Most of Australia's levy-paying farmers are being paid a disservice by their research and development corporations.
And tax payers - which farmers also are - are getting a bum steer as well.
Australian agriculture has 15 research and development corporations.
As the names suggest, their functions are to research their respective commodities and then develop them - in other words, market the commodities.
Five of these organisations are statutory RDCs. These are, according to the Government, "Australian Government entities with a board of directors appointed by the Minister for Agriculture, based on recommendations from a selection committee".
These five RDCs are: Grains Research Development Corporation, AgriFutures Australia, Cotton Research and Development Corporation, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and Development Corporation and Wine Australia.
The other 10 are industry-owned companies, which the Government defines as "independent corporate entities with expertise-based boards".
These are: Australian Eggs Limited, Australian Livestock Export Corporation Limited (LiveCorp), Australian Meat Processor Corporation, Australian Pork Limited, Australian Wool Innovation Limited, Dairy Australia Limited, Forest and Wood Products Australia, Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited, Meat and Livestock Australia and Sugar Research Australia Limited.
Each of the RDCs are funded by a mix of grower levies and taxpayer funds - often half and half with some investment, research grants and joint-venture income thrown in.
Yet five of the RDCs - the statutory RDCs - are required to report how much the top executive is paid. The other 10 - the industry-owned companies - don't.
It's all perfectly legal of course, with industry-owned RDCs quick to point out they are complying with their statutory funding agreement with the Commonwealth and the "relevant Australian Accounting Standards".
But does that make it right?
Let's look at the RDCs with the largest income.
In 2022-23 Grains Research and Development Corporation received $261 million in grower levies, and $132 million in government funds.
In the same period, more than 50,000 red meat producers provided $97.7 million through levies for Meat and Livestock Australia, while the Federal Government tipped in $94.3 million.
To paraphrase the superannuation ad: two RDCs - same job, same funding model. But compare the pair, and you find one has to report its executive salaries in detail. The other doesn't.
Along with its fellow statutory RDCs, GRDC must report the exact remuneration of its managing director.
Thus, we know that GRDC managing director Nigel Hart earned a total package of $555,441 in 2022-23.
However, MLA, and its fellow industry-owned company, do not have to be so transparent.
As a group, these industry-owned RDCs offer up a mix of figures that make it impossible to determine what the chief executive or managing director earns.
In 2023-23, MLA provided one figure for all its board - $1,471,382 - but unlike the previous eight annual reports, did not report how much the non-executive directors cost for the year.
After numerous requests from ACM Agri, the company conceded the non-executive directors cost $697,184.
So, a simple deduction of this amount from the total provides a figure of $774,198 for the only executive director on the board - MD Jason Strong.
MLA disputed this figure, but would not reveal his remuneration.
But we shouldn't have to be playing with calculators. The 10 industry-owned RDCs should be as transparent as their five statutory counterparts.
This isn't about snooping into who earns what. It is about transparency and accountability.
Open any ASX-listed company report and you can find the top dog's pay.
Do you think there would have been such a monumental change at Qantas if former CEO Alan Joyce's pay was not available for scrutiny? Look at how any company is performing and how much the CEO is being paid. It tells a story - every time
The CEO or MD is the lynchpin of every company. They are charged with implementing the board's vision. However, much of that vision is their own. They hire the key personnel and ensure everything is going as it should. They select the ideas and recommend them to the board. They own the success. And they have to own the failures.
We can easily find Agriculture Minister Murray Watt's pay - $406,429 (which includes a $32,000 electorate allowance) - along with every politician in the country.
Yet 10 companies funded by growers and tax payers - yes, tax payers - don't have to reveal their remuneration in such detail. And these represent some of our biggest commodities - red meat, dairy, wool and horticulture.
How do we know if an RDC is getting the proper value out of its head person? What sort of incentives are provided in a given year? What is the criteria for a bonus?
What are the key performance indicators? Have they achieved them?
This shouldn't even be a thing. All levy payers and tax payers should know exactly what they are funding.
It is their money.
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