Dairy's all-in-one body revealed as JTT report released

Dairy's all-in-one body revealed as JTT report released

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REPORT RELEASED: Joint Transition Team chair Shirley Harlock and Australian Dairy Plan chair John Brumby.

REPORT RELEASED: Joint Transition Team chair Shirley Harlock and Australian Dairy Plan chair John Brumby.

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The Joint Transition Team has recommended a single body for the whole Australian dairy industry.

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By mid-year, the Australian dairy industry is likely to vote on whether it will be served by a single body responsible for advocacy as well as research and development on behalf of both farmers and processors.

Under the recommendations of the Joint Transition Team (JTT) report released today, the new, yet-to-be-named body would "ideally" collect compulsory levies from both farmers and processors and could be in place by July next year.

It would roll together Dairy Australia, national farmer peak advocacy body Australian Dairy Farmers, state dairy organisations and the Australian Dairy Products Federation.

The Gardiner Foundation would not be part of the new all-in-one body.

The response from state dairy organisations has been cautious, with plenty of questions asked about how the new model would work.

It was, emphasised the chair of the JTT responsible for the report, Shirley Harlock, a model rather than a structure.

"Farmers have had a say in the construction of it with all the workshops and now there's an opportunity for farmers to have their say in the finer details," Ms Harlock said.

"People seem to think this is a fait accomplis but it won't work if we do that.

"I'd be bitterly disappointed if we can't enlist support for this.

"I'd nearly blame it on white ants if that happens because what we've got is not fit for purpose any longer."

While anyone could have their say on the draft Australian Dairy Plan (ADP) and the JTT report via a submission before February 29, ADP independent chair John Brumby said there will not be any other consultation with grassroots farmers.

"It's been a huge process from the ground up, so we're not planning to do that again," Mr Brumby said.

"It's really the dairy organisations and the dairy leaders, the chairs and the chief executives who will lead that consultation."

Mr Brumby planned to meet with dairy groups in a month.

"Our challenge ... is to convert that model into a structure and then get that into a format, a shape that dairy businesses can vote on by mid-year," he said.

The very high level report leaves plenty of room for discussion around funding, governance and the way resources are shared.

First though, both the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) president Paul Mumford and Queensland Dairyfarmers' Organisation (QDO) president Brian Tessmann wanted more time to talk to their members.

"This is just a suggested model," Mr Mumford said.

"I have to engage my members to find out if this is what farmers are wanting to enact transformational change."

"We need to figure out, 'Are these the answers we want? Which do we want to tweak? Which would we like to change?

"We welcome any extension, Victoria and the other states must make sure we get this next step right, so engagement with farmers is imperative.

"A long road ahead, I'm thinking."

Mr Brumby said he was "sympathetic" to the request and could, "in some cases", extend the February 29 deadline by "up to a month".

There would be plenty of governance issues for the industry to examine.

And governance was the number one concern of QDO president Brian Tessmann.

"While we agree with trying to put together the service and the advocacy side in one organisation, the skills-based board and the ways of selecting and electing them is forgetting the whole purpose," he said.

"Dairy farmers wanted more say, they wanted their voices to be heard.

"That's been ignored; I don't think that skills-based board addresses it at all."

The UDV, QDO, South Australian Dairy Association (SADA) and New South Wales Farmers Dairy Committee presidents said it would be critical that the new body was able to deal with regional issues effectively.

"There needs to be that connection to the grassroots of the industry and strong representation from our state and for all states," NSW Farmers Dairy Committee president Colin Thompson said.

QDO pointed to the achievements of the state dairy organisations.

"A lot of great things have come out that've made great advances for the national industry out of that regional level," Mr Tessmann said.

"You only need to look at the dollar-a-litre milk.

"We don't want to lose that regional voice.

"The plight of farmers in north Queensland and Western Australia would be fairly foreign to a skills-based director in Melbourne.

"One of our main concerns with the process all along, and we've been very open about that, is that it was being run by the 'four pillars'.

"That has never sat well with us.

"Going forward, we need to take the reins and make sure it moves with more direct input from the farmers.

"We thought this was about making the national level more efficient, not sweeping up all the states."

The role of processors in the new body was also something farmers needed to consider.

"The UDV is very supportive of the concept that processors should contribute towards research, development and extension," Mr Mumford said.

"It's pretty easy to collect levies from farmers but how you do that from the whole supply chain is going to be extremely difficult."

Farmer Power was far less impressed.

"I've already had phone calls from farmers who are angry, they don't want the processors involved and they don't want to entrench the status quo; this is Dairy Australia on steroids," Farmer Power chief executive Garry Kerr said.

"Who's going to be in control?

"It needs to be more answerable to the farmers who pay the levy.

"I hope the minister looks at this very closely.

"How can an advocacy body represent farmers if they're also representing processors?"

SADA president John Hunt said, at first glance, the JTT report had "a lot of positives" but it was important to remember the existing system "isn't broken".

"If people think if we adopt this thing they're going to get a $10 a kilogram payout, they'll be disappointed," Mr Hunt said.

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