Murray Goulburn boss can’t delay mediation in ACCC case
Competition & Consumer Protection June 12, 2018 3:44 pm By Christine Caulfield | Melbourne

A judge has dismissed a bid by former Murray Goulburn boss Gary Helou to push off mediation in an action brought by the ACCC, ruling that the ex-executive’s trip to China was no reason to delay possible resolution of the case.

Justice Jonathan Beach set a mediation date for June 18, after suggesting that the former dairy cooperative managing directo call into mediation by phone.

“Is he going to be in remote Mongolia,” the judge asked Helou’s barrister, Carl Moller, who said Helou would not be available until August.

The ACCC has accused Murray Goulburn of engaging in unconscionable conduct and making false representations to dairy farmers in Victoria, South Australia and southern New South Wales about the average farmgate milk price.

Helou and former chief financial officer Bradley Hingle are accused of being knowingly concerned in the conduct.

The case, brought in April 2017, alleges the co-op misled the southern milk region farmers about the average farmgate milk price they would likely be paid between June 2015 and April 2016, falsely representing that it would be higher than it was.

“The ACCC alleges that Murray Goulburn’s conduct had an adverse impact on many farmers who, as a result of Murray Goulburn’s representations regarding the farmgate milk price, had made business decisions,” ACCC chairman rod Sims said in a statement announcing the action.

“The farmers relied on Murray Goulburn’s representations and were not expecting a substantial reduction in the farmgate milk price, particularly so close to the end of the season when it was not possible for them to practically readjust their expenditure,” Sims said.

From June 2015 to February 2016, Murray Goulburn misled farmers when it said it had a reasonable basis for setting and maintaining an opening farmgate milk price of $5.60 per kilogram of milk solids, according to the ACCC.  The co-op also misled them when it forecast a final price of $6.05/kgms for the 2016 financial year, the regulator said.

Murray Goulburn also allegedly made further misrepresentations about the farmgate mikl price from February 2016 to April 2016.

The conduct was unconscionable, the ACCC said, because Murray Goulburn relied on the information to make major business decisions and expected the co-op to regularly update the price.

The regulator wants court orders against Murray Goulburn but is not calling for pecuniary penalties, which would directly impact the farmers, it said.

Murray Goulburn is represented by Corrs Chambers Westgarth; Helou is represented by Herbert Smith Freehills and Hingle is represented by MinterEllison.

The case is the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Murray Goulburn Cooperative Co. Ltd & Ors.

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Christine Caulfield

Christine Caulfield has been a journalist for 18 years. She was most recently the Co-Managing Editor at US legal news publication Law360. Prior to that she worked as the County Court reporter for The Herald Sun. She is Co-Founder and Editor of Lawyerly.