AUSTRALIA’S top sheep meat producer and wool grower bodies have welcomed new legislation aimed at giving levy payers a greater say on how compulsory levy funds are spent.
On March 3, the Coalition Government introduced legislative changes to enable the development of levy payer registers to give primary producers more say about how their levy funds are used.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, said amendments to the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Act 1991 had been introduced to the Parliament in response to strong feedback received from industry and the findings of two Senate inquiries into industry structures and systems governing agricultural levies.
“Levy payers have told me in no uncertain terms that they want to have more input into how their hard-earned dollars are being spent — and rightly so.
“Australia’s agricultural levy and research and development system is a world-leading model, but producers deserve more transparency around how the funds are managed—as do taxpayers, whose tax dollars are also used as matched funds,” he said.
“These amendments will allow levy payer information to be provided to research and development corporations (RDCs), for very specific purposes—but only if a rural RDC, in consultation with industry, decides to establish a register.
WoolProducers Australia wants a prescribed body
WoolProducers Australia chief executive officer Jo Hall said the wool industry currently has a levy payer database that its rural development corporation – Australian Wool Innovation — can access.
“What the wool industry doesn’t have is a prescribed body representing wool growers to enhance grower consultation.
“WPA has long held concerns over the transparency and accessibility of the consultation process of compulsory levies administered by AWI and fully agrees with Minister Joyce’s call for levy payers to have more say in how their hard earned dollars are spent,” she said.
Sheepmeat Council welcomes legislative moves
Sheepmeat Council of Australia president, and WA Producer, Jeff Murray said the introduction of the legislation is an important step in empowering industry representative organisations.
“Under the current red meat industry structure, SCA has a prescribed responsibility to represent all levy payers and oversight levy expenditure.
“This is a responsibility that we take very seriously and we have always strived to be the most effective and representative body possible,” he said.
“However, we are hamstrung in our ability to do this as we are currently unable to identify who the levy payers, the people we represent, actually are.
“Once passed, these amendments will enable peak bodies such as SCA to identify the industry issues and priorities of the levy payers we represent through better engagement with them and therefore empower us to oversight levy expenditure more effectively,” Mr Murray said.
“We fully support the governments’ proposed safeguards around this information such as the requirement for the Research and Development Corporations to establish a levy payer register and that access to information in that register is subject to approval by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
“We understand that this information is sensitive and that carte blanche access would be inappropriate,” he said.
“We commend Minister Joyce and his staff for their foresight in striving for these important reforms.
However, we also note time is of the essence for this legislation to pass in an election year and we implore parliament’s support for these important amendments,” Mr Murray said.
Joyce says legislation will help levy payer communication
Mr Joyce said the RDCs are governed by the same privacy principles as the rest of the Australian Government.
“As well as enabling RDCs to request levy payer information, this amendment will also allow industry representative bodies—where they are prescribed in legislation—to obtain access to levy payer contact details for specific purposes, subject to approval by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
“This change will support prescribed industry representative bodies’ efforts to engage with their constituency,” he said.
“It will help them to adequately consult on key industry issues — ensuring that they can appropriately advise on levy expenditure where they have a legislated role to do so.”
Mr Joyce said direct feedback from levy payers will help RDCs ensure their research and development investments align with industry priorities, resulting in improved returns for primary producers.
“This will also help our RDCs to identify and communicate directly with levy payers, and allocate votes for polls efficiently and accurately, so producers can make their voices heard.
“Each RDC, and indeed each agricultural industry, is very different so it’s up to each industry to decide whether or not they’re interested in such a register, and I expect RDCs will be in contact with their industry over the coming months about their preferences.”