Gary Helou wants dairy farmers to know Murray Goulburn's milk price woes was not his fault

Gary Helou
Gary Helou

Farmers hoping for a hint of remorse, let alone an apology, from Gary Helou have been left feeling just as empty as they did in April when the former Murray Goulburn chief executive left the company with many dairy farming families on their knees.

Mr Helou this week spoke for the first time about the dairy crisis which unfolded while he was at the helm of Australia’s largest dairy processor.

Under questioning at a Senate Economics References Committee inquiry into the Australian dairy industry, Mr Helou was defiant.

“I wanted to help Murray Goulburn become a great co-op,” he said “ … the benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing.”

He denied misleading the market and farmers.

"We didn't mislead, I didn't mislead," Mr Helou said about farm gate milk prices, despite widespread industry concerns prices spruiked by MG were unrealistic in a global downturn.

"We acted on the best information that was available to us at the time.” In April Mr Helou publicly expressed confidence farmers could get paid $6 per kilo of milk solids.

Just 48 hours later he had left the co-op, with $10m in pay and perks, and farmers were hit with retrospective price cuts that forced many to cull herds and some to leave the industry.

MG offered farmers a milk supply support package to help farms cover their cash flows, with the loans to be recouped via lower milk payments over three years.

But Mr Helou wiped his hands of the disastrous cash clawback program.

“I stepped down before the decision by the Board to make the Milk Supplement Support Scheme and those decisions so I can’t really comment,” he said.

Mr Helou also stunned the industry when he told the inquiry neither the ACCC or ASIC – which are running their own dairy inquiries – had not contacted him.

“I have not been approached,” Mr Helou reluctantly offered after persistent questioning. 

United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Adam Jenkins found it unconscionable authorities investigating the industry had not spoken to a key figure. 

“I've fallen off my chair," Mr Jenkins posted on social media when he heard Mr Helou’s comments.

Mr Helou was giving evidence to Wednesday’s hearing in Perth via teleconference from Sydney.

The Senate also held a public hearing in Shepparton on Thursday and Burnie, Tasmania, on Friday.