TASMANIA’S peak farmer body is seemingly complicit with the state’s government to keep secret a report with recommendations on how Tasmania could implement the mandatory electronic identification of sheep and goats.
Independent consultants recently finalised the report, commissioned by the Tasmanian Red Meat Industry Steering Committee, set up and funded by the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association with $250,000 from the State Government.
The terms of reference for the consultancy work state that: “The work completed by the successful provider will be made available for other jurisdictions to utilize, at the discretion of the TRMISC.”
However, in what has been described by steering member and stock agent George Nichols as a “dangerous” decision, the TFGA on behalf of the TRMISC has sent the report to the State Government before even considering its general release to industry stakeholders.
The report was prepared after consultation with producers and other Tasmanian sheep industry stakeholders and has made recommendations on how the state should proceed, covering aspects such as tag and equipment costing and subsidisation, and potential participation in a national tag tender. This included the results of a survey of industry stakeholders that TFGA chief executive officer Hugh Christie said in a release on 31 August last year “will be critical to informing both industry and government’s consideration of the best approach to improving traceability in the sheep and goat sectors…” The TFGA said all feedback collected will be confidential and reported back to industry anonymously.
However, when asked by Sheep Central if and when the final report would be released, a TFGA spokesman said on 3 March: “The report has been submitted to the government, it’s now up to the State Government when it’s made public.”
When Sheep Central approached the Tasmanian Minister for Primary Industries and Water, Premier Jo Palmer’s office about the report’s release a Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania (NRE Tas) spokesperson replied on 9 March that the department had received and is currently considering the steering committee’s report on sheep electronic identification.
“Please note the question about the release of the report should be directed to TFGA and the Tasmanian Red Meat Industry Development Steering Committee,” the spokesperson said.
“The Tasmanian Red Meat Industry Development Steering Committee report into sheep EID is by the Tasmanian Red Industry Development Steering Committee and TFGA so those specific questions should be directed to them.”
When Sheep Central then asked the TFGA spokesman if the report been provided to any other jurisdictions, State Governments, industry bodies or to the Federal Government, he said on 9 March:
“The report has not been released, and the TRMISC has not had the opportunity to decide to share the report with other jurisdictions, state governments, industry bodies, or the federal government.
“Once the report is released, the TRMISC will consider its contents and make any appropriate decisions regarding sharing it with other parties.”
TFGA and government playing ‘ping pong’
TRMISC member George Nichols said he was not aware that the report had been finalised, but characterised the TFGA’s and government’s contrasting positions on the report’s release as a case of ‘ping pong’.
Mr Nichols believes the report should be released to the industry stakeholders who contributed to it.
“Because the stakeholders need to be part of this system.
“For sheep traceability reform to be successful the stakeholders need to be the ones driving it,” he said.
“If the industry as a whole is not driving this and aware of the issues and aware of what needs to be done then how does it operate successfully, because the stakeholders are responsible for implementing it, are responsible for upholding the standards and guidelines, that’s why.”
Mr Nichols said it is “dangerous” for the TFGA to give the responsibility for driving the process to the State Government.
“For the industry, I do not believe it is the best interests of the industry for that (to happen).
“I believe we need to be responsible for implementing traceability reform, because we are aware of how the industry works, the stakeholders are aware of how it works and what needs to be done at a grassroots level all the way through,” he said.
“I believe that it is taking it out of the industry’s control.
“By doing that it is taking the responsibility and the ability to implement traceability out of the industry’s and the stakeholders’ hands.”
TFGA CEO has no comment on whether stakeholders will see report
Mr Christie said the TFGA and the current TRMISC chair Cheryl McCartie submitted the report to AgriGrowth Tasmania (a section of NRE Tasmania) on Monday this week as stipulated by the government funding agreement.
“We submitted the report in accordance with our funding deed.
“The report is to make recommendations to the State Government; that was the purpose of the report.”
When asked if the funding deed required the TFGA and TRMISC to release the report to the State Government and not to anyone else, Mr Christie said: “The State Government funded the report, that’s not our call.”
Mr Christie said he could not comment on the State Government’s stance that the report’s release was up to the TRMISC, or whether industry stakeholders would ever see the report.
“I can’t comment on that Terry, I would have to take advice.”
Mr Christie later commented after reviewing the project arrangements, that the report “is an interim stage in developing the road map, which has been provided to government for consideration to inform final implementation road map.”
“As such, we are not in a position to release this report as it is informing the roadmap not defining it.
To be clear, I have discussed this with NRE Tasmania to ensure we have the same understanding,” he said.
The sheep EID project is part of a $1 million Tasmanian Government commitment to support the development of the red meat industry and has been developed by the TRMISC, initially chaired by Felicity Richards. Ms Richards would not comment about the committee’s work or the final report.
The report by Victorian consultants Lee Beattie and Warren Straw involved examining what has been learned about EID from sheep producers in Tasmania and other states who voluntarily use EIDs, exploring the benefits and hurdles of EID use on farms and through to the processor. It involved consultation with producers, stock agents and processors, to explore their sentiments, any concerns about implementation and what support would be needed.
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