House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Private Members' Business

Wine Industry

6:45 pm

Photo of Sam BirrellSam Birrell (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to support the motion put by the member for Barker and acknowledge the serious pain that is going on in his electorate and others due to a range of factors affecting the global wine industry.

The wine industry is a significant employer and economic driver in my electorate of Nicholls. We have a number of different wine areas. One is the Nagambie region, an hour-and-a-half drive north of Melbourne. It's got historic wineries and vineyards, such as Tahbilk, which still has vines that were planted in the 1860s and managed to survive the Barossa onslaught and are still producing today. There is also the more modern—when I say 'modern', I mean from the 1970s—winery of Mitchelton. It's not just the wineries in that region but all the contract growers that supply them. I also have the northern end of the Heathcote wine region, which is grown on the wonderful Cambrian soils on the Mount Camel range. Also, there are wineries over at Dookie. Dookie, where I did my agricultural science degree at the University of Melbourne, has been a significant player in research and development in the wine industry over the years.

The member for Barker is right: we face a terrible oversupply crisis. This has happened before, and there are issues with this. When a commodity is very much in demand, people want to grow a lot of that commodity. That's fine if we are talking about annual crops, but the challenge with horticulture is that it takes a long time to establish horticultural developments, whether they be apples, pears, peaches or, indeed, wine grapes. People put them in when the prices are good and they get some of the years of those good prices and then we end up sometimes with an oversupply. Some of the taxation treatment in the mid- to late 1990s of agriculture probably didn't help. I think that's something we can all analyse when we go forward and think about how we encourage agricultural production.

I want to talk about the impact also of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the changes that the new Labor government have made to that in going after extra irrigation water. These winegrowers are going to be on their knees. They are going to be what the government will call 'willing sellers', but they are not really willing at all. They will be forced to sell to the government through desperation. I have said in this place so many time since I was elected that, when you take that water away from these communities, what was once grown is no longer grown and there's a massive drop in production. It could be production of wine grapes but it could be production of something else. These communities rely on that irrigation water in order to be able to sustain themselves—the schools, the community facilities and the families who have lived there for generations. I am really worried about what happens when the government comes in and says, 'You're on your knees; sell us your water,' instead of going in and saying: 'The wine grape industry is going through a really difficult time. We want you to keep your water and we're going to help you to diversify into another industry.' If you do that then the community stays, the schools stay, the people stay, the employment stays and new crop and new industries are developed. I think a government with a long-term view of the future and that really cares about regional communities would do that. It would go in and say: 'Your industry, not through your fault, is really struggling at the moment due to a global oversupply. We are going to help you diversify.' What I worry about with this government is that it will say, 'You're on your knees; sell us your water,' and basically that will mean communities have a massive reduction in population and everyone goes to Adelaide or Melbourne looking for a job. That's not the Australia that I want to see. I want to see a government supporting Australian regional communities to weather these really difficult agricultural shocks.

It has been discussed that trade can improve the situation for the wine industry. Whilst that's true to an extent—and I commend the previous government on the free trade agreement negotiations—I don't think we can trade our way out of this. There's been a lot made of the relationship with the Chinese, but their wine consumption was declining anyway. I really think that the government needs to have a strategic approach. It needs to make sure it focuses on helping these communities, not trying to close them down.


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