THE LIKELIHOOD of grassfed cattle producers seeing the $500,000 Federal Government leadership grant set aside to get the wheels turning on a new lobby group now seems remote.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud appears adamant the funding should only be on offer when all players are at the table to drive the establishment of the new body.
Long-standing peak group Cattle Council of Australia has no intention of rejoining the process, arguing the best path to a more representative organisation is via a restructure of what already exists.
Indeed, a draft for a direct election model will be presented to CCA’s annual general meeting this month.
CCA was a key member of a committee tasked with designing and seeing to fruition a new producer body called Cattle Producers Australia, which would bring into the fold the numerous smaller breakaway producer groups and operate under a direct-elected model.
This has been the recommendation of at least two beef industry senate inquiries and also appears to be the overwhelming preference of producers.
However, CCA left the process early this year when it became obvious a lack of funding would prevent it getting off the ground.
Other parties have continued to drive CPA, which was to have 15 representative regions across the country.
CPA chair Dr Paul Wright said in the absence of access to the grant, the volunteer implementation committee members had been “paying all their own traveling expenses and obtaining all the necessary professional assistance to hold constitutional workshops and incorporate CPA.”
“We have now just started on the membership drive and the grant funding was to provide for meetings and seminars in each of the 15 regional electorates across Australia,” he said.
“It is big ask for these volunteers to continue to fund this out of their own pockets”.
At a meeting with CPA members in Victoria last week, Mr Littleproud said the cattle industry needed leadership “not necessarily from Canberra but from the grassroots.”
“You’ll get better outcomes that way,” he said.
“The biggest problem I have is three or four different bodies within the one industry are coming and telling me three different things - so how do I make a decision?”
He said the seed funding was there and he was “happy to spend it” but indicated that wouldn’t happen until everyone was back at the table.
He said he’d had discussions “with a number of groups around the necessity to get back to the table.”
CPA member Greg Mirabella told the minister talk about the industry having to save itself was nothing new.
“The problem is it’s a catch-all term that doesn’t actually mean anything to the 100,000-odd cattle producers because ‘industry’ is represented by a few peak bodies and producers have no voice,” he said.
Mr Littleproud’s response to questions about whether Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recommendations around red meat industry restructure had been “swept under the table” was that a government response was on its way.
He acknowledged those recommendations had “been there a long time” and there was frustration from some sectors of the cattle production industry but said cabinet submissions were being prepared at the moment.
“We don’t want to go to an election before this is sorted,” he said.
CCA chief executive officer Margo Andrae said the application for funding had been altered several times at the request of the Minister’s office, but work to restructure industry representation was progressing regardless.
“We have broadened our consultations with key stakeholders, including members of the Implementation Committee,” she said.
“This an industry issue and, given CCA represents all producers, we encourage all levy payers to be a part of the new model.
“We remain committed to the development of a direct election model, which will be presented in draft at this month’s AGM, so that representation from the ground-up is even stronger. This is being recognised by the industry because we are receiving strong support from producers for the direct elect model.
“We want to build on Cattle Council’s existing strengths and ensure we have the best structures in place in the years to come to unite the industry and speak with one voice."