Lost in a dairy dilemma

This headline in the Herald Sun, this morning (29/11), in the column by John Beveridge (In the Black) caught my attention. It concerns the takeover battle for Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory, involving Canadian dairy giant Saputo, Murrray Goulburn, Australia’s largest dairy food company and 100% controlled by Australian dairy farmers, and historic Bega Cheese Limited, from the Bega Valley in NSW, which has aspirations of greatness on the world stage.

I’ve known John for about ten years and have high regard for his integrity as a person and a journalist, and his skill at searching out important information on blurry issues. In this article he continues his exploration of matters concerning Australia’s food industry, which is a matter affecting every Australian. He also seems to beg vital questions.

Our interest is that we’ve set up a public journalism project about the social implications of supermarkets, i.e. Coles and Woolworths, constantly trying to lower prices for their customers. Already, we are finding much more than you read in the headlines fed to us by the major media organisations. Sadly, John is on page 65 of the Herald Sun.

These are some of his comments (with our comments, too)

“…the money on offer is literally breathtaking!” (If it is breathtaking, there must be some big benefits for the new owners if the bid is successful. Where will the money flow?)

“As one pensioner shareholder put it…”I have dealt with shares for over 40 years and at all times trust and/or a handshake were sufficient for the deal to be made on behalf of both the seller and the buyer – this has not happened in this transaction,”” (Why has the culture of trust changed?)

“The Warrnambool board, for its part, has been firmly in the Saputo camp from the start and has not deviated from supporting Saputo’s progressively higher bids – and its commitment to keep the current staff in place if it is successful.” (Who will suffer from the necessary rationalisation, if this is true? The families of relocated workers? The Warrnambool community? Board members?)

“How does it (the Board) explain to a shareholder that it now recommends no action on the Murray Goulburn bid, after earlier urging acceptance of an arguably inferior but unconditional bid from Saputo?” (Who are the Board members representing?)

“But I wouldn’t take odds on it switching horses away from Saputo at this stage.” (Why does John think this?)

“Media canvassing” (What is this practice, and whom does it benefit?)

“The Takeovers Panel” (By what criteria does it judge the worthiness of a bid, and primarily for whose benefit?)

“Now the shareholders are told to wait until the Warrnambool board comes up with its latest strategy for supporting Saputo.” (Who are the Board members representing?)

“Saputo has cash to burn and a reputation to protect for winning every takeover it enters.” (Are the workers and other citizens of Warrnambool held captive to ego and the desire to have more and more?)

How many Warrnambool people will share in this “breathtaking” offer as shareholders of WCBF?

I think John is touching on a deep problem for Australian society, which is only beginning to show up in other areas. I’d love to help him shine the light on some of the hidden stuff in the issues he’s raising. I’d love to know what the community builders in south-western Victoria think about this takeover offer. I’d love to know what the civic leaders think. I’d love to know what the church leaders think. I’d love to know what workers and their relevant union leaders think.

If money value passing between a few people located around the world is the principal definition of value in these transactions, to the exclusion of justice and hope, then people in regional areas like south-western Victoria are in for a depressing future.

Bob Simpson


The Australian Media Engagement Project (AMEP)

About Bob Simpson

Bob is project manager of The Australian Media Engagement Project (AMEP). He believes that ethical and independent journalists are vital to the continuing freedom of Australian citizens. You could argue that In recent decades media organisations have subtly subverted journalism to their own private commercial interests, and away from an integrated sense of fairness, well being and shared prosperity in Australian society, especially for the disempowered. AMEP aims to change general media narratives towards greater fairness, well being and shared prosperity in Australia.
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