IN case you have not heard, a Senate committee is inquiring into how levies are imposed, collected and used. All sectors are included, including mushrooms, mangoes and onions, now facing levy increases since I dropped my disallowance motion in exchange for establishing this inquiry.
The key tasks of the committee are to examine opportunities for levy payers to approve and re-approve the imposition of levies, and to influence how levies are invested. This will include consideration of the link between levies and improved returns at the farmgate.
As I have written previously, when it comes to imposing levies, I am strongly in favour of payer democracy.
In my opinion, levy payers should have equivalent rights to taxpayers, meaning the capacity every three years to kick out those spending their taxes.
It seems to me that knowing levy payers have the power to stop the flow of levy funds will go a long way towards ensuring levy spenders remain sensitive to their needs.
Issues such as climate change, sustainability and gender diversity, for example, might not receive as much attention as they do now, while issues more directly linked to farm profitability will be given top priority.
The rest of the committee may have a different view to me about that, time will tell, but to come up with a workable approach to managing how levies are managed and spent, the committee needs to hear from levy payers.
There will be plenty of submissions from those who spend levy revenue, talking-up what a great job they do. What I am not so sure about is whether those who pay the levies will be adequately heard.
While there are probably close to a hundred thousand levy payers, I suspect their voices will be muted. Most are individuals with busy lives who would not normally make their opinions known to a Senate inquiry.
While there are representative organisations that purport to speak on behalf of farmers, they often seem to be in cahoots with levy spenders. The pool of funds raised through levies is an alluring honeypot.
I suspect most levy payers could cite examples of gross misuse of levy funds. I am aware of a few myself. A lot of money that could have been used to improve the performance of Australian agriculture has been wasted.
The committee needs to hear the views of levy payers as to how they would prefer their money to be managed for their benefit. It needs levy payer views on who should decide how the funds are spent and what thinking should govern how they are spent.
A possible question for the committee will be whether regular votes to continue paying levies will be sufficient to ensure levy spenders remain accountable to levy payers.
Some people feel intimidated by Senate inquiries, but there is no need to be. Submissions may be made in writing and in person. Submissions from individuals are just as welcome as those by organisations. Indeed, in this case they may well be given greater consideration.
And for those who do not wish to make a written submission, or would like to support their written submission orally, the committee will be holding hearings in major cities.
This inquiry is an excellent opportunity to make a significant difference to how research and development and marketing expenditure in agriculture is undertaken in Australia. All farmers and graziers who pay levies, no matter which sector they are in, should consider making their views known.
Your industry needs you.