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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1681

Ms SAFFIN (9:52 PM) —I rise to speak on an issue of concern to a significant number of my local beef producers. These farmers predominantly run family farms and, like most, are happy to do a hard day’s work for a reasonable return and fair play. They also want reasonable representation by me as their local federal member of parliament and, more to the point, by the local bodies that are legally charged with representing them. This brings me to the MLA. A significant number of my local beef producers tell me that they are not happy with the representation they receive from this body. I am told, and I read, that there are others across Australia who share that view.

This body was set up in the late 90s under the stewardship of the former Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party the Hon. John Anderson. From my reading of the parliamentary debates as well as the subsequent legislation and the legislation that he championed at the time, the setting up of the MLA was, among other things, a move towards self-regulation. In terms of industry sector representation, that in itself is not the problem. But this body has particular research and promotional responsibilities and, from my reading, those responsibilities are mandated by the legislation and the relationship of the levies that are paid by the beef producers across Australia.

Research responsibilities alone are quite onerous. In my view, they are best located within a particularised research setting that has expertise in research in general as well as academic inputs and integrity and research literacy in the field both nationally and internationally. I am not saying—although some of my local beef producers as well as others across Australia do—that the MLA does not have this, but I do have apprehensions about the structure of the MLA. The first of these is a critical one. It goes to what I consider to be the structure itself.

The MLA has a corporate structure subject to corporate law, and that is built into its constitution. That structure, in my view, does not lend itself either to the research work that I outlined or, tellingly, to participatory representation—and therein lies the rub. I understand from my readings that there are approximately 150,000 red meat levy payers in Australia, but only about 45,000 are signed up as members of the MLA. Of those 45,000, approximately 10,000 registered to vote at the MLA AGM.

The MLA voting structure allows the top 50 levy payers to outvote those thousands of members who pay the levy. That is problematic to my way of thinking. Maybe there is something in the structure that I do not know about, but of itself that is quite problematic. I can understand why those at the top—the ‘top dogs’ as I call them—may feel some sort of proprietorial right, but I understand even more why the ‘small dogs’ and the local family farmers and levy payers feel disenfranchised and disempowered by this.

This brings us back to the 1996 task force report which preceded the establishment of this structure, which included the MLA; it was not just the MLA standing alone as it does today. To be more precise, it was the red meat industry organisational structure. One of the things that were emphasised in that report was:

Representation and involved ownership is necessary to achieve the essential participation of the industry itself in their own levy-funded industry organisation.

A lot of my local farmers say that they do not feel that, and that is what they are making representations about. There has recently been a report done by the Productivity Commission on rural research and development corporations. It has already been sent to the government and I eagerly await reading that report. (Time expired)