Introduction and background
On 18 March 2015, the following matters were referred to the Senate
Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee (the committee)
for inquiry and report by 12 August 2015:
The effect of market consolidation on the red meat processing
sector, and in undertaking the inquiry, the committee consider:
- the potential for misuse of market power through buyer collusion and the
resultant impact on producer returns;
the impact of the red-meat processor consolidation on market
competition, creation of regional monopolies and returns to farm gate;
the existing selling structures and processes at saleyards, particularly
pre- and post-sale weighing, as well as direct sales and online auctions, and
whether they remain relevant;
the regulatory environment covering livestock, livestock agents, buyers
and meat processors; and
any related matter.
On 14 May 2015, the Senate granted the committee an extension of time to
report to 17 March 2016. On 22 February 2016, a further extension was granted
by the Senate to 5 May 2016.
On 4 May 2016, the committee tabled an interim report in relation to its
inquiry. The committee also sought, and was granted an extension (until 20
December 2016) to complete its inquiry.
On 9 May 2016, the inquiry lapsed with the dissolution of the Parliament
for a general election (which was held on 2 July 2016).
Following the 2016 election, the Senate agreed to the committee's
recommendation that the inquiry be re-adopted in the 45th
Parliament. On 15 September 2016, the Senate re-referred the inquiry (with the
same terms of reference) and set a reporting date of 30 March 2017. On 23 March
2017, the committee sought, and was granted, an extension (until 15 June 2017)
to provide its report to the Senate.
On 15 June 2017, the committee sought, and was granted a further
extension (until 17 August 2017) to complete its inquiry. On 10 August 2017,
the committee requested and was granted an extension until 29 November 2017 to provide
its final report to the Senate.
Conduct of the inquiry
The inquiry was advertised in The Australian and on the
committee's webpage. The committee also wrote to government departments, meat
industry stakeholder groups and individuals to invite submissions. Details
regarding the inquiry, and associated documents are available on the
committee's webpage at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Rural_and_Regional_Affairs_and_Transport/Red_meat_processing.
The committee received 98 public and 24 confidential submissions.
A list of submissions is included at Appendix 1. Public submissions to the
inquiry are also published on the committee's webpage.
The committee held a number of public hearings in relation to its
inquiry, which included: Roma on 4 August 2015 and Albury-Wodonga on 2
September 2015. Hearings were also held in Canberra on 27 August 2015, 17
November 2015, 5 April 2016, 8 August 2017, 10 August 2017 and 16 August 2017. A
list of witnesses who appeared at the hearings is included at Appendix 2.
On 14 March 2017, the committee visited the Melbourne offices of Scott
Technology Australia. The site visit provided the committee with the
opportunity to discuss the issue of Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA)
technology with a number of industry stakeholders – including representatives
from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), the Australian Meat Processor
Corporation (AMPC), the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) and the Cattle
Council of Australia (CCA). The committee also viewed a demonstration of the DEXA
technology being developed by Scott Technology.
The committee has, over many years, taken a keen interest in Australia's
red meat sector. The ongoing themes, and issues of concern stakeholders have
raised with the committee during that time have included: industry structures,
producer representation, price transparency, grading, meat marketing,
labelling, meat language and the relationships between various sectors of the
Since 2000, the committee
has conducted a number of inquiries in relation to the red meat industry,
The Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry (High Quality Beef
Export to the European Union) Order 2000 (December 2000);
The introduction of quota management controls on Australian beef
exports to the United States by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and
Forestry (June 2002);
The Australian meat industry consultative structure and quota
allocation, Interim Report: Allocation of the US beef quota (September 2002);
The Australian meat industry consultative structure and quota
allocation, 2nd Report: Existing government advisory structures in
the Australian meat industry (December 2002).
Several of these inquiries examined issues such as quota management
controls (specifically as they relate to the export beef sector). The committee
has also reviewed, at various times, the consultative structures which exist across
the red meat industry.
As far back as 2002, the committee responded strongly to what it deemed
the undemocratic process by which MLA board members were appointed. At the
conclusion of its 2002 inquiry, the committee recommended that the MLA board
consult with its membership with a view to finding ways to introduce democratic
reform to its Articles of Association.
Further, the committee recommended that, in the absence of progress on this
matter before the 2003 MLA Annual General Meeting, the Minister [for
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry] engage in a "detailed and open
consultation with levy payers on reform options for a more democratic board
Concerns regarding representation and the MLA board arose again in 2013, during
the committee's Inquiry into industry structures and systems governing levies
on grass-fed cattle (which was tabled in September 2014).
More recently the committee's inquiries have focused on issues such as
meat marketing, beef imports and industry structures and systems. Reports
tabled by the committee have included:
Meat Marketing (September 2008 and June 2009);
Beef Imports into Australia (November 2013); and
Industry structures and systems governing levies on grass-fed cattle
(9 September 2014).
The committee's Inquiry into Meat Marketing (which commenced in 2008) examined
a number of issues of concern across the meat industry, primarily in relation
to marketing, and:
...with particular reference to the need for effective
supervision of national standards and controls and the national harmonisation
of regulations applying to the branding of meat.
The committee's interim report (tabled in September 2008) focused on:
incidents of hogget and/or mutton being substituted for lamb;
the use of dentition as the primary determinant of animal as
the need for a uniform approach to the labelling of imported meat
products – specifically pork.
In conducting its inquiry, the committee also investigated the need for
uniform domestic meat branding, grading, quality specifications and labelling.
The committee's final report (tabled in June 2009) focused on issues not
addressed in its interim report – specifically around the labelling of beef products
and the use of labels such as 'organic' and 'free range' (across all meat
products). The report addressed issues such as:
the lack of beef grading for quality in Australia and the options
for providing better information to consumers;
concerns about the 'budget' beef labelling agreement misleading
consumers as to the nature of what they are purchasing; and
perceived problems with the use of breed claims in marketing.
Beef imports into Australia
The primary focus of the committee's 2013 Inquiry into Beef Imports into
Australia was the importation of beef products from countries whose cattle
herds have bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and/or foot-and-mouth disease
During its inquiry, the committee did, however, also consider issues
around food labelling and the adequacy of Australia's "food labelling laws
to ensure Australian consumers can make a fully informed choice on Australian
As part of its inquiry, the committee also received evidence regarding
AUS-MEAT Language, and a grading system introduced by Meat Standards Australia
(MSA) designed to provide consumers with simpler and more meaningful
Industry structures and systems
governing levies on grass-fed cattle
In December 2013, the committee was referred an inquiry into the "industry
structures and systems governing the collection and disbursement of marketing
and research and development levies pertaining to the sale of grass-fed
cattle". Part of the inquiry's terms of reference included:
an examination of [meat] industry governance arrangements,
consultation and reporting frameworks; and
putting forward recommendations which would maximise the ability
of grass-fed cattle producers to respond to challenges and capture
opportunities in marketing and research and development.
In its report (tabled in September 2014), the committee noted that the
concerns expressed by submitters to the inquiry regarding the effective
management of the levy system were also "symptomatic of a wider belief
that the industry structures underpinning the levy system are too complicated
to provide for adequate transparency and coherence, particularly in relation to
roles and responsibilities".
The committee's report also highlighted the substantial changes which had taken
place across Australia's meat industry since the current systems and structures
were put in place – as far back as 1997-98. The committee argued that, as a
consequence of these dynamics, its inquiry had revealed a growing support for a
thorough and independent review of industry structures, coupled with a desire
for substantial reform.
The committee's inquiry into levies on grass-fed cattle produced seven
recommendations, which were "directed at providing for greater producer representation,
transparency and accountability within the grass-fed cattle levy system".
The committee recommended:
- That a
producer-owned body be established by legislation. The body should have the
authority to receive and disperse the research and development, as well as the
marketing component, of the cattle transaction levy funds. The producer-owned
body should also be authorised to receive matching government research and
development funds. Reforming the Cattle Council of Australia to achieve these
outcomes should be examined as part of this process.
establishment of a cost-effective, automated cattle transaction levy system.
The system should identify levy payers against levies paid. The automated
system should provide for more immediate settlement of levy fees paid and the
allocation of voting entitlements. It should be subject to regular independent
auditing and verification.
the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Act 1999 be amended to ensure
that levies paid by processors are recognised as processor (or slaughter)
levies and not as producer (or cattle transaction) levies.
the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) conduct an audit of the cattle
transaction levy system, tracing the levy from inception and focusing on the
revenue from, and expenditure of, the respective components of the levy.
the Minister for Agriculture [and Water Resources] dissolve the Red Meat
Advisory Council. The committee further recommends that the Minister for
Agriculture establish a new system to manage and disperse earnings from the Red
Meat Industry Reserve Fund, in consultation with the industry.
the Minister for Agriculture revoke the status of the MLA Donor Company as an
approved donor under the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997.
the Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the cattle industry,
conduct an analysis of the benefits, costs and consequences of introducing
legislation akin to the Packers and Stockyards Act 1921 and Livestock
Mandatory Price Reporting Act 1999.
The committee's 2014 report, and its seven recommendations, were very
well received by various industry stakeholders, and the committee received
considerable positive feedback – particularly from producers.
Mr David Byard, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Beef
Association (ABA), summed up the views of a number of stakeholders when he
It is common ground amongst all rural industry groups and
institutions that the current organisational representative structures have
outlived their time and are no longer sustainable either from a funding or
operational perspective in the long term.
The time has come to get on with the implementation of the
reforms recommended by the Senate Inquiry into grass fed cattle levy funded
structures and systems ...
As mentioned above, the committee tabled the Effect of market
consolidation on the red meat processing sector: Interim Report [interim
report] on 4 May 2016. In tabling its interim report – immediately prior to the
dissolution of the Parliament and ahead of the 2 July 2016 general election –
the committee had the opportunity to put some of its initial findings on
The committee presented its findings in relation to selling practices at
saleyards. Specifically, the committee reported on the events that took place at
Barnawartha and the potential for misuse of market power through buyer collusion
and concerted practices. The committee also reported on evidence it had received
in relation to:
saleyards as a selling system, including the issues around pre-
evidence in relation to saleyards and price discovery;
selling structures, including 'over the hook', direct sales and
online sales; and
the regulatory environment and the grading system.
Submitters to the inquiry expressed particular concerns about the impact
of consolidation across the processing sector and the lack of transparency in
the supply chain. The committee agreed that these issues "in addition to
what appear to be common practices, such as single agents representing multiple
buyers, demonstrate the need for protections against uncompetitive practices,
particularly to ensure a fair return to producers".
The key themes identified during the inquiry – particularly by producers – included:
the lack of price transparency in the supply chain;
the need for legislation regarding concerted practices; and
the need to restore confidence in grading systems and processes.
The committee's interim report also reflected on the structures
governing the red meat industry – which were described as both 'complex' and 'convoluted'.
The committee pointed to supply chains which encompass a wide range of stakeholders
– including producers, contractors, processors, retailers and consumers – and
evidence which suggested that within these complex supply chains, market power can
show itself in a number of ways.
The committee was provided with examples of "non-competitive terms
and prices, asymmetric information and price discrimination".
Evidence was also received in relation to commission buyer practices, the
imposition of saleyard curfews, the 'over the hook' grading system, the current
system of price setting, and the integrity of the systems surrounding the red
meat industry more generally. In making its recommendations the committee also
took into consideration issues such as concerted practices, price transparency,
accountability and saleyard design.
The recommendations put forward by the committee in its interim report
focused to a large extent on finding ways to create a fairer market. The committee
that a transparent pricing mechanism be introduced at livestock
saleyards and that MLA, in cooperation with the livestock and red meat
industry, establish a national price disclosure and reporting system;
that industry and producers work together to establish best
practice modelling for saleyard design in cooperation with producers and their
that the Australian Government introduce legislation to prohibit
concerted practices as soon as practicable; and
the establishment of a registration and training system for
livestock agents. In addition, the committee recommended that a system of
oversight be introduced by the registration body which includes a formal
The committee also recommended that the Senate grant an extension of
time for reporting on the inquiry; to allow the committee to resume its
examination of the terms of reference and provide its final report to the
Senate. In recommending an extension, the committee also signalled its
intention to review the findings of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's
(ACCC) Cattle and beef market study. The ACCC's final report, which was
scheduled for public release in November 2016, was ultimately released in March
Final report – key issues
In undertaking its inquiry into the effect of market consolidation on
the red meat processing sector, the committee continues its long tradition of
investigating issues of concern to meat industry stakeholders – particularly
producers. In this, its final report, the committee focuses on several issues within
the terms of reference which remain a primary concern to industry stakeholders:
price transparency and accountability across the industry;
greater producer representation within and across the governing
structures of the red meat industry; and
mechanisms for independent grading and the lack of a complaints
mechanism in a system that is not designed around producers.
Structure of the report
In April 2016, the ACCC announced that it would be conducting a detailed
study of Australia's cattle and beef industry which would examine competition,
efficiency, transparency and trading issues across the beef and cattle supply
chain. The ACCC published the Cattle and beef market study: Interim report
in October 2016. This was followed by its final report, which was released on 7
The committee has had the opportunity to review both reports and their
findings. An overview of the ACCC's study, the ACCC's findings, and the
committee's response to those findings is contained in Chapter 2. Chapter 2
also examines stakeholder concerns regarding the ACCC's investigative powers,
including its ability to protect witnesses, gather evidence and make binding
The committee's interim report pointed to evidence provided by
stakeholders regarding the need for transparency across the supply chain.
Submitters repeatedly argued that the pricing mechanism in the cattle market
"lacks integrity at the saleyards and in over the hook sales".
These issues were examined as part of an MLA-commissioned project which
conducted an in-depth study of supply chain transparency. The MLA project
produced a series of 'Milestone' reports which provided the basis for some much
needed discussion across the industry. The MLA's analysis, the project's
findings and the committee's examination of these issues are set out in Chapter
As noted in the committee's interim report, for many years producers and
industry bodies have expressed concerns about various aspects of the meat
grading system. Chapter 4 describes the current grading system and sets out
some of the concerns raised by industry participants about the lack of
appropriate mechanisms which would allow for both independent grading and the
independent resolution of complaints. Chapter 4 outlines the progress that has
been made in relation to the development of objective carcase measurement (OCM)
technology and the options being examined by industry participants.
The committee is very much of the view that the question of effective
producer representation is central to the challenges being faced by Australia's
red meat industry. Chapter 5 examines issues such as the complexity of the red
meat industry structures and buyer representation in decision making processes,
and questions whether the time has come to conduct a thorough review of the red
meat Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
As previously noted, the committee has undertaken a number of inquiries
in relation to Australia's red meat industry over a period of many years. The
committee has investigated and reported on various issues of concern to
industry stakeholders and involved itself in several ongoing debates. The
subjects of the committee's inquiries range from the industry's organisational
and representative systems and consultative structures to the collection and
expenditure of levy funds and the need to reform the structure of
representative bodies across the industry.
Over the years, the committee has been consistent in its view that the organisations
charged with representing producers need to be truly representative and
consultative bodies. As part of their obligations to producers, these
organisations need to be undertaking an appropriate level of consultation with
the people they are working for – producers and levy payers. For representative
bodies to say they are truly working effectively, producers must feel that they
have some level of control over the setting of priorities – including strategic
and research goals and the financing of specific industry projects.
The terms of reference for the committee's recent Inquiry into the
industry structures and systems governing levies on grass-fed cattle
required that the committee put forward "recommendations which would
maximise the ability of grass fed cattle producers to respond to challenges and
capture opportunities in marketing and research and development".
The committee stands by the seven recommendations it made in its September 2014
report, which were aimed at providing for greater producer representation,
transparency and accountability within the grass-fed levy system.
Evidence provided to this inquiry has highlighted the fact that many
stakeholders – particularly beef producers – share the committee's concerns
about the current lack of price transparency, the need for legislation to deal
with concerted practices and the importance of rebuilding confidence in grading
systems and processes.
The committee notes that, over a period of years, industry stakeholders have
regularly made announcements signalling their support for reform across the cattle
and beef industry. Industry leaders – including the Minister for Agriculture
and Water Resources – have confirmed their support for reform and indicated
that they are keen for peak industry bodies to express the views of their
members and provide representation to government using a "more or less
The CCA emphasised the need for strong leadership and called for an
increased level of cooperation and collaboration across various sectors of the
industry. The CCA also argued that national cattle producer representative
bodies should play a larger role in leading reform. It has indicated that, by
2020, it would like to see a new national cattle producer body representing the
majority of cattle businesses and cattle production that is working cooperatively
with other peak industry councils across the value chain.
MLA also addressed the issue of industry leadership in a recent annual
report. The Managing Director, Mr Richard Norton, sought to clarify the point
that, under its current Deed of Agreement, MLA is prohibited from engaging in
any agri-political activity or lobbying; and that it is the peak industry
councils which have the mandate to lobby and advance the interests of the
The committee agrees that it is vital for stakeholders – particularly
producers – to have strong leadership. The committee also agrees that the
industry needs clarity regarding who is responsible for providing stakeholder
representation and leadership. The committee also notes, however, that there
has been agreement for some considerable time about the need for industry reform.
These sentiments are not new: they have been articulated in planning documents,
media releases, strategic plans, studies, reviews and annual reports for more
than a decade.
The time has come for representative bodies and peak industry councils
to work cooperatively with each other (and their members) for the good of the
industry as a whole. It is up to representative bodies to find ways to work
with all stakeholder groups, to identify solutions to the problems facing the
sector and drive the implementation of change once appropriate solutions are
found. This report, by seeking to strengthen representative structures, should
go some way to supporting the industry to achieve these goals.
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