House debates

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Motions

Dairy Industry

9:31 am

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

I seek leave to move the following motion:

That the House:

(1)notes that:

(a)Australia's dairy farmers are caught in a long-running cost-price squeeze, where they are paid less than the cost of producing their milk; and

(b)Government intervention is needed to save our dairy sector and our dairy farmers; and

(2)therefore, calls on the Government to task the ACCC with testing the efficacy of a minimum farm gate milk price and to make recommendations on the best design options.

Leave not granted.

Government Members:

Government members interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Members on my left are preventing the member for Hunter receiving the call.

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

I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Hunter from moving the following motion forthwith:

That the House:

(1)notes that:

(a)Australia's dairy farmers are caught in a long-running cost-price squeeze, where they are paid less than the cost of producing their milk; and

(b)Government intervention is needed to save our dairy sector and our dairy farmers; and

(2)therefore, calls on the Government to task the ACCC with testing the efficacy of a minimum farm gate milk price and to make recommendations on the best design options.

This is not just a motion about dairy farmers, as important as our dairy farmers are and as much as they are struggling. This is a motion about a broken dairy industry. The fact is that our farmers aren't making money. In fact, most are losing money. The fact is that our processors aren't securing good returns either. The greatly ironic part of the market is that our retailers are not making money either, but, in their case, because they choose not to. I've been watching this market very, very intensely for a five-year period now. I've watched more farmers leave the land, I've seen more farmers culling their cattle and I've seen more farmers in tears.

Just today, Dairy Australia produced its latest outlook for the industry, and the news is all bad. There are a couple of glimpses of hope in some dairy regions in the country, and we welcome that. But production is down year on year and is predicted to fall further in the future.

Government members interjecting

Not too many people, including those interjecting, would know this—few members of this House would know this, and I wouldn't expect them to know it—but we are very close now in this country to being a net importer of dairy products. Think about that. Australia is on the edge of being a net importer of dairy products. If we are not careful—and I don't make this comment lightly; it's not my style to overreach—but we are facing a situation now where our drinking milk and the milk we put on our Wheaties will be imported powdered milk. This is now coming close to being a national emergency.

Unlike the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources—and I welcome the fact that he has joined us—I'm not into criticising and attacking the retailers. I'm not into criticising and attacking the processors. We can only have a strong value chain and an efficient market if everyone is productive and everyone is making some money. And the farmers should be amongst those who can make some money, because if they don't start making some money there won't be any dairy farmers.

Twenty-three years I've been here, and I said to the member for Jagajaga last week, who's also been here 23 years, 'We've seen at least three things here in this place this week that we've never seen before.' I saw another one yesterday: a cabinet minister calling for a consumer boycott of two major retailers in this country. Where does this end? What boycott, Minister, will it be next week? But here's what really hurts. The majority of farmers don't provide their milk to Woolworths; many more than those who supply Woolworths provide milk to Coles and ALDI. So the minister has called for a boycott of farmers who provide milk to Coles and ALDI. Of course, he hasn't thought about all those others who supply Coles and ALDI, and of course he hasn't thought about all those who work at Coles and ALDI. But the piece de resistance was that we found out the minister had shares in Woolworths!

Mr Littleproud interjecting

Minister, guess what? We don't care how many you hold. You can sit there all day and argue you don't hold many, but you have a direct pecuniary interest in the war you launched on Coles and ALDI yesterday.

This government has been governing this country, or trying to govern this country, unsuccessfully, for five years now. The drought that farmers are facing, which is compounding the cost price squeeze, is becoming very, very serious for dairy farmers. What have the government done in five years? Have they had a plan to help farmers adapt to a changing climate? No. Have they had a plan to lift farmgate prices for farmers? No. Do they have a future for the industry? No. Have they brought the processors, retailers and farmers together to see how we can lift productivity and profitability across the value chain? No. Nothing. They talk the talk but they never walk the walk.

For at least the last four years we've supported a mandatory code of conduct for the dairy industry. Now, I can be a bit of an economic rationalist. I was of the view for a number of years that the dairy industry would fix itself. The dairy industry would fix itself, the market would play, the small and less efficient would exit the market, and the vacuum would be filled by bigger and efficient players. I was wrong. It's not happening. It's a simple fact: it is not happening. The bigger and efficient players can't make money either, because they just don't have sufficient market power. So I used to think, 'A mandatory code of conduct would fix this. 'We will manage the behaviour of those in the sector and help the dairy farmers.' The government opposed it. They opposed it. Here, in their fifth year of government, they now support it. In the absence of any other idea, they now support the mandatory code of conduct. And guess what? When do you think they're going to introduce the mandatory code of conduct? On 1 July 2020.

About a year ago, to buy Pauline Hanson's vote in the Senate for their tax cuts, they introduced a mandatory code for the sugar industry. How long do you think it took them to develop, introduce and legislate that mandatory code? Less than 24 hours—overnight. Overnight, for Pauline Hanson's vote, they developed a mandatory code for the sugar industry. But the dairy farmers have to wait till 1 July 2020.

We should not be surprised. The government are playing to the crowd all the time. They love the dairy farmers! They're the salt of the earth! They never mention they're also often their pre-selectors. But they never do anything for them. And, out of ideas on drought, they have a drought summit, a talkfest! And, of course, they appointed a drought envoy.

Ms Burney interjecting

I thank the member for Barton—where is the drought envoy? They're asking the same thing down at the Menindee Lakes. They're asking the same thing in every drought affected area in the country. The media asks where the drought envoy has been. He's been on 23 trips, I think it was, or something, last month. But then they said: 'But where were they?' Do you know where they were? They were all in the drought envoy's electorate, because the drought envoy knows he's in trouble, so no-one else sees him. He spends all of his time talking about drought, but only in his own electorate.

Now I need to say this. The day after the drought envoy left the role of agriculture minister, I said in this place, 'Well, the member for New England's gone, and today we begin cleaning up the mess.' I was encouraged by the arrival of the current minister. I thought he was different from the member for New England. He seemed more sensible. He seemed less populist. He was certainly more interested in having discussions with me about policy issues in the sector, even on live sheep. He came to the party, commissioned some inquiries and talked about tougher regulation, and I was really encouraged by all of that. But, you know, with the National Party, in the end it's all politics; it's all the base; it's all about holding onto the seats. They only need four per cent to become half of the government, where they just bully and get the most ridiculous decisions out of prime ministers. Whether it be Prime Minister Abbott, Prime Minister Turnbull or, now, Prime Minister Morrison, the stupid ideas—the APVMA relocations, the regional investment corporations—that do nothing other than destroy the sector just keep coming forward.

So, Minister, I'm sorry, but you've been a great disappointment. You've just reverted to type. You are as much a National Party agriculture minister as all those that went before you over many, many decades. You are not interested in the farmers. You are not interested in policy. You are not interested in helping them lift their productivity and sustainable profitability. You are just interested in one thing: you've got your eye on the leadership, and the only way you'll get there is to keep these Neanderthals up on the crossbench happy. And, of course, in that context, the farmers come second every time.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

9:42 am

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

The motion is seconded, Mr Speaker. Standing orders should be suspended so that we can debate this motion. In a normal parliament, it would be the National Party that would be moving a motion like this today. In a normal parliament, it would be the National Party that would be standing here moving a motion like this. But the fact of the matter is that it falls to Labor to do the work for the dairy farmers of Australia because the National Party are uninterested, incapable and unable to do it. It should be the Country Liberal Party members who are moving this motion today, but they've gone missing. They're not even in the chamber focusing on this issue. So it falls to Labor to do the job of a divided and incompetent government, and that is what we are dealing with.

The dairy industry is in crisis.

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Socialist, populist crap!

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister over there says it's crap. The minister should visit the south coast of New South Wales

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Whitlam will resume his seat. The minister will come to the despatch box and withdraw. You will come to the despatch box and withdraw.

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw.

Dr Mike Kelly interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Whitlam has the call. As usual, the member for Eden-Monaro is not helping.

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

This is no small issue. I encourage the ministers to visit the south coast of New South Wales, where the dairy industry is in crisis. From Albion Park in my electorate and Jamberoo all the way through to Batemans Bay—and I see the member for Eden-Monaro here—and the Victorian border, dairy farmers are crying out for help. Thousands and thousands of cattle are being sold. The thousands of workers who work on dairy farms face the very real prospect of losing their jobs. Farmers who have been on their properties for generations are thinking very seriously about walking through the gates and handing in the keys. This is no small matter. It should be the National Party or the Liberal Party which is bringing to this parliament the issues, the policies and the solutions to this, but they are bereft of ideas.

The member for Hunter has pointed out that the ACCC recommended, 12 months ago, a mandatory code of conduct for the dairy industry. Anybody who's been in this place a long time would know that the ACCC is very slow to recommend such an instrument. Those opposite have had over 12 months to act on this, but still there is no action—still no action. The Liberal and National parties are unable to answer the problems of the dairy farmers of the South Coast of New South Wales and right around the country, but Labor will step up to the plate. We see the sense of putting in place a mandatory floor price for milk. I've heard members on that side of the House give great speeches in the parliament saying this is exactly what's needed, but they are unable to convince their own minister and they're unable to convince the Liberal Party. They're so divided amongst themselves they're unable to get agreement and legislation on this. But Labor will do it. Labor will ensure that we have a mandatory code of conduct.

Those opposite can rush on some issues. We saw the Prime Minister rush to Cooktown to provide $6 million to re-enact a voyage that never happened. Well, how about a rush on this issue? How about a rush to put in place a mandatory code of conduct and to ensure that we have a minimum floor price on dairy and on milk?

Photo of Ann SudmalisAnn Sudmalis (Gilmore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You don't even know where your seat is. Jamberoo is in Gilmore.

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

I hear the member for Gilmore interjecting. That's very courageous. The member for Gilmore won't even back her own candidate when it comes to her successor. They are so divided in Gilmore, so busy fighting amongst themselves—the Liberal Party fighting against the National Party; the former Liberal Party candidate fighting against the current Liberal Party candidate—that they are not fighting for the dairy farmers of the South Coast. If the member for Gilmore really cared about dairy farmers, she'd cross the floor.

Opposition members interjecting

Government members interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Members on both sides!

Mrs Sudmalis interjecting

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

You had the opportunity. I hope you get the call. I hope you speak in favour of the dairy farmers on the South Coast, because you've done precious little for them over the last five years.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd just remind members on both sides: I suspect there's a vote coming on, and standing order 94(a) applies all day. The question is that the motion moved by the member for Hunter be agreed to. I call the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources.

9:47 am

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

After 14 long months, we hear the voice of the Labor opposition agriculture spokesman. Never have I been asked, in question time, a question from the member for Hunter. Being the Labor spokesman for agriculture is a bit like being a labrador on the family farm: you're all cute and cuddly but you really have no purpose.

You don't take agriculture seriously. You know very well that you walked in here to try to politicise something because you've been left behind, you've been left at the gate. You know full well that we've already taken the steps to start a mandatory code of conduct. In fact, when the ACCC report that you're talking about came back, on 30 April, I consulted ADF. I understand you consulted ADF yesterday but didn't tell them about this little stunt, which is a bit of a shock to them, as I understand it. When I met with ADF, I said, 'I want the industry to tell me whether it wants a mandatory code.' The ACCC report came back on 30 April. They kept going and going and going, and it got to August. It got to the point where it had taken too long. I called ADF in and said, 'You've got two weeks to give me the direction as to whether you want a mandatory code, or we're going to have to make one for you.' To their credit, they stood up. They engaged with their membership and they came back to me two weeks later and asked for a mandatory code. So we have started that process and we are now at the end of the consultation.

This is about not rushing into it, with unintended consequences. We want to make sure we get this right. What the member for Hunter doesn't understand, which he should be embarrassed by, is that the reason it has to push out into 2020 is that we have to fall into line with current contract and production cycles. This is the danger of having somebody that doesn't understand the intricacies of production systems as the shadow agricultural spokesman. This is the danger of having someone that wants to grandstand rather than look after the farmers of regional and rural Australia as the shadow agricultural spokesman.

The dairy industry is doing it tough. In fact, in my own electorate, I've gone from having over 35 dairy farmers down to 15, and that's the result of the actions of our supermarkets. They've put in place a cap on the price of milk. They've made sure that the ceiling has been put at $1 a litre. I've called them out on that, and I'm proud to say that I've called them out on that. Every corporate citizen has a responsibility to have a sustainable industry that supports them and underlines their supply. That's why I've called them out. If the member for Hunter is upset by that, I'm sorry, but he's out of touch. He might have been here for 23 years. I grant you, I've only been here for 2½ years, but I think I'm a little bit more in touch with real people because I haven't been tainted by this place for 23 years.

Nonetheless, it's important that we get results, so we're acting on the mandatory code. The member for Hunter talked about the ACCC report, saying that we need to put in place a floor price. Let me give the member for Hunter a lesson on what the ACCC report came back with. It did not say anything about a floor price. The ACCC has never asked for a floor price on dairy. To come in here and say, 'Let's go and engage the ACCC to go back on a review they've already undertaken,' shows that their proposed motion has no substance. It is just about the last gasping days of the member for Hunter trying to get some attention. And, I've got to say, this is the first time I've seen a crowd behind him come to hear him talk.

It's important to make sure we get the mandatory code of conduct done and that we run it in a sustainable way—by putting in place a regulatory impact statement to ensure there are no unintended consequences. What the member for Hunter also needs to understand is that the dairy industry is a very geographically specific industry. You've got to understand that the industry in Victoria is different to that in New South Wales and Queensland and WA and South Australia. So we need to make sure that we do this in a sensible way.

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

You've still got five minutes!

An opposition member interjecting

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

If you want to extend, I'm happy to keep going. The reality is that this is what due process should look like—that is, making sure that there aren't any undue impacts on the industry right across it. That's what we've done. We've been calm and sensible and decisive. We've let industry tell us what they want. They came back and told us. It took them time, but we got them there. That's what good governments should do.

An opposition member interjecting

Well, you're not listening. The reality is we're also supporting our farmers. When they talk about the returns that our farmers are getting, let me tell you: we've taken an agriculture industry from $30 billion to $60 billion in the last eight years. You know how we did that? It's the trade agreements that we put in place. We took off the tinfoil hat that those opposite are wearing. Every time we put a trade agreement up, those opposite tried to slaughter it. Trade agreements are good for this country. We are a nation of 25 million people but we produce enough food for 75 million people. If we don't engage the world, if we don't embrace the world in free trade, then we won't have regional and rural communities—communities that I live in, people that I represent, people that I see every day. The opportunities that the free trade agreements provide are putting money back into their pockets and back into the pockets of our regional communities. These are the sorts of actions that we put in place with the trade agreements with Japan, Korea and China and with the TPP-11, of which those opposite said, 'No, don't bother about it; it's never going to be done.' Lo and behold, we've done it.

Now we've also made an even greater investment in trade. In the last budget, we delivered an extra $51 million to create an additional six agricultural councillor positions to complement the 16 that are already in place, to make sure we get market access for all those commodities, particularly for dairy. We're making sure we get market access commodity by commodity. We're breaking it down and putting in place those people that can have that government-to-government relationship we need to ensure that we get access and take advantage of the trade agreements that we've put in place.

The member for Hunter talks about climate change. Well, let me say that every year this government has invested over $300 million into research and development around giving our farmers the tools, the science and the technology to be able to adapt to a changing climate. We've done it. The climate has been changing since we first put a till in the soil. As primary producers, we continue to adapt and we're adapting better than anyone else. Those investments have made sure that we have, as primary producers, the tools we need to make returns. I'm proud to say that, for the first time, as the national agriculture minister, at the last ministerial council I brought together all the states to have a coordinated approach so that all our research and development—the research and development the states are doing and that we're doing—is coordinated to make sure that we get better bang for buck.

The member for Hunter wants to cherry-pick on points but really hasn't gone into the substance. If he wants to become the agriculture minister, he needs to understand these, because there is a responsibility to those regional and rural Australians, those people, those primary producers out there, particularly those dairy farmers that have done it tough and that we've seen hurt. We've seen the significant reduction from around 8½ thousand to 6,000. We had to act and we did. We acted with industry and we will continue to act. There are other pieces of legislation that we will continue to work through to make sure. And we talked to the dairy farmers.

Dr Mike Kelly interjecting

I'll take the interjection. I can't remember the last time you'd seen a dairy farmer. The reality is this: we have been calm and decisive about making sure that we put in an environmental framework. To try to undertake a political stunt where you're going to engage with the ACCC, who have just completed a report that effectively says nothing about supporting this fanciful idea that the member for Hunter has put up, will not work. They understand it's nothing more than a stunt. There's no substance, and it's actually cruel. It's actually a cruel hoax to the dairy farmers of this country. It's a cruel hoax to try to politicise the issues that they've had.

This is about leadership, not politics. And, while the member for Hunter has said that he's disappointed in my performance, I can say that I'm proud of the fact that I have reached across the aisle. For the first time in this nation's history, we have an agreement on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, the biggest environmental plan in this nation's history. It is—since Federation. And you know what? It only happened, Member for Hunter—you might want to learn this—because I reached out across the aisle to the member for Watson, and he helped. We worked together. Do not politicise people's plights for your own political gain.

This government will continue on a journey of putting a strong environment around our farmers to ensure they make the best returns. It doesn't happen overnight. It has to be done properly with due process; otherwise, you'll end up with a mess that we've had to fix over the last six years from Labor. (Time expired)

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by the member for Hunter be agreed to.