Beef in­quiry’s lack of ac­tion slammed

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - NEWS - By SHANE DOUTHIE

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.

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