A big, complex, difficult job

Brumby tells of dairy plan dilemmas

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NOT EASY: Within the week, Australian Dairy Plan chair John Brumby hopes to announce the members of the team responsible for building the seminal industry plan by the end of October.

NOT EASY: Within the week, Australian Dairy Plan chair John Brumby hopes to announce the members of the team responsible for building the seminal industry plan by the end of October.

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The handful of people who will write the Australian Dairy Plan will be announced in a week and have a really big task ahead of them.

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One phrase cropped up several times during Stock & Land's interview with Australian Dairy Plan (ADP) independent chair John Brumby.

"This is going to be a big job," he said.

"This is a this is a complex job, it's a difficult job."

With the national workshop over, the next stage involves the drafting of the plan itself by the end of October.

That task will fall to a six to 10-member Joint Transition Team (JTT) selected by Mr Brumby and the other four industry chairs overseeing the ADP.

Mr Brumby hopes to have the membership settled in a week and says a skills matrix and representation would guide selection.

"I'm keen to see people on the board that have got experience in things like governance, or industry restructure and reform," he said.

"Obviously, we need people who've got a deep understanding of the industry, we need to make sure that there's strong farmer representation but also that there's representation from other parts of the industry, including processors.

"I want to overlay that, if I can, to try and ensure we've got a bit of gender balance.

"I don't think we just want an all-male committee, for example.

"I'd like to get a bit of age diversity, so, trying to make sure we've got some younger farmers represented.

"And also geography is important.

"Whether it'll be possible to make sure that every state is represented I don't know but certainly getting some geographic spread would be important."

The JTT will be supported by a full-time secretariat - either Dairy Australia or the Australian Dairy Farmers lobby body.

"There'll be specialist advice as required, most probably from Brian Ramsay, who's done a lot of work in this space," Mr Brumby said.

The document due for release by the end of October will be a draft rather than a final report.

"This will be a final draft because I think there may well need to be some further fine tuning of that," Mr Brumby said.

"It may be that the final draft has recommendations for change, for example, in industry structures and advocacy.

"But those changes would still need to be agreed and approved through many of the regional and state based organizations."

Mr Brumby said a consultation period would follow after the draft was released but could not say when that would conclude.

"I don't have a clear answer on that," he said.

"And I don't think that consultation is an opportunity either to reprosecute or rewrite the report.

"It's really for any fine-tuning or for mechanisms that need to be put in place to give agreement or to get consensus around some of the key proposals.

"We've been through quite an exhaustive process with the 25 regional workshops, the national workshop, informed by a number of other meetings with key stakeholder groups and one on ones with potential investors and so on.

"So I think the direction, in my mind is pretty well set and that direction is pretty well set out in those 10 key propositions."

Topping the list is "Transformational change to reform industry structures and strengthen advocacy to be more effective, united and efficient.".

It is also likely to be the most controversial.

While calls for a single advocacy voice have been strong, ADF and the Australian Dairy Processors Federation only last month severed their financial ties in response to farmer concerns regarding their independence.

READ MORE: ADF's million-dollar funding hit

Dairy Australia's constitution also prohibits it from advocacy in return for partial government funding.

"In the times in which we're operating, the challenges that have been placed upon the industry, what farmers are saying in particular, but not just farmers, is that we need to look at the structures," Mr Brumby said.

"Are the structures right?

"Are there too many organizations?

"Would we be better with one and be sharper and more focused in its advocacy in the community but also with government?

"There hasn't been any finger pointing,

"I think people are saying we need we need a change in exactly the same way as meat and livestock and wool and others, like citrus, have been looking at change.

"Dairy is no different.

"We need to modernize, we need to sharpen the focus and we need to make sure that the industry structures are right to do that."

The other priorities that emerged from the national workshop include:

  • New measures to increase transparency and help manage market risk including the establishment of a functioning milk price market and new risk measures backed by government legislation
  • A significant increase in marketing and promotion to ensure the community values dairy products, the dairy industry and dairy farmers
  • Increased effort and new initiatives to attract and support the next generation of farmers
  • A heightened focus on building farmer capability and increasing and stabilising margins on farms through measures to improve productivity and improve farm costs.

A wide range of other important issues including climate change, social licence and animal welfare, on-farm productivity, research and development, and skills development were also discussed and will form part of the plan.

Mr Brumby defended the inclusion of topics outside the top five, which were not highlighted to the same degree in regional workshops.

"You got a pretty clear consensus about four or five top issues but, in total, there were dozens of issues that were raised," he said.

"Some of them might have only been raised by 30 or 40 people, others raised by 100 or more.

"Nevertheless, there was a long tail of issues that were raised but they didn't make the top five.

"So we had a session at the national workshop where delegates were able to discuss all of those other issues, really to determine what we described the 'breadth' of the plan.

"So should the plan just be about the top four or five a bit like the footy finals?

"Is it just the top four or the top eight or should it also address other medium term issues if there was a sentiment to do that?"

Mr Brumby said the national workshop had helped rebuild trust within the industry.

"At the workshop we had 130 people coming from Australia with a variety of views but it was very constructive and very productive," he said.

"I came away with a huge amount of, 'admiration' is probably the right word, for people in the industry who have been through a lot of challenges but were still able to contribute so positively and constructively to the change agenda and come together.

"I know there's been some long-standing sensitivities in this area but rebuilding some of that trust as well between farmers and processors, I saw that occurring during the national workshop.

"And I think that's a very positive step forward as well."

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