SENATE INQUIRY: Queensland Nationals senator Barry O'Sullivan.
SENATE INQUIRY: Queensland Nationals senator Barry O'Sullivan. Michael Ross

Senator grills ACCC

A MANDATORY code of conduct for the red meat sector could be recommended from the Barnawartha North saleyards boycott fallout.

The suggestion was raised by Queensland Nationals senator Barry O'Sullivan this morning, during one of the final hearings this week of the Senate inquiry into the red meat industry.

The long-running inquiry was sparked after nine registered buyers failed to turn up to the Barnawartha saleyards in February 2015, in alleged protest against pre-sale weighing.

Senator O'Sullivan and Victorian Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie grilled the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's agriculture unit general manager, Gabrielle Ford, on the progress industry had made toward self-regulation following the ACCC's investigations - which found no solid evidence of collusion at Barnawartha - and recommendations for reform.

Ms Ford said changes to concerted practices legislation had strengthened the ACCC's "tools” but she could not guarantee it would lead to prosecution in the future.

Ms Ford said the ACCC had selected the Red Meat Advisory Council - made up of representatives across the red meat industry - to lead changes in the industry, but conceded little to no progress had been made so far.

Senator O'Sullivan said putting self-regulation in the hands of RMAC meant "we've whistled the foxes up to govern the henhouse”.

"Everybody in these peak bodies ... has a vested interest in not changing the behaviour at Barnawartha,” Senator O'Sullivan said.

"If there's no other magic pudding solution, the only thing left for us is to recommend that we regulate them through a code of conduct.”

Ms Ford said another solution would first be to encourage industry to adopt a voluntary code.