DAIRY farmers are outraged over a lenient penalty handed out to former Murray Goulburn managing director Gary Helou over misleading milk suppliers on the 2015-16 milk price.
Mr Helou was hit with a $200,000 fine and barred from managing a dairy company for three years for his role in setting a farmgate milk price in 2016 that was false or misleading.
In the Federal Court of Australia in Melbourne last week, Justice Jonathan Beach found Murray Goulburn had made representations to dairy farmers that the final farmgate milk price would be $5.60 a kg of milk solids but these were “false or misleading”, contravening Australian Consumer Law.
He also found Mr Helou knew that to be the case.
Justice Beach said Murray Goulburn would have to sell 56,000 tonnes of 1kg sachets of adult milk powder to achieve the final FMP of $5.60 a kg but had never sold more than 15,000 tonnes and was behind its targets in January and February 2016.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission also took action in the Federal Court of Australia against former Murray Goulburn chief financial officer Brad Hingle for engaging in deceptive and misleading conduct in setting the 2015-16 farmgate milk price.
Mr Hingle was fined $50,000.
Dairy farmers have rounded on Mr Helou and Mr Hingle.
United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Paul Mumford, himself a former Murray Goulburn supplier, said it was appropriate the judgment and blame was laid firmly at the management of the co-operative. But Mr Mumford said it was “a little bit disappointing” a small fine of $200,000 and $50,000 had been meted out to Mr Helou and Mr Hingle, respectively.
“Considering the devastating effect it had for farmers and shareholders of Murray Goulburn, it doesn’t seem equitable,” he said.
Crossley dairy farmer Karrinjeet Singh-Mahil said a fine of $200,000 meted out to Mr Helou was “not enough when you think what has happened to the industry”.
“I would love to see some of these people spend a few years in jail to teach them a lesson,” she said.
“When you take on a position that impacts on other people’s lives, you cannot think that it is OK to play with their money,” Ms Singh-Mahil said.
“Our society doesn’t punish people in these situations well enough.”
WHAT THE SUPPLIERS HAD TO SAY
Crossley. Was supplying Fonterra in April 2016 before switching to MG. Now with Saputo
“He (Gary Helou) has permanently damaged the industry. But it wasn’t just him. There were others involved. He would not have been able to do what he did if there had been proper governance (at MG). The $200,000 is not enough when you consider what happened to the industry.”
Boorcan. Former MG supplier, now with Saputo
“Gary Helou was part to blame. I think he had great visions, which is what we would expect from a leader. But the board should have had more control over him. There were enough accountants on the board who should have known what was going on. Under the circumstances, the penalty is pretty light considering what he walked away with. It’s a slap on the wrist.”
Princetown. Former MG supplier, now with Saputo
“The bastard should have been hung. He got away scot free. He’s buggered up my retirement.”