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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
09/02/2016
Estimates
AGRICULTURE AND WATER RESOURCES PORTFOLIO
Australian Meat Processor Corporation

Australian Meat Processor Corporation

[17:47]

ACTING CHAIR: We are now dealing with the Australian Meat Processor Corporation.

Mr Noble : This is the first time I have appeared before one of these committees. I am at a significant disadvantage, having listened to the proceedings today, in that I am both a meat processor and a lawyer.

ACTING CHAIR: Welcome, Mr Noble.

Mr Noble : It is a pleasure to be here. I thought I would just explain a little bit about what has happened with the meat processor board over the last three or four weeks. Our incumbent chairman, Stephen Kelly, whom you would be familiar with, resigned his position at Nippon. As a consequence of that he was ineligible to sit on the board. So we had to appoint another processor director, Mr Brian James, whom you would be aware of. So we have two special qualifications directors on the board, seven processors and two special qualifications directors. I am one of the special qualifications directors on the board. As chairman I think it would be pretty important to be an independent chair of the AMPC going forward, which I think is quite a significant step forward.

ACTING CHAIR: You are an independent chairman?

Mr Noble : I am. I was a former meat processor. We had a plant in Cootamundra. Senator Heffernan would be very familiar with it. We sold it to Manildra Meats in 2014.

ACTING CHAIR: We cannot baffle you with bull dust because you know the industry. Thanks for giving us the heads-up.

Senator BULLOCK: Mr Noble, you obviously have been part of that consolidation in the meat processing industry that we have heard so much about in this committee.

Mr Noble : Yes. We found, as a family, to compete in this current marketplace you needed to have very deep pockets. My father died in 2012. Even though I am a kind of a meat person I still did not have the skills, I thought, to run a meat processing plant. So the family decided to sell it. We were lucky enough to sell it to a fine Australian, Richard Honan.

Senator BULLOCK: Given it is your first time, and I am not that experienced either, I am going to make it easy for you by directing this more to Mr Quinlivan.

Mr Noble : Thank you.

Senator BULLOCK: So you might be off the hook for the first one.

Mr Noble : Thank you.

Senator BULLOCK: It was really when I noticed the processes it reminded me of other work that the committee is doing and the concerns in the industry about price transparency and some growers have concerns about the processes. I may be a little bit off the track here, Mr Quinlivan, but I think this might be my last meat opportunity; so I did not want to miss it. In those discussions there had been some submissions about how issues of price transparency were addressed in other jurisdictions and some favourable comment with regard to the Packers and Stockyard Act in the US. I wondered whether the minister had been briefed on the Packers and Stockyard Act.

Mr Quinlivan : I cannot answer that last question with certainty. We can give you a better answer than that on notice. But on the general question about price transparency I know that the minister shares the concern. One of the tasks that the new ACCC commissioner will have when that appointment is made, which we are expecting to happen very soon now, as well as dealing with potential enforcement activity under the competition and consumer act, is to look at some of these underlying transparency issues. There have been a lot of claims and allegations over time, which you are very aware of. Very few of them have found their way to the courts.

Senator BULLOCK: Finding something and proving something appear to be two different things.

Mr Quinlivan : Indeed. I think there is a general view that if there could be more transparency in some of these markets, and I think it is true in horticulture as well, some of the suspicions about anticompetitive behaviour might be unfounded. But the transparency is not there to the degree that we would like and so the new ACCC commissioner will be looking at that as a policy priority rather than a legal priority.

Senator BULLOCK: I am sure that there are a whole range of things that can be investigated in this connection. Just to narrow my question down again so that it is crystal clear, I am interested in whether anyone from the department has briefed the minister with respect to the Packers and Stockyard Act.

Mr Quinlivan : No. I answered that question.

Senator BULLOCK: I know you are going to take it on notice. I look forward to the answer. It is a narrow question. And of course probably dates and things like that are ancillary to the question as well.

Mr Quinlivan : Okay.

Senator BULLOCK: That was just to put you at ease, you see, because I do have one for you off the script, which is this: can you update the committee on AMPC's strategic plan, particularly in reference to your stakeholders' request for greater scientific inputs towards enhancing and addressing major issues such as food safety, new product development, market access and industry sustainability and, as they always add at the end, climate change? I might go through that list again: food safety, new product development, market access, industry sustainability and climate change.

Mr Noble : You would be aware that in a majority of those areas of research we subcontract, if I could use the word, to the MLA. We are a joint funder of those programs. We get the benefit of most of the research. It is not part of the AMPC's present purview to be involved in that.

Senator BULLOCK: But you do commission research?

Mr Noble : Yes, we do but the research is done by other people.

Senator BULLOCK: You have got this in common with a whole lot of people who have appeared before us. They commission the research. They do not do it themselves.

Mr Noble : It is a joint-funded program so that that research would come from processor members or other institutions that would be willing to do that research.

ACTING CHAIR: With the greatest respect, Mr Noble, we know where you are coming from but as meat processors you still have to address these issues which you subcontract out.

Mr Noble : Yes, we do.

ACTING CHAIR: You might want to take it on notice. We would be very keen, from the AMPC's point of view, to hear how you address these issues.

Senator BULLOCK: Yes, that is the issue.

ACTING CHAIR: Just how you address them.

Senator BULLOCK: These reflect the concerns of your stakeholders. They want to know what your plans are to address these issues, not necessarily hands-on yourself but through the organisation. This is the sort of question that is not uncommon.

Mr Noble : No. I understand that. We also have a very detailed report to members which details the responses we have to those. Let me take that question on notice so that I can deal with it specifically.

Senator BULLOCK: That will do just fine.

Mr Noble : Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: Mr Noble, it will come as no surprise to you that, as chair of the committee that looked into the grass-fed levies, one of my recommendations was the abolition of RMAC. The minister has not even gone close to initiating any of them. I just leave you with this thought, and let us hope and pray that we do not have to have this problem again: should there be a situation faced where animal cruelty is shown overseas, which should not happen, I would be very interested, now you are independent chair of RMAC how, with your hat on—

Mr Noble : No, I am chairman of the AMPC.

ACTING CHAIR: Sorry, AMPC.

Mr Noble : I know what you mean, the meat processors.

ACTING CHAIR: Sorry; it is all these acronyms. I cannot see how the Red Meat Advisory Council, when it is full of particularly processors and co, could effectively represent the views of the live export trade. It is just a thought. You do not have to answer. You are independent now, a bit.

Mr Noble : A bit, yes.

ACTING CHAIR: But you are still a meat man. And thank goodness. I just wish there was a lot more of you and we did not have to have live export. Thanks, Mr Noble.

Mr Noble : Thank you, senators.

ACTING CHAIR: That is okay. That didn't hurt a bit.

Mr Noble : No. Thank you, Senator.