Big names in running for ACCC ag role

21 Aug, 2015 05:22 AM
We’re going through a range of candidates and they’re all of excellent calibre

AUSTRALIAN Farm Institute (AFI) Executive Director Mick Keogh and former Regional Australia Institute (RAI) CEO Su McCluskey are in the front running to become the nation's first ever Agricultural Commissioner.

The new Commissioner’s role was unveiled in the Abbott government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper released in early July.

The $4 billion strategic policy document unveiled $11.4 million to enhance the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) agricultural expertise through an Agricultural Enforcement and Engagement Unit.

It’s understood Mr Keogh is Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce’s preferred choice for the Commissioner’s job while Small Business Minister Bruce Billson, who has carriage of the ACCC, is considering Ms McCluskey’s suitability.

It’s understood AIAC member and former Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association CEO Luke Bowen has also been approached by the government to consider the Commissioner’s role.

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey is believed to also has a preferred candidate in mind but will consult with the other two ministers on the final appointment.

Mr Joyce told Fairfax Media that Mr Keogh wasn’t the only candidate under consideration but did not speculate on any other names.

However, he said he wanted to see the ACCC’s Agricultural Unit and new Commissioner “happening as soon as possible”.

“This is not something that requires legislation so we’re going through the assessment of candidates now,” he said.

“We’ve had discussions around a number of candidates and we’ve put names backwards and forth.

“We want to make sure that the person (appointed) has had a long term engagement in rural industry, has a clear understanding of some of the issues pertaining to competition and to market power within that industry and has the capacity to work with the other ACCC board members in an effective way, so as to bring about better outcomes for people on the land.”

Mr Joyce said the ACCC’s Agricultural Unit was another aspect of the Agricultural White Paper aimed at “trying to make sure that people are dealt with fairly”.

“So often, small producers say to us, ‘I’m just being squashed. When I go out there to sell my product, I feel my rights completely capitulate’,” he said.

“When we hear this complaint over and over and over again it’s incumbent on us in government to react and we have reacted by making sure that the enforcement of the law provisions that are there are administered or assisted by a person with a particular knowledge, or a deep and thorough knowledge of the agricultural sector.

“Mr Keogh certainly has that but he’s not the only one.

“We’re going through a range of candidates and they’re all of excellent calibre.”

Mr Keogh has been at the helm of the AFI for more than a decade conducting important and timely research into public policy issues impacting the Australian farm sector.

He has gained a nationwide reputation for his work analysing the agricultural and rural sectors which includes promoting policy solutions that support the economic and social wellbeing of farmers.

The AFI boss hails from a family farm near Holbrook in southern NSW and spent 10 years with NSW Farmers Association as both deputy CEO and policy director before being named the founding executive director of the AFI in 2004.

He was also Chair of the National Rural Advisory Council (NRAC) which merged with the Agricultural Industry Advisory Council in late 2014 as part of the Abbott government’s move to reduce bureaucratic agencies.

NRAC was a skills–based independent advisory council that advised the Agriculture Minister of the day on issues like drought and taxation and most recently reviewed the Rural Financial Counselling Service.

NRAC has also investigated other areas of interest including; the feasibility of setting up a multi-peril crop insurance program in Australia; and the effectiveness of the Farm Management Deposits scheme

Mr Keogh told Fairfax Media he was unaware of any considerations for the ACCC Agricultural Commissioner’s role and declined to comment further.

Ms McCluskey was the inaugural CEO of the RAI which launched in March 2012 but resigned from the rural policy development and analysis body earlier this year, to pursue other opportunities, like her appointment to the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee.

She has been highly praised by Mr Billson for her work on the expert panel of the extensive Harper Review into national competition policy conducted by the Abbott government which reported earlier this year.

However, working against Ms McCluskey’s potential appointment is the Harper review’s recommendation that Commissioners no longer be designated with specific responsibilities, like for small business or consumer protection, but that the Commission as a whole be required to have regard to all sectors and interests.

Ms McCluskey also declined to comment when contacted by Fairfax Media.

The White Paper’s ACCC initiative was prompted by accusations the ACCC was out of touch in its analysis of decisions like the JBS Australia takeover of the Primo Group and Archer Daniels Midland’s play for GrainCorp and major supermarkets selling milk at $1 per litre.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said delivering the new ACCC agricultural agency, via the White Paper, aimed to assure farmers and everyone in the agricultural sector that “we are serious about ensuring that competition is free and fair”.

“All sectors from time to time are subject to a degree of, if you like, corporate overreach and it's important that all sectors are appropriately policed,” he said.

“But what we want to see is more expertise, more insight and more focus on the agricultural sector.”

In his analysis of the White Paper, Mr Keogh said the proposal to increase funding for the ACCC to improve its understanding of agriculture would be of little benefit unless the root cause of many of the issues - the lack of market transparency in concentrated markets - was addressed.

“As the milk wars and the Coles supermarket case have demonstrated, without market transparency, it is very difficult for a regulator to get to the bottom of illegal activity by dominant players,” he said at the time.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


angry australian
21/08/2015 7:33:03 AM

Has the oxygen depleted atmosphere of Canberra gone to Barnaby's head? What is he thinking? How is the appointment of an Ag Commissioner at the ACCC going to help Australian farmers? Want to make us competitive? The solution is easy but government won't like the answer, sack around 15000 public servants nationwide who find impediments to put in our way. Get rid of all the useless paper trails that serve no real purpose. Get rid of all your qangos and committees that need levies to prop them up. Reduce our labour costs to those of our competitors in say NZ or the USA. I could go on.....
John NIven
21/08/2015 8:00:01 AM

Walt Disney running the show???
21/08/2015 10:33:05 AM

Hey angry, while your points may be valid, the one chance that famers have to survive is a fair and equitable market opportunity for all primary production. Let's hope that the selected Ag commissioner has the issues affecting the small farmers as well as the corporate giants at heart. An open and transparent market for cattle would be a good start, with an independent clearing house ..... and banning of cross subsidisation particularly where primary production is involved. Maybe then those 15000 people you want to sack would have alternate employment opportunities in profitable agriculture.
Farmer Brown
21/08/2015 10:57:00 AM

Have you considered representing farmers in politics angry Australian? I totally agree with you
Cattle Advocate
23/08/2015 9:26:21 PM

If $1/lt milk sold at a loss is the benchmark why have farmers had to pay increases in Gov charges? Where will QLD dairy be when the 10yr contract ends,will $1/lt milk Woolies said is unsustainable employ jobs lost in QLD dairy while running at a loss? What if Aus beef mince was a 4yr loss leader while US&Brazil cut Aus beef's lunch on export markets? Quality Welsh lamb this month will use mobile cooks in UK SM car parks to cook samples.UK label ' Produced in UK' fine print ' from NZ or Aus Lamb' Welsh farmer John Davis 'that's not really playing the game is it' #Farm24 had 17K tweets to 10M
angry australian
24/08/2015 3:53:47 PM

Really Pepper, if the laws currently exist why aren't the ACCC enforcing them? What will an Ag Commissioner at the ACCC do? Remember, we also once had a Petrol Commissioner at the ACCC, and nothing seemed to change. Farmer Brown,I'm too old,hate Canberra with a passion as I spent far too much time representing my industry there, despise party politics and haven't been too impressed with the industry associations I have been a member of. It's easier to pass on my experience on Farmonline and hope enough farmers will agree with me, then annoy their MP's,Senators and industry associations!
27/08/2015 2:02:07 PM

Is this the Government reaction to the law again. They really don't like it and when it gets in their way - they just change it. ACCC has been doing a great job of weeding out bogus claims on eggs so I guess we can assume they have been a little bit too effective and the big agri boys have had a whinge to Barnaby so Tony and him are going to fix it. Lets put up 2 guys that are totally unsuited to the job, that have no legal background and have both been mouthpieces for huge agri business. Where is that going to leave the small truthful producers. This country is in real trouble.


Screen name *
Email address *
Remember me?
Comment *


light grey arrow
I'm one of the people who want marijuana to be legalized, some city have been approved it but
light grey arrow
#blueysmegacarshowandcruise2019 10 years on Daniels Ute will be apart of another massive cause.
light grey arrow
Australia's live animal trade is nothing but a blood stained industry that suits those who