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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 3606

Ms SAFFIN (Page) (11:42): Before I start on the contribution I am here to make, I want to give my absolute support to the honourable member for Parkes's proposal to make 13 June national Slim Dusty Day. I wish to put on the record a statement I have prepared on the state of the beef industry and specifically its representative bodies. I have called it 'Beef bodies fail farmers'. After a decade of stagnant farm gate prices, despite a billion dollars of farmers' and taxpayers' money being paid to industry bodies, beef producers are demanding a restructure of their industry to safeguard Australia's food security, secure better farm gate prices and to take advantage of growing demand from developing markets—and China is notably one.

Beef producers, processors and exporters pay $5 per head to the Meat and Livestock Australia, MLA, every time an animal changes hands—totalling $96 million in revenue from members' levies—and received $44.5 million in 2010 alone from the federal government for R&D projects. That is more than $1 billion in compulsory levies paid in the last decade, yet producers feel the MLA and the Cattle Council of Australia, CCA, have failed to utilise the levies to their meaningful advantage. They highlight estimates that supermarkets increased retail beef prices by 50 per cent between 2000 and 2010, but cattle prices remained unchanged and margins eroded over the same time frame. Producers say MLA, the association that undertakes R&D and marketing on their behalf, does not effectively represent members' interests, their interests, and it lacks transparency and accountability in the way it apportions members' levies and inadequately reports R&D results. Producers also perceive that the Cattle Council of Australia, the peak council that is supposed to advise and in some way have some oversight of the MLA, is compromised because it relies in part on some MLA funding and lacks an effective executive board able to adequately advise on the strategic direction of R&D marketing.

The fact that Australia has no adequate domestic meat-grading system in a climate of declining beef consumption suggests another obvious failure of the MLA and CCA to provide advantage to producers. According to the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences, domestic consumption per capita declined from 41.3 kilograms in 1997 to under 33 kilograms in 2011. Industry sources estimate that 30 to 40 per cent of beef sold in Australian supermarkets comes from old cattle, and that consumer dissatisfaction with this poor-quality beef is a contributor to the decline.

Since cattle producers receive little difference in price for old cows or young steers, there is currently little reward for producing top-quality meats: so says Norman Hunt from the Australian Meat Producers Group. With Chinese imports of Australian beef up 250 per cent in 2012 on the previous year, and set to keep rising, producers also lack the assurance that the MLA has sufficiently anticipated issues that could adversely affect market share. They recognise the MLA's weakness in this regard after its failure to work effectively with countries that import live Australian cattle to develop humanitarian approaches to slaughtering, despite millions of levy payers' dollars spent developing these markets: $25 million were spent developing the South-East Asian beef market from 2005 to 2011, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 15 November 2011.

Many, including myself and the workers at the Northern Co-operative Meat Company in my electorate, believe live-trade animal abuse will continue despite Minister Ludwig's introduction of a systemic supply chain system—and this is the first time that has ever happened. This is also evidenced by the mistreatment of Australian cattle in Egypt recently. A shift from live exports to box-meat trade could prevent animal cruelty, save Australian owned country abattoirs—we have lost so many over the years— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 11 : 48 .