Plan starts to take shape

By Dairy News

AUSTRALIA’S NEW Dairy Plan is moving closer to reality, with a Joint Transition Team set to deliver recommendations on a new industry structure and advocacy.

A progress report from the JTT and a key directions statement were expected by the end of October, with a draft Dairy Plan due a month later.

Officials are reluctant to divulge details at this stage, but some farmers are concerned about the prospect of processors joining farmers in an industry leadership group, although Australian Dairy Plan Committee chair John Brumby thinks that would benefit the industry.

More than 20 consultation workshops around Australia identified industry structure arrangements and advocacy as major problems facing the industry, leading to formation of the JTT to develop new options.

Mr Brumby said he was happy with progress of the review but he stressed the need to get it right.

“This is a plan for the next five years and beyond. For all those who invest and work in the industry and regional Australians who depend so much on dairy, it is crucial to get this right,” he said.

Mr Brumby said the JTT was on track to produce a progress report which will feed into the overall Dairy Plan.

The committee is also on track to produce a key directions document by the end of October which will summarise the key themes from consultation workshops and the positive directions and initiatives which could be included in the Dairy Plan.

A draft plan is expected at the end of November but Mr Brumby said there would be further opportunity for feedback.

“We’ve given more consideration and think there should be a period of further consultation with industry before we finalise the Dairy Plan,” he said.

“The consultation process we put in place has been a real strength of what we’re doing but I understand people want to see results.

“During Australia Dairy Week we hope to have finalised the draft, then we may need further consultation or a further national workshop following its release.”

Mr Brumby said there had been a huge amount of input during workshops.

“That process has driven the issues we’re considering in the Dairy Plan and in turn drove the establishment of the JTT, because the number one issue that came out was industry structure and advocacy arrangements,” Mr Brumby said.

He said the eight-member JTT had a lot of experience in dairy, industry and corporate restructure and its members were well linked to their local communities and dairy industry.

“They will consider formal submissions but much of the purpose of establishing the JTT was to utilise their informal links which will feed into the work they are doing.

“It’s not an easy task. Many agricultural industries have been looking at their structures and it’s always a complex process, particularly when you’re trying to streamline, modernise and make more effective the structure that you’ve got.

“I’m hopeful by the end of November there will be a much firmer set of recommendations from the JTT.”

When asked about the potential makeup of industry representative bodies, including the possibility of farmers and processors working together, Mr Brumby said it was “a matter for the JTT to look at”.

“I’m not going to pre-empt the work of the JTT and I’m aware there are a range of views on that issue,” he said. “But my personal view is that the long-term interests of this industry would be best progressed when farmers and processors are able to work together with a common set of interests.

“I know not everybody agrees with that view but if we can find more common ground, build trust and confidence and share long-term objectives for the industry, then I think the industry’s interests and Australia’s interests are better served by farmers and processors being able to work together.”

Mr Brumby said the JTT was looking at the best industry structures and would consider formal and informal submissions and report its view to the chair’s group of the Australian Dairy Plan Committee.

“That committee, which I chair, will make the final decisions about what is in the Dairy Plan,” Mr Brumby said.

He said he was confident of developing a plan that addressed the key issues of profitability, industry confidence and cohesiveness but added: “I’m also a realist and know the current environment is very challenging. There are no silver bullets or quick solutions.”

While unable to elaborate on the transition team’s progress, JTT chair Shirley Harlock said it had received and reviewed several stakeholder submissions and a wide range of relevant information.

Mrs Harlock said the team remained focused on responding to expectations for transformational change and creating a more unified industry and had explored a number of possible structural models.

She said the team was on track to deliver a future directions paper to the Dairy Chairs Committee by the end of October.

“The issues of policy development and advocacy and whole-of-industry interests are a high priority,” she said.

Dairy Australia chair Jeff Odgers said the key future directions paper would be out at the end of October but he couldn’t comment further at this stage.

Australian Dairy Farmers president Terry Richardson has been on leave and couldn’t comment on recent updates, and UDV president Paul Mumford didn’t respond to calls.

The Wannon branch of the UDV confirmed it had lodged a submission with the JTT.

President Bruce Knowles said the submission was based around a restructure to unite dairy advocacy under one body, calling for more accountability and pooling resources.

“We want to maintain a relationship with the processors but initially it has to be a farmer-led structure to set up the organisation and its rules and governance, then bring in the processors at an appropriate time.

“It’s with the JTT and I can’t say a lot more about it, but I can say the feedback is very encouraging.”