The chairman of Australia’s peak red meat industry body insists he has no knowledge of collusion among buyers and sellers of livestock.
David Larkin from the Australian Meat Industry Council last week told a Senate inquiry into the sector he had never heard of colluding in the beef marketplace.
But Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie said the committee had been presented a ‘‘significant’’ body of evidence suggesting otherwise.
That included allegations of a boycott of a cattle sale in Barnawartha, near Wodonga, by at least nine meat processors over a dispute about the timing of weighing the cows.
The matter is being investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Victorian farmer Laurie Horne also claimed to have seen ‘‘shameful’’ collusion over the years, and that anyone who didn’t think it existed had never been to a saleyard.
‘‘We don’t want to talk about it, but it happens,’’ Senator McKenzie said.
‘‘And Mr Larkin, if you’ve been involved in this industry for 32 years and you can sit here and say it doesn’t happen at the buyer end or the seller end, I think is pretty rich.’’
Meat and Livestock Australia’s Peter Hall said he, too, had no direct evidence, but acknowledged there had been ‘‘a lot of hearsay’’ in his four decades in the industry.
Mr Larkin said if there was evidence of collusion, ‘‘then that’s a matter for the law to deal with’’.
The ACCC’s Marcus Bezzi said the competition watchdog took allegations of price-fixing, bid-rigging, market sharing and agreements around supply very seriously.
He said anyone found guilty of such offences faced up to 10 years in jail.
‘‘It’s not something we do lightly,’’ Mr Bezzi said.
He said there were provisions to grant immunity to whistleblowers and encouraged those who had any evidence of collusion to come forward.
The Australian Beef Association has told the inquiry beef producers in Australia faced a serious lack of competition from buyers, caused both by consolidation in the processing industry and by the increasing market power of the supermarket duopoly.
‘‘However, the situation has been made far worse for beef producers because their capacity as an industry to provide a counterweight to this power has been severely compromised by inadequate and compromised industry structures,’’ the association said.
It said this included:
■The inability (or unwillingness) of our levy-funded service provider Meat and Livestock Australia, to provide adequate market and other data.
■The decision to permit AusMeat, a joint venture of MLA and the Australian Meat Processors Corporation, to self-regulate carcase grading and systemically skew results in favour of the processors.
■The development of the compromised MSA grading system to benefit processors and retailers at the expense of producer returns and consumer satisfaction.