to ‘Making our Voices Heard’”.
Dr Wright referred to important points of discussion from the online panel session chaired by ACCC Deputy Commissioner Mick Keogh:
Australian Live Export Council (ALEC) Chair and former agriculture minister Simon Crean stated that the farm sector really needs to come to grips with the fact that it needs to speak in so many industries with a national voice, but the structure is still state based and it needs to overcome that in order to be able to successfully represent its members.
David Inall, panelist and with past industry experience in the United States highlighted the direct membership structure of the egg industry which allowed them to rally together when issues arose.
Australian Farm Institute Chair and panelist Andrew Spencer discussed the uniqueness of the Australian Pork Limited (APL) structure that collects levies and provides advocacy for the pork industry under the one organisational model. He said that within APL they work with members to deliver on R & D and provide advocacy. APL have access to government matching funding and when the industry comes up with their position APL provides the policy research and that evidence is passed on for policy development to assist the lobbying and advocacy. A strong evidence basis to get good national interest policy for the pork industry.
Nuffield scholar, Daniel Meade from his research found strength in decentralized representation and engagement which was often face to face was a strength and Farmers leading farmers though elections and regular engagement was very important.
National Farmers’ Federation President and panelist Fiona Simson said that the NFF are widening their view and encouraging the most diverse voices possible.
“We have members around the table who are farmers, who aren’t farmers and we all just get on,” Ms Simson said.
Ms Simson when challenged by Mr Keogh who asked, “in the same way as the union movement has experienced difficulty in maintaining participation, in the absence of participation in farm groups, those sentiments which are expressed are very difficult to deliver, so what do think?”
Ms Simson responded by advising their direct members are member organisations not the farmers so we encourage our members to engage with farmers.
Mr Keogh put to the panel that we could take from this conversation that everything is rosy and that agriculture is well advocated for and any issue that comes up, the sector could deal with, and asked Mr Crean do you think that is right?
Mr Crean answered, “I don’t, but again I think the industry has been held back by an overlay of structure that is either taken as read and not questioned. I want to come to the question of agri political activity, I don’t accept that what the industry is getting is government money. The levy is paid by the producer, processor or exporter. …We need to ask the question seriously about the effectiveness of organisations and how well they represent their grass roots because I believe that the membership structure should be around the grass roots.
I think that there is a serious question here that if you have undertaken the research if you have undertaken the strategic direction, why shouldn’t you be able to advocate in a bipartisan sense for what is sound policy”, Mr Crean Said.
Dr Wright said, “Simon Crean is spot on with his comments on this matter. Control of the levy funding streams is fundamental to united red meat industry sectors with the ability for these sectors to each have a strong sound voice backed by policy research for its advocacy.”
When questioned by Cattle Producers Australia Board Member and attendee Ms Loretta Carroll about the need for a democratic representative organisation to represent all grass-fed cattle producers, Ms Simson said that in her experience, what farmers tend to do is if they don’t like what the organisation that is meant to be representing them does, then they start another one and this needs to be resisted because it is not going to affect change in the industry.
CPA was established in response to the 2014 red meat senate Inquiry into grass-fed cattle levy funded structures and systems wherein it recommended that the existing Peak Industry Council Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) be dissolved and a new fully democratic and representative Peak Industry Council be formed as replacement. The 2017 Senate Inquiry into the effect of Market Consolidation on the red Meat Processing Sector also recommended that the Australian Government provide immediate support to the grass-fed cattle sector in its efforts to replace CCA with a transparent and accountable producer-owned body.
Dr Wright said “an Implementation Committee containing members from CCA was established to carry out the 2015 recommendations after agreement on a preferred model was reached by the various organisations. The Implementation Committee was inclusive of a range of organisations including CCA. CCA resigned from the Committee in January 2018, however the Committee continued the process and incorporated Cattle Producers Australia.”
“We are not just a group of farmers who decided to set up a new organisation because we were unhappy with our advocacy groups as Ms Simson suggested, we are an organisation formed by the current grass-fed cattle Peak Industry Council, CCA, the Australian Beef Association, the Australian Meat Producers Group, the Northern Pastoral Group and Concerned Cattle Producers under ministerial direction to deliver a new democratic model, structured to allow all grass-fed cattle producers the opportunity to join and have a direct say in how their levies are spent and a direct say in advocacy. This model is similar to the Australian Meat Industry Corporation representing processors and the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council.” says Dr Paul Wright.
Dr Paul Wright
Cattle Producers Australia (Implementation Committee)
“Woongarra” Taroom Qld 4420
Phone 07 4628 6185 Mobile 0438 286 185