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.