ACCC gives dairy farmers some closure

The United Dairyfarmers of Victoria welcomed an announcement by the ACCC that it will launch legal proceedings in the Federal Court against former Murray Goulburn CEO Gary Helou and CFO Brad Hingle for their alleged roles in 2016’s milk crisis.

“It’s been a tough 12 months for our dairy farmers but we’re pleased to finally have a resolution that those responsible for the milk crisis are being held to account,” UDV President Adam Jenkins said.

“We’ve been very strong from day one of the dairy crisis to ensure our farmers are not bearing the risk for management decisions made up the supply chain.”

The competition watchdog, in a statement released, identified a lack of transparency in price notifications as reason for launching legal proceedings.

But the ACCC won’t seek a pecuniary penalty against Murray Goulburn, explaining in a statement that any financial penalty “could directly impact on the affected farmer”, instead seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties, and disqualification orders and costs against two top executives.

“We’re pleased the ACCC has recognised that seeking a pecuniary penalty will only go back on the same farmers who were affected by the price cuts,” Mr Jenkins said.

“But accountability starts at the top and it’s a relief to see the ACCC holding the people in charge to account for the anguish the industry has felt since 2016,” Mr Jenkins said.

In a separate finding, the competition watchdog decided against taking action against Fonterra because Fonterra “was more transparent about the risks and potential for a reduction in the farmgate milk price”.

Mr Jenkins said he was disappointed with the outcome, but acknowledged the judgment of the ACCC as an independent regulator.

“I understand the frustration a lot of dairy farmers are feeling, but now the industry needs to focus on rebuilding trust across the supply chain.

“The trust that the industry has lost since 2016 has been almost insurmountable and it’s going to take a long time to rebuild,” he said.

“But the UDV is working hard for farmers to put in place a code of conduct and other measures that will protect farmers from these events happening again.”