Red meat re­buke

Shepparton News - Country News - - FRONT PAGE - By Alana Chris­tensen

Vic­to­rian Sen­a­tor Brid­get McKen­zie has is­sued a sting­ing re­buke of the red meat in­dus­try af­ter a Se­nate com­mit­tee handed down its re­port into the in­dus­try fol­low­ing two years of de­lays.

Tasked with ex­plor­ing a num­ber of as­pects of the in­dus­try, in­clud­ing the mis­use of mar­ket power through buyer col­lu­sion and ex­ist­ing sell­ing struc­tures and pro­cesses at sa­le­yards, par­tic­u­larly pre- and post-sale weigh­ing, the com­mit­tee made a to­tal of seven rec­om­men­da­tions — in­clud­ing the re­place­ment of the Cat­tle Coun­cil of Aus­tralia.

Sen­a­tor McKen­zie said the in­quiry, which re­ceived 122 sub­mis­sions, was a way for the red meat sec­tor to re­gain the con­fi­dence of pro­ces­sors and farm­ers.

‘‘It’s become clear, through ev­i­dence to this com­mit­tee, that in­dus­try prac­tices re­quire a root-and-branch over­haul to re­store fair­ness, trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity to a sec­tor marred for years by con­flicts of in­ter­est, al­le­ga­tions of col­lu­sion, in­tim­i­da­tion and bul­ly­ing,’’ she told the Se­nate last week.

‘‘A cou­ple of weeks ago we had the red meat peak bod­ies be­fore us so we could ask what they thought about the (2016) ACCC in­quiry rec­om­men­da­tions, and they at­tempted to crab-walk away: ‘Noth­ing to see here, Sen­a­tors. Not a prob­lem! It’s all a storm in the teacup, dear Sen­a­tor McKen­zie!’ Well, the ev­i­dence stands.

‘‘This is a bil­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try and hun­dreds of thou­sands of Aus­tralians are em­ployed in the red meat in­dus­try. We back you. Let’s just clean it up.’’

Ini­ti­ated in March 2015 fol­low­ing con­cerns about a cul­ture of col­lu­sion with cat­tle sa­le­yards, the unan­i­mous re­port also rec­om­mended a study into pre- and post-sale weigh­ing, a re­view of AUS-MEAT to de­ter­mine if it should have over­sight of the new car­case mea­sure­ment technology and a joint in­dus­try and gov­ern­ment meat and live­stock task­force be es­tab­lished to re­view the Red Meat Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing.

VFF live­stock pres­i­dent Leonard Val­lance wel­comed the re­port’s find­ings and said the ev­i­dence showed some be­hav­iours weren’t en­abling a fair and trans­par­ent mar­ket.

He did, how­ever, call for greater clar­ity sur­round­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions re­lat­ing to in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tion and the Red Meat Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing, but said one thing was clear.

‘‘Surely af­ter eight in­quiries into the red meat in­dus­try in the last 17 years we have enough ev­i­dence to sug­gest some­thing’s wrong and there needs to be change,’’ Mr Val­lance said.

Queens­land Sen­a­tor Barry O’Sullivan slammed the Cat­tle Coun­cil of Aus­tralia, which the re­port rec­om­mended be re­placed with a pro­ducer-owned body, telling par­lia­ment the coun­cil rep­re­sents ‘‘lit­er­ally no­body’’.

‘‘I know I’m go­ing to be a few Christ­mas cards short this year but here’s my mes­sage to the cat­tle coun­cil: We will not rest. We will per­sist un­til you re­struc­ture,’’ Sen­a­tor O’Sullivan said.

Cat­tle Coun­cil of Aus­tralia pres­i­dent Howard Smith said the re­port de­fied logic and la­belled it ‘‘non­sense’’ on ABC ra­dio.

‘‘If they have ev­i­dence to sup­port there was col­lu­sion, then throw the book at them, but un­til they have that ev­i­dence I think it’s a lit­tle mis­chievous for them to be in­sin­u­at­ing about . . . the cat­tle coun­cil,’’ Mr Smith said.

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