It should come as no surprise to anyone in the dairy industry that we are considering significant reforms to industry structures.
The mood for change has been brewing for nearly 18 months as part of the Australian Dairy Plan, and culminated with the release last week of the Dairy Plan Joint Transition Team's report into structural reform.
The JTT made a clear recommendation to create a single, whole-of-industry national dairy organisation that would merge the current range of national and regional dairy organisations into a one-stop-shop for all industry services, including policy, advocacy, research and development and marketing.
The proposed new organisation, given the name NewCo B in the report, would be owned by members and governed by a skills-based Board. Farmers would contribute a single levy payment for all services (the current Dairy Service Levy) and processing companies would also provide funding. Eligible expenditure on research and development would continue to attract matched funding from the Federal Government.
The report has been met with the usual debate around the perceived merits or shortcomings of the proposed model. These conversations are healthy and necessary to ensure that, if agreed, the final industry structure meets the needs of all industry stakeholders.
But regardless of anyone's personal view, the JTT fulfilled its clearly defined purpose by delivering a proposal for transformational change that will strengthen advocacy to be more effective, united and efficient.
Farmers were clear in their feedback during the 25 regional Dairy Plan workshops held last year - they want reform to industry structures that will consolidate and amplify the voice of the dairy industry.
The JTT agreed that the current structure is no longer fit for purpose.
Obviously, the proposed model would have significant implications for all existing industry organisations, which we will explore during a new consultation process. We must consider the views of state dairy farmer organisations, but broader than that, I want to talk to as many farmers as I can to hear any concerns they may have about the proposed model.
We need all farmers to stay engaged with the process during the next several months, because any shake-up of industry structures will be broad-ranging.
Regardless of what a new structure may mean for ADF, the most important outcome is to achieve a model where all industry stakeholders are engaged and contributing.
The dairy industry has grappled with a number of issues in the past few years - declining profitability, increasing farm exits, prolonged drought and, most recently, bushfires to name just a few. Such hardship has kept the industry in the headlines and Canberra is listening. Now is the perfect time for the industry to consider the future.
While some people will undoubtedly get excited by the merits and possible shortcomings of the JTT's proposed model, we must remember that it is only a model and not a definitive structure.
Stakeholders will have an opportunity to provide feedback and we will be seeking a mandate to implement the new structure through an industry vote.
I've always believed that people support what they help build.
We need all farmers to stay engaged with the process during the next several months, because any shake-up of industry structures will be broad-ranging and affect everyone.
I understand that while the industry continues to wage battle on many fronts, there is frustration at how long the process of reform is taking.
But we only get one shot at this. Stay with us on this journey to ensure we get it right.
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