Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce (right) and Page MP Kevin Hogan.
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce (right) and Page MP Kevin Hogan.

Barnaby won’t intervene in cattle industry reforms

AGRICULTURE Minister Barnaby Joyce has all but ruled-out stepping in to reform the national cattle industry structure - describing it as a "messy marriage" - despite local cattlemen advocating change for more than a decade.

A perfect storm of recurring droughts, the collapse of the Australian live export trade, and a high dollar have conspired to bring about historically low cattle prices unsustainable for small-scale graziers.

Prices are now worse in real terms than during the cattle price crash of 1974.

Local producers are barely scraping by as the rising cost of maintaining their properties and cattle threatens to overtake their earnings from the saleyards.

But mismanagement of the industry by peak bodies in Canberra and Sydney is what veterans say has compounded the problems.

They say they have been locked out of major decisions for years, despite paying a mandatory levy which funds the Meat and Livestock Association (MLA) responsible for growing the export market for Australian beef.

Voting power in the MLA is determined by how many beef cattle farmers sell in a year, so the bigger producers dominate decision-making.

Ian Fielding, former member of the Australian Meat Producers Group, is pushing for democratic reform of the MLA and its supervising body - the Cattle Council (CCA).

Other primary industries such as wool and wheat were democratically reformed in the 1990s and many agree similar reforms of the beef industry are long overdue.

In response to stakeholder pressure, the CCA has recently announced reforms it says will make the organisation more democratic, but Mr Fielding and many other cattlemen remain unconvinced.

They're now hoping the new Agriculture Minister will help see necessary changes come to fruition.

But Mr Joyce likened intervention to stepping into a "messy marriage" and said it was "ultimately my last alternative".

Instead Mr Joyce said his priority was to reinvigorate the live export trade, build the export market in China and South Korea and reduce "overburden" of regulation.

He also flagged a "root and branch" review of the Competition and Consumer Act to target any unfair practises by the nation's supermarket duopoly.

"There's no magic wand - one issue which fixes it all," Mr Joyce said.

New Page MP Kevin Hogan has agreed the industry needs to sort out internal problems themselves.

But Mr Fielding said average beef farmers had become so disillusioned most were now "wiping their hands of the situation".

"The industry is in crisis at the present time there's no doubt about that - prices are down at around the 1974 mark and costs are much much higher."

"People have given up."

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