House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Private Members' Business

Wine Industry

6:55 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional Health) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today with a sense of urgency to speak to the member for Barker's motion and to address the pressing challenges facing our highly valued wine grape growers in my electorate of Mallee. Our wine grape industry is in crisis, and it is imperative that our growers are supported to ensure the sustainability of our regional communities. The Mallee is bearing the brunt of a structural imbalance in wine grape supply and demand.

The Murray Valley Winegrowers harvest report showed that independent growers were collectively paid 40 per cent less than they were in 2022. This equates to an average loss of income of $122,000 for each of the 300 wine growers in the region—well down from the $245,000 gross income during 2021. When you consider that some wineries offer growers as little as $120 a tonne and that production costs are about $300 a tonne, despite what on face value looks like a large gross income, many growers are left running at a severe loss. In Sunraysia, in the broader Murray Valley wine grape region, the Murray Valley Winegrowers chair, Chris Dent, said recently, 'We are such a powerhouse for the whole industry, regularly producing around 70 per cent of the national crush.'

Furthermore, the looming threats of forced exits, water buybacks and widespread vineyard abandonment pose not only economic risks but also significant biosecurity hazards and mental health consequences for farmers. I echo the sentiments of the Leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud, who rightly emphasises the need for fairness in the marketplace and to ensure that our farmers are not left to bear the burden alone. The proposed code of conduct for those that buy produce from Australian farmers is a step in the right direction, offering much-needed transparency and protection for our primary producers. In many cases, growers are not getting paid for as long as six months, highlighting the shortcomings of industry self-regulation in this instance of concentrated market power.

The Albanese Labor government must safeguard the future of our horticultural industry and the families that underpin it. In the Mallee, our wine growers are facing unprecedented challenges exacerbated by Labor's industry-killing water buybacks and the recent wine grape oversupply. These pressures have pushed our already struggling industry to tipping point, and Labor is standing idly by while our farmers and farming communities suffer.

In contrast, the coalition stands shoulder to shoulder with our rural communities. The coalition's Wine Tourism and Cellar Door Grants initiative gave wine grape growers practical support, and more than $760,000 was granted to 15 wine operations in the Mallee alone. This strategic support not only provided the necessary funds for growers to improve their cellar door offerings, but the grants improved the visibility and reputation of Mallee's wine production on a national and international scale. For regional Australians, an election cannot come soon enough. The coalition will address Labor's appalling ambivalence to our primary industries and farmers in particular. I'm proud to say the Nationals dragged a reluctant Albanese Labor government to hold an ACCC inquiry into the supermarket sector, and already the evidence coming forward demonstrates the need for reform.

What's Labor's solution for our farmers? Tax them more. The biosecurity levy before the parliament will hit these struggling wine grape growers with more of the cost of handling the biosecurity threat brought by foreign competitors sending their product into our country. The Nationals have pushed for a container levy to fund biosecurity, imposing the cost where the threat actually emerges, but, no, Labor wants to hit Aussie farmers for 10 per cent more than their 2020-21 levy contributions, kicking them while they're down. Unlike Labor, the coalition highly values the immense generational contributions of our wine growers to the cultural, economic and social fabric of regional Australia. Their resilience and hard work embody the spirit of our community, and it's our duty to stand by them in their time of need. I call upon the government to heed the voices of our wine growers and take decisive action to support the sustainability and prosperity of our industry.


No comments