Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Australian Dairy Industry
I rise in this adjournment debate tonight to talk about the plight of the Australian dairy industry. As Australians around the country in cafes and homes use milk every day, as they pour it over their morning cereal or go to a cafe to sip their latte, I want them to think about the plight of the Australian dairy farmer who has milked those cows—the dairy farmer who rose at 4 am to provide that wholesome product, a vital source of calcium for all of us, including our children. I want them to think about that because it is not sustainable with the pressures that so many dairy farmers are under today.
I have here a $1 coin—a gold coin. We are often required to donate a gold coin when we attend a function on occasions. One dollar: for many it is just loose change in their wallet. In fact, I found this in my fob pocket tonight. But the supermarket duopoly, of Coles with its 'down, down, down' policy and Woolworths following them, has brought dairy farmers to their knees. A dollar for a litre of milk—that much! Petrol is dearer than that per litre. When you fill your motor car it is dearer than that for one litre. Yet the Coles and Woolworths duopoly, with its 'down, down, down' prices, is putting milk on the supermarket shelves as a loss leader, in many cases, to attract customers into their shops.
Let me set the scene. I would like to take you on a journey, the journey of one person in my electorate of Maranoa who is trying to make a difference. He is travelling to one dairy-farming family at a time. Neville Radecker, a Salvation Army chaplain based in Kingaroy, serves the region from the New South Wales border to just south of Bundaberg in Queensland. He has recently provided me with this submission. It is not an official submission from the Salvation Army, but it is his report on the people—the dairy farmers—he visits. He has ministered to many rural people full time since 2002. He travels extensively, providing a listening ear and unbiased, spiritual, emotional and practical support for rural people wherever possible, regardless of their beliefs, their location or their situation in life. He has become a trusted confidant as he prompts people, in this case the dairy farmers, to offload and discuss their issues.
So often it is those dairy farmers—the men—who bottle up their real problems. He has been able to get them to talk about their problems, which is so important. He has been able to travel, focusing particularly on the aspects of the dairy industry, since 2012. It is an industry devastated by floods, droughts, deregulation, supermarket price wars, restrictions in the banking sector, slashing of farm gate prices, the high Australian dollar and the global financial crisis. I want to quote from his letter to me:
At that time—
I became more aware of the depth of the crisis that many of these families are experiencing. In the more extreme cases, I found some families are living on a diet that is based really on the meat and the milk from their cattle, as they attempt to pay the bulk of the interest payments and production costs—while attempting to maintain aging equipment and infrastructure.
He has encountered a number of dairy-farming families who have not been able to buy stores and have not been into a supermarket since 2011. They rely on some assistance of food parcels.
I recently received correspondence from the Queensland Dairyfarmers' Organisation, Central District, Wide Bay & Burnett District Council Chairman, Bevin Black. They are the premium suppliers' group of Parmalat Australia. A survey of 100 suppliers revealed that 30 farmers were unable to pay their monthly bills from their milk cheques. The government has offered low-interest loans to these people, but that is the last thing these people need. This is the very real picture of the plight of many dairying families in my electorate and many parts of Australia. I ask the marketing people in Coles who put this $1 a litre 'down, down, down' price on their supermarket shelves to go to a dairy farm at 4 am and see how hard it is for these producers to provide this vital source of food— (Time expired)