AFTER 30 years working across some contrastingly diverse industries, from mining and militant unionism in Western Australia to finding myriad successes in Queensland’s beef industry, Australian Country Choice group managing director, David Foote, stepped onto the stage at today’s Ekka Breakfast to deliver the 2017 Malcolm McCosker Memorial Address.
His subject was “the importance of leadership and a single voice,” and while he expressed reservations before making some pertinent remarks, there were very few industry leaders, representatives and organisations that didn’t get a ‘mention in dispatches’.
In showman parlance, everyone got a prize.
Sponsored by the Rural Press Club of Queensland, and held annually in the Royal International Convention Centre at the RNA Showgrounds, this year’s attendance of more than 700 is justification of the growing importance of agriculture in Queensland and Australia, and especially the support from the city for the rural community at large.
The keynote address each year honours the memory of the late Malcolm McCosker, who passed away on December 4, 2011, at the age of 73. He joined the Queensland Country Life editorial staff on November 11, 1961, and had intended to retire on his 50th anniversary. Illness forced him to finish full-time work a few months short of his goal yet he continued to work from home.
Malcolm McCosker achieved legendary standing as a rural journalist many year previous. He wrote thousands of stories, took tens of thousands of photographs, drove millions of kilometres, knew everyone in the bush and everything, received a medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 1988.
He had an admirable career, was a journalist’s journalist and was considered a genuine good bloke by his peers.
Alongside his Memorial Address, David Foote noted that the legendary Malcolm was a “byline of influence and authority.”
And he described himself as the humble son of poor dairy farmers. It was an off-the-cuff speech that addressed many pressing industry issues.
“It was in Kambalda, Western Australia,” he said, “that I learnt how to organise things, how to take people with me and how to rely on the apathy of ordinary Australians.”
He later came to Queensland to join Stanbroke Pastoral and witnessed the successful launch of the Diamantina brand.
He later joined Kilcoy Pastoral Company, which was “totally dependent on Japan and not overtly successful.”
His view was the industry is about “the man, the company and our need for a single voice.”
David Foote joined Australian Country Choice (ACC) in 1999 as general manager of Properties and Livestock, before being appointed chief executive officer in 2002 and group managing director in 2012.
Now 18 years on, the company that started in Roma became fully vertically integrated, won control of Cannon Hill saleyards, and following the purchase of Barkly Downs Cattle Station in partnership with Evan and Jennie Acton, was appointed chairman of directors of Australian Cattle and Beef Holdings to manage the venture.
Headquarters in Brisbane and employing over 1,400 staff across its Queensland operations, the Lee family-owned ACC group of companies operates arguably Australia’s largest vertically integrated beef supply chain incorporating cattle breeding, backgrounding, fodder cropping, feedlotting, primary processing, further processing and export.
Foote noted that in 1994 the company consisted of one property on 5,000 hectares.
In 2017, it consists of 21 owned properties, six joint ventures, three leased properties over 2.35 million hectares.
He described his own views on leadership as “the expectation of good decisions at the right time.
“There was a need to remain cool, calm and collected — to make fair decisions free of unconscious bias.
“Leaders are great visionaries,” he added.
Foote addressed the political spectrum, asking whether our political leaders are gun-shy when it comes to driving change.
“Have they all gone vanilla? Are they all wearing cardigans?”
And he asked the audience to name five leaders in politics.
“Social media has taken-away the debate,” he said.
He was critical of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, when he asked “who do our political leaders go to for advice.”
It was here that he said political leaders weren’t consulting the representative bodies and the leaders of industry — “they are talking to individuals.”
He said industry representatives were tirelessly bringing passion to the individual sectors — “but they also need to discuss how to bring the next generation along.”
“And do we suffer from apathy?”
Foote said Meat and Livestock Australia was the most kicked-to-death organisation in the industry, and has a more negative committee than any other organisation.
“Voter turn-out is below five per cent — in other words, only five per cent want to have their say.
“Be careful what you wish for,” he warned, while adding that pork and chicken is setting the pace.
David Foote said that industry bodies and representatives aren’t being heard in government — “politicians are playing with the industry because there isn’t a united industry voice.”
He pointed to a graph, noting that in the past year, 135,000 Australian farmers…
- Produce 93 per cent of domestic food needs;
- Generate 13 per cent of total export revenue;
- Provide jobs for 13 per cent of the FTE workforce;
- Create $150 billion of finished product;
- Operate 100 million hectares of landscape; and
- Individually feed 600 people — 150 at home and 450 overseas.
He cited as critical the need to maintain to support of the city — noting the crowd in attendance; we need to recognise where the power of change comes from; and we must recognise that this industry is vital — not critical.
“There must be positive promotion of our industry — we must learn from those industries that have found success.”
He described the Lock The Gate mob as a “disparate who neither shave nor wash, but have been successful in shutting-down much.”
And he reiterated: “We are not bringing the next generation forward.”
There are many who understand the issues. They are the ones calling for solutions.