The Federal Court has ordered former Murray Goulburn Co-operative managing director, Gary Helou to pay $200,000 in penalties for his involvement in false or misleading claims about the farmgate milk price it expected to pay dairy farmers during the 2015-16 milk season.
Helou admitted he was involved in the misleading representations made by Murray Goulburn, including not informing farmers of risks known to Murray Goulburn and making unfounded assumptions that the co-operative could achieve its milk powder sachet sales targets.
“The penalty imposed against Mr Helou reflects his seniority at Murray Goulburn and involvement in misleading representations about the farmgate milk price,” ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said.
“Murray Goulburn’s misrepresentations meant farmers were not informed of the likelihood the final milk price would fall below the opening price. This was important information for farmers as it would have influenced the business decisions each farmer made.”
“Farmers were denied the opportunity to plan for the impact of the reduced milk price on their businesses between February and April 2016, including implementing measures to reduce their exposure to a decrease in the milk price or shopping their milk around to other dairy processors.”
The ACCC did not seek a penalty against Murray Goulburn because as it was a co-operative, any penalty imposed could end up being paid by the very farmers that were misled.
“We were conscious not to seek penalty orders that would adversely affect farmers for the wrongs committed by Murray Goulburn, so we focused on obtaining appropriate orders against the individuals involved in the conduct,” Keogh added.
As part of the resolution of proceedings, Helou will not be involved in the dairy industry for three years. The Court also ordered that Murray Goulburn and Helou pay a portion of the ACCC’s legal costs.