Beef inquiry’s lack of action slammed
THE lack of action to reform the red meat industry came under heavy fire last month from Senators and local beef producers.
Nationals Senator for Victoria, Bridget McKenzie, speaking at a Senate hearing, said she was astounded at the level of inactivity in reforming the industry.
“The ACCC handed down its final report in March this year into the red meat processing industry and yet five months later no action has been taken on those recommendations,” Senator McKenzie said.
“In a Senate hearing into the red meat issue, Gabrielle Ford from the ACCC was asked to give one example of industry working towards implementing any of their 15 recommendations – she could not do so.
“I frankly am unimpressed that there seems to be so little will from industry in changing the current system which many claim includes an abuse of market power.
“The ACCC’s final report recommendations include meat processors publishing price grids for sales made direct to processors, an increase in the frequency of random and unannounced audits of cattle grading and trimming in processing plants and the introduction of an independent dispute resolution process to apply across the industry.
“Yet despite these recommendations, AMIC processors have told the Senate inquiry they have not changed their minds that producers’ complaints are not based on evidence.
“That flies in the face of evidence and is not good enough.”
Senator McKenzie said it is up to the ACCC to prosecute anti-competitive behaviour in the red meat industry.
“I have asked that the Red Meat Advisory Council appear before the Senate Committee (this week) to give an update on what exactly is happening as they are the ones tasked by the ACCC to lead industry changes,” she said.
An ACCC spokesperson said the ACCC report identified a need for the entire industry to take responsibility for making improvements to the sector.
“The ACCC recommended that the Red Meat Advisory Council assume responsibility for overseeing the implementing of the recommendations of the Cattle and Beef Market Study and monitoring compliance, as RMAC represents a diverse range of industry interests,” the spokesperson said.
“The ACCC encourages industry participants to work constructively with the RMAC to ensure that they are implemented as quickly as possible.”
Under the Competition and Consumer Act the ACCC can take action through the courts when there is evidence of illegal anti-competitive behaviour.
The spokesperson said the ACCC would make no further comment.
Greg Mirabella, former Wangaratta VFF branch president and one of the key architects of local submissions made to the inquiry, said his branch had warned the inquiry at the time that any recommendations must be implemented by an independent body.
“We called for a Department of Treasury squad to do the implementations rather than the existing industry bodies that they went with and that’s the exact reason why nothing has happened,” he said.
“While beef prices are high most farmers have put their anger in abeyance but if you asked them about the lack of action they would just shake their heads.
“It seems we keep getting the same barriers preventing change, the same people responsible.”
Mr Mirabella said the least the inquiry could have done was recommend a mandatory code of conduct for saleyard operators which would have been preventative and transparent compared to the Competition and Consumer Act which he described as opaque with a far too high burden of proof.
“We wanted the government to help us by providing someone with power but instead they flicked it off to an industry body,” he said.
“So tell us what the industry is.
“The majority of the industry is small-time producers and what power do they have?
“The producers are one end of the industry getting screwed over by the other end.
“It was a false and wrong premise to begin with.”
NO ACTION: Despite plenty of rhetoric, little has changed in the red meat industry to better protect farmers.