THE Coalition government has confirmed Australian Farm Institute Executive Director Mick Keogh will be the nation’s first Agriculture Commissioner at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
The new role was first announced in the government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper in July last year, to deal with supply chain competition issues.
An enhanced farm supply chain competition watch-dog role was also boosted by the government’s $11.4 million White Paper investment in an Agriculture Enforcement and Engagement Unit.
Intense speculation since August last year has put Mr Keogh in the front-running to take-on the role given his extensive industry knowledge and experience and firm reputation with stakeholders.
An announcement by Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce and Treasurer Scott Morrison in Canberra today confirmed Mr Keogh’s five year appointment which will help relieve anxieties that had been building, among farm representatives.
“In Mick Keogh our farmers now have an individual representing their interests with in-depth knowledge of the agricultural sector and a clear understanding of the competition, market power and legal issues impacting their industry,” Mr Joyce said.
“Mr Keogh brings to the ACCC 30 years’ experience in agribusiness as a cattle farmer, academic and industry representative, with the added insights from his concurrent role as Executive Director of the Australian Farm Institute.”
Mr Joyce said the government delivered the Commissioner’s role in the Agricultural White Paper in response to farmers’ concerns about supply chain transparency.
He said it would go a long way to reducing farmers' vulnerability to the market power that can be wielded by large processors or retail chains.
“Mr Keogh will, with other Commissioners, work closely with the ACCC’s newly established Agriculture Enforcement and Engagement Unit, to gather intelligence on the ground and see the market up close,” he said.
“The dedicated new unit will help the ACCC to better understand and address the market issues in the agricultural sector.
“The Unit has begun to assess and investigate a number of complaints about possible breaches of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 in agricultural markets and analysed information, including compliance data to identify key market issues for further examination.”
Mr Morrison said the new Unit would continue working with stakeholders through a programme of regional workshops and through a new committee, the Agriculture Consultative Committee, to ensure the ACCC received information from those involved in agricultural markets.
He said the Turnbull government was committed to fostering a “vibrant and competitive” agriculture industry to ensure Australian agribusinesses were well placed to seize opportunities both at home and in emerging global markets.
“This appointment of a dedicated Agriculture Commissioner will enable the ACCC to closely engage with farmers, communities and representative groups in regional and rural areas to identify elusive competition issues and unfair trading practices along the supply chain,” he said.
“This will help improve compliance with and enforcement of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 within the agriculture sector and enable the ACCC to take appropriate action earlier.”
Earlier this month, Mr Morrison’s office indicated an appointment was drawing closer after the States had given their all-clear for the Commissioner to proceed, at the competition watch-dog.
Last December, ACCC Chair Rod Sims said the new Agricultural Unit would operate like a mystery shopper service in guarding against market power abuse in agricultural supply chains.
He said the Unit was already consulting industry on supply chain issues and that work would be enhanced when the new Commissioner was eventually named.
“The Unit’s giving thought to where they focus and whether we do any market analysis in particular sectors to shed a bit of light on issues but they’re not going to do anything until the Agricultural Commissioner comes along,” he said.
“When the Agricultural Commissioner walks through the door he or she will be confronted with a range of options as to how to move forward and will certainly be able to hit the ground running.
“You never know we may go to a sale yard incognito and just hang around to see what happens and previously we didn’t have the staff to do that.”