By NATALIE KOTSIOS
AUSTRALIA’S two largest beef processors have flatly denied allegations of collusion and price transferring.
Teys Australia and JBS Australia came under intense scrutiny this morning when a Senate inquiry into the red meat sector resumed in Canberra.
The inquiry was prompted after nine buyers — including Teys and JBS — did not turn up to sales at the Barnawartha North yards in February this year, in apparent protest over the decision to weigh cattle before sale.
Teys chief executive officer Brad Teys insisted during one line of questioning that he had never seen any evidence of collusion in the nation’s saleyards, prompting a fiery exchange with Senator Barry O’Sullivan.
“You’re aware of the Wodonga incident where nine buyers didn't turn up in the one day?” Senator O’Sullivan asked.
“All I know is we didn’t turn up,” Mr Teys said.
“You think the nine of them, independent of each other sat around the corner and decided, ‘You know what? Today’s not a good day to go to Wodonga’,” the Senator said.
“All I can tell you is we acted independently and what everyone else did is up to them,” Mr Teys said.
Executive director of livestock Geoff Teys confirmed the company told the Barnawartha saleyards it would not be returning until pre and post-sale weighing was offered and “let the market do as it would”.
Mr Teys said the company bought 92 per cent of its cattle on direct consignment, and said he did not believe saleyards prices affected those on the grid.
Senator O’Sullivan also asked if Teys had heard any allegations of price transferring for meat processors with in part or whole overseas interests.
Mr Teys first said he had heard some discussions of price transferring “about some big companies like Google”. Drawn back to the topic of meat processors, he conceded he had heard the issue raised “in the pub”.
JBS director of corporate affairs John Berry said JBS didn’t attend the Barnawartha sale in question because it was having production issues at two of its plants.
Mr Berry said JBS launched its own internal review once learning of the collusion allegations, and referred those results to the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission for its investigations.
Asked by Senator Bridget McKenzie if JBS had ever heard any discussions between buyers on pre and post-sale weighing, JBS chief executive Brent Eastwood said: “No.”
Mr Eastwood said he accepted collusion could potentially be a problem but “not from our side”.
Senator O’Sullivan commented it appeared all nine buyers had the “dog ate my homework” excuse, questioning that all came to the same conclusion on the same day.
“My message to this industry is that you join us, because I have talked to dozens and dozens and dozens of agents and producers … and almost a man to a woman, they’ve indicated to me they think there’s collusion,” he said.