Beef Council under spotlight

31 May, 2012 04:00 AM
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WA Beef Stocktake Report Committee chairman Mike Norton said the council was not operating the way it was designed to.
WA Beef Stocktake Report Committee chairman Mike Norton said the council was not operating the way it was designed to.

TWO years on from what was suppose to be a historic changing of the WA beef industry, the WA Beef Council is still under pressure to perform.

Farm Weekly has discovered the council, which was supposed to help save the State's beef industry from a crisis, has struggled to have a significant impact, despite a $500,000 allocation from the Cattle Industry Compensation Fund (CICF).

At the time of the WA Beef Stocktake Report, Mike Norton was the committee chairman, and he said the council was not operating the way it was designed to.

"I am not actually too sure exactly what the council is doing or where it is going," he said.

"It certainly didn't finish up the way the committee had envisaged."

Mr Norton said Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman had hijacked the report and admitted he felt sorry for the individuals on the committee because the way the council was structured, it was unlikely to achieve results.

"The individuals are there with the best intentions because they are trying to get a good outcome but you have got a model which is virtually hijacked by the Minister," Mr Norton said.

"Mr Redman likes to say that it is a whole of industry committee but it's not a whole of industry committee.

"The Minister took control of the formation of the council and it was always going to struggle.

"I think it needs to be disbanded and started again.

"It loses horsepower if you don't have groups like Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) and WAFarmers involved on the council.

"It is basically a government-run committee even though the government denies it."

Mr Norton said the PGA and WAF didn't support the council being funded out of the Cattle Compensation Fund in the first place.

"Yet the Minister went and did it anyway and that doesn't create a very good environment to drive a committee," Mr Norton said.

"In the model we (the WA Stocktake Committee) had, WAF and PGA were very much part of the committee, but as soon as Mr Redman hijacked it, he wanted a skills-based committee, he didn't want agri-political personnel on it and we just got written out of the script overnight."

Earlier this year the WA Beef Council announced it had become incorporated, in the hope it could progress projects quicker.

Mr Norton said since the council had become incorporated nothing had changed.

"At the end of the day the councils are driven by the personalities which are on them," he said. "But the problem is that none of them are answerable to anybody and they are all pushing their own agenda.

"They all mean well and they are trying to do the right thing but there is no real person where the buck stops.

"There is no real structure to it all.

"But with your two producer organisations, there is a bit of structure and there is a process and we do form policy in a fairly democratic way and we do have linkages nationally and that's what you have got to have."

Red Meat Action Group chairman Gary Buller reinforced Mr Norton's comments saying Mr Redman made political appointments with producers' money.

"I think the Minister did hijack the WA Beef Council in regards to the recommendations from the WA Beef Stocktake report," Mr Buller said.

"It became a political appointment by the Minister when in fact the Beef Council was being funded by beef producers out of the CICF.

"That's an industry fund and not something which the government is contributing to nor a fund that the government should have its hands on yet.

"They have taken the money to not only fund the Stocktake Report but also taken the money to fund the beef council.

"It was cattle industry funds and it should have been cattle industry which decided the chair of the council and that hasn't been done and I think it was fundamentally flawed from the outset."

Mr Buller said he believed it was partly the structure and a small section of the personnel which had impacted on what the council had achieved so far.

PGA president Rob Gillam told Farm Weekly the lobby group was always against the implementation of the Stocktake Report but had tried to be positive.

WA Beef Council chairman Tony Hiscock said the beef council's decision to become incorporated would allow a greater degree of independence to speed up its process and get things done.

He said when the council was formed in 2010, the beef industry was in crisis, but the situation had changed a lot over 24 months.

"The Stocktake Report came about because the beef industry at that point was in crisis," Mr Hiscock said.

"But the council was not there to resolve crisis, it was there to sell opportunity.

"And it is a damn lot harder to sell opportunity than to resolve crisis."

Mr Hiscock said the council still enabled the beef industry to have a collaborative approach towards issues which the industry had never been able to do before.

In response to questions about the frustration of the beef industry towards the WA Beef Council, Mr Hiscock said the council had set a platform to launch some projects over the next six months.

"Incorporation has allowed us to act under a complete independent manner and that has helped us for sure," he said.

"We are very close to launching some new initiatives both within the EU and the northern market diversification.

"So there is a fair bit which is going to start happening over the balance of this year.

"There is a fair amount of work which still needs to happen."

"It has taken longer than I had hoped, but I strongly feel we are moving forward."

Mr Hiscock said the council would not come under a Ministerial Review, as was outlined in the Stocktake Report, as the council was now incorporated.

"At the end of the day, if the beef council can't start to make relevant change within the industry, then the industry will drop it," he said.

"We have set the platform and now is the time to roll the sleeves up and start rolling out ideas and that is some of the work we will be starting in the next six months."

Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman defended the WA Beef Council and said it was offering the industry a whole of supply chain approach for the first time.

"The council can look at reform in their sector and in addition to that you have the Producers Round Table (PRT) which is designed for producer views," Mr Redman said.

"I think the council is working to its best effort under the current structure, and it's up to them if they would like to change their structure."

"Now where ever you go in industry you are going to get different viewpoints about how things should happen.

"I think the most critical thing here is that you have got the whole of supply chain sitting around the table.

"Before it was a he said, she said, argument and everybody was blaming somebody else for gouging too much out of it and WA can't afford that."

Mr Redman said the council's decision to become incorporated was a positive move.

He said many of the projects the council had as their priority were going unrecognised.

"The early targets concerned market analysis, benchmarking, reducing red tape and improved communications across it," he said.

"Some people might see that as not direct enough for what the industry should or shouldn't do, but I think it is more important than people give credit to."

He agreed that industry needed to be patient in seeing results of the Beef Council.

"I don't think anything changes overnight," he said.

"Reform will only happen if there is support and commitment from the whole of industry and I encourage the entire sector to engage with that."

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