House debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Motions

Dairy Industry

9:59 am

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources) Share this | Hansard source

I second the motion and reassure the House that this matter is urgent, because not a day goes by when we don't lose another dairy farming family from the land. I remind members that this is an essential consumer good for Australians everywhere. The member for Kennedy has moved this as an urgent matter because he cares deeply about not just those dairy farming families but all those along the value chain and, of course, all those Australian consumers who don't want to find themselves in a situation where they're importing their drinking milk in powder form. Now, some people would say that is overreach. It is not. It is not overreach if we continue to lose our dairy farmers at the rate we have been losing them now for a number of years. So this is an urgent matter. It's a matter that can't be put off any longer.

I've been in the agriculture portfolio for, I think, almost seven years. My first meeting with Australian Dairy Farmers was a request—a plea, really—to put pressure on the government to put in place a mandatory code of conduct, urgently. That was nearly seven years ago. This is why this matter is urgent today. We finally had put in place a code of conduct late last year, but, as the member for Kennedy has pointed out, a code of conduct is not a sufficient mechanism to deal with the structural issues in the dairy sector and the power imbalance issues in the dairy industry. If you've got a structural problem, you need to address it with policy that addresses those structural problems and you need to do it very urgently, which is why the member for Kennedy has moved his motion today and it's why I am very happy to second it in this place.

Now, we are open to other ideas. I hope the member for Kennedy doesn't mind me saying that. If the government doesn't want to embrace the policy exactly as the member for Kennedy has put it, that's fine, but let us at least have an urgent conversation today about what the government might propose, because the only thing the government is proposing now, in addition to the mandatory code of conduct, which took six years to put in place, is to put pressure on the retailers to voluntarily keep a levy on milk to return to our dairy farmers. Well, voluntary isn't good enough. It's not sustainable. It's not going to address the structural issues in the industry.

The Labor Party proposed a very simple thing: refer to the ACCC to test the merits of a minimum farm gate price in every region—because every dairy region is different—so farmers couldn't be paid below their cost of production, which is regularly done to them on a regular basis now. But this government, for some bizarre reason which I cannot get my head around, is not even prepared to ask the ACCC to make that inquiry to test the merits and the efficacy of a minimum farm gate milk price. Do we not care about our dairy farmers and our dairy farming families sufficiently just to let the ACCC test that proposition? This is why this debate is urgent today: the clock is ticking. We are creeping further and further towards total import dependency for our fresh drinking milk—our drinking milk; it won't be fresh—and our other dairy products.

I've spent weekends on a dairy farm on a regular basis for the last couple of years. I've seen firsthand the impact of the drought and the price squeeze that our farmers have been in for such a long time now—in fact, arguably since deregulation in the early 2000s. It's urgent. The government needs to respond to this motion today, not ignore it as it usually does. To National Party MPs today: there's nothing politically in this motion. It doesn't criticise the government, so we're not inviting Nationals MPs to be critical of their own government. We're just asking them to vote with us today to send a clear signal to their own government that it's past time we did something for our dairy farming communities. (Time expired)

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