Former Murray Goulburn (MG) boss Gary Helou has been fined and ordered to leave the industry for three years in a Federal Court deal.

MGs former managing director must pay $200,000 in penalties for being knowingly concerned in Murray Goulburn’s false or misleading claims about the farmgate milk price it expected to pay dairy farmers during the 2015-16 milk season.

“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 admitted to making false or misleading representations in breach of the Australian Consumer Law when it represented to farmers in Victoria, SA and southern NSW on 29 February 2016, and subsequently until 27 April 2016, that it could maintain its opening milk price of $5.60/kgms.

The ACCC said Helou had admitted he was involved in the misleading representations made by MG, including not informing farmers of risks known to MG, and of making unfounded assumptions that MG could achieve its milk powder sachet sales targets.

“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,” Keogh said.

“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 said it did not seek a penalty against Murray Goulburn because as it was a co-operative, any penalty imposed against it could end up being paid by the very farmers that were misled.

As part of the resolution of the proceedings, Helou undertook to the court that he would not be involved in the dairy industry for three years.

In August 2018, the ACCC resolved its proceedings against MG’s former CFO Bradley Hingle after he consented to an order that he pay a contribution to the ACCC’s costs and gave an undertaking to the court that he wouldn’t be involved in the dairy industry for three years.

The court also ordered by consent that MG and Helou pay a portion of the ACCC’s legal costs.

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