House debates

Thursday, 21 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) this Government is telling Australians to boycott milk produced by Australia's dairy farmers; and

(b) Australia is now the only country in the world with a Government that is telling consumers to boycott its own nation's produce; and

(2) therefore, condemns this Government for hurting Australian farmers when they are already doing it tough.

Leave not granted.

I move:

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

(1) notes that:

(a) this Government is telling Australians to boycott milk produced by Australia's dairy farmers; and

(b) Australia is now the only country in the world with a Government that is telling consumers to boycott its own nation's produce; and

(2) therefore, condemns this Government for hurting Australian farmers when they are already doing it tough.

I'm going to start my contribution with a quote—a quote from no less than the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, in case members missed it. I quote the minister, who said:

I say to every Australian: They can also vote with their feet. They can stick it right up Coles and the big German and not go anywhere near their shops, and go and support retailers that support the dairy industry.

This is a message without precedent in Australian politics, and certainly without precedent in terms of a cabinet minister calling upon Australian consumers to boycott certain retailers—retailers who are, of course, supplied in part by Australian producers and by others in those markets. Yet have we heard an apology from the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources? No. The silence on this issue from that side is deafening.

Make no mistake about it: we will hold them to account. We will spend the next many months visiting all of their electorates, reminding their constituents that yesterday they were given an opportunity to defend their dairy farmers and their constituents, and they passed up that opportunity.

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Murray, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The whole industry is laughing at you!

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

Now, I'm almost deafened by the interjections from the member for Murray. I say to the member for Murray: mate, we're coming after you. We are coming after you because your dairy farmers are asking the very obvious question: why is not our member in Canberra sticking up for us? Why is it that, when we're struggling through drought and other challenges, the member for Murray is not standing up for us?

But we won't stop with the member for Murray. All those members on the government side who lined up to vote against their dairy farmers yesterday will be getting a visit as well. My first visit will be to the member for Page, the guy who sits on the cross bench but also attends the National Party room and also attends the National Party parliamentary meetings. This is another bizarre outcome, something else I haven't seen in 23 years in this place. He goes to the crossbenchers, and he goes to the National Party room. Under that discipline, he sits on the wrong side and votes against his dairy farmers. Well, our candidate, Patrick Deegan, just can't wait for the local debates. He can't wait to make dairy the key issue.

Mr McCormack interjecting

There goes the Deputy Prime Minister. He has dairy farmers in his electorate too. He has dairy processing in his electorate. His electorate employs some of the 20,000 Australians who work in dairy processing. What did he do yesterday? He sat on the wrong side of the House and voted against supporting dairy farmers. He has condoned the comments of the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. He has supported the boycott of Australian dairy farmers. It's not just the member for Murray and it's not just the member for Page who will regret their actions. I will just go through a few more.

There is the member for Flynn. We have our eye on Flynn. I would have thought the member for Flynn might have joined us yesterday to support dairy farmers. No, he didn't. What about the member for Gilmore? She thinks she's all right. She thinks she's okay because she's out of this place. She knows her future in this place; there isn't one. She is going voluntarily, but that should have been exactly why she voted with us yesterday. Why was she concerned about party discipline? Why was she concerned that the Prime Minister, the bloke who sits here in question time, told her to vote against her dairy farmers? It doesn't make any sense. It was a perfect opportunity for her to stand up. But don't worry, she is being replaced by Warren Mundine, the star candidate.

Let me share with House what Warren Mundine had to say after Labor announced that we will support our dairy farmers. He talked to the South Coast Registerit was soon after I visited Milton, by the way, to talk with dairy farmers, who love Labor's policy—and he said:

I've been working with the Prime Minister's office on how we can get a proper base milk price for dairy farmers of the South Coast.

Here we go. There's a bit of a hint in this. They say one thing in Canberra and another in the electorate. Now, Warren Mundine is not here yet and won't ever be here, certainly not in this election. He might have another crack in the Senate with another party, who knows? This is what they do. They come down here, sneakily, thousands of kilometres from their electorates, and they just maintain the party line. But when they go back to their electorate, they're lions and they're supporting their dairy farmers!

By the way, I forgot this when I was talking about the member for Page: he wants to have a royal commission. He doesn't support the floor price. He wants to have a royal commission. Despite the fact that he allegedly sits as an Independent and still attends National Party's party rooms, this is the bloke who voted against a banking royal commission 26 times. But his solution for the dairy farmers, who are doing it tough today and tomorrow and have been doing it tough for years, is to have a royal commission. That, of course, is going to take a year or more at the very least. Certainly, if this government was re-elected—hopefully that's unlikely—then that royal commission would make recommendations that would never be embraced by this government, because they don't seriously support our dairy farmers.

Let me just mention a few more members. There is the member for Corangamite. Wouldn't you think that the member for Corangamite would be supporting her dairy farmers? She is a woman of great independence. She introduced the bill to phase out the live sheep trade—remember that? She is a powerful woman, really on the job and very impressive for her constituents. But guess what? She took a little pay rise as an assistant minister, a high office. Suddenly, she doesn't care about her private member's bill any more.

I hope the member for New England doesn't leave the chamber, because he is next on my list. He is the drought envoy, but he's not backing his dairy farmers. Guess what? The member for New England said an extraordinary thing yesterday. He said that I don't spend much time in my electorate. What a load of rubbish. We know who doesn't spend much time in his electorate; it's the member for New England. He now represents the people who I used to represent, and I know what they think about a floor price. These people have been asking me to reintroduce a form of regulation for the dairy industry for two decades. I know them. But what did the drought envoy do yesterday? He sat there and he voted against his local dairy farmers. That's what he did yesterday. What did he say?

Mr Joyce interjecting

What he's saying now is: 'There are very few of them. They don't matter.' That's what he just said. He just said, 'There are so few of them, they don't matter.' That's what the member for New England says. This is the guy the Prime Minister hand-picked to be the drought envoy. It's interesting; the media checked his travel records lately and he hasn't been doing much 'drought envoying' around the country. He hasn't been to Menindee, for example. He's doing all of his drought envoying in his own electorate because he knows he's in trouble and he knows we're coming after him. I suggest that after he voted against his own people yesterday he'll be spending some more time in his electorate.

I know I'm going to be very ably followed in this debate. My colleague will maybe mention a few more people on the other side, because the list is so long I can't possibly get through them. The key point here is: the agriculture minister has done the most extraordinary thing; he's asked Australians not to buy our local dairy farmer products. On that basis he should deeply reflect, and all those Nats over the other side who are voting against their dairy farmers should rethink or maybe think about the alternative—not being here after the next election.

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

Is the motion seconded?

9:41 am

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

It is. I see the member for Kennedy waiting to make some contributions, so I'll keep mine short. Yesterday and today, the minister across the other side of the table accused us of base politics for sticking up for dairy farmers. It's not about politics but it is about the base. It's about their base, the base that they have deserted.

They were elected to this parliament to look after dairy farmers and the people on the land. Yesterday, they had an opportunity to stand up for them, to vote for a set of policies which would deliver some relief for dairy farmers—dairy farmers who are being crippled by drought, crushed by the retailers and deserted by the National Party. Did they vote in favour of the motion? Did they vote in favour of the policy? No, they deserted them, because they are lions in their electorate and they are absolute lambs when it comes to Canberra. They can't convince the Liberals to support decent agricultural policies.

I saw the member for Page. His electorate was named after a decent member, a decent former Prime Minister, who knew what it was to be an independent national. The member for Page thinks it's actually a good idea that we introduce a floor price, but he didn't have the courage to do it here in parliament when he had the opportunity. That's because he's a Clayton's National, not a real National, and that's why he sits over there on the crossbench.

There was the member for Gilmore. Farmers in Gilmore are destocking, and so is the Liberal Party. They've got three candidates in the field. The current member for Gilmore voted against today's proposition. The one who wants to be the new Liberal member for Gilmore is running around locally saying it's a good idea, the National Party candidate for Gilmore is saying it's a good idea, but their own member here is voting against it.

We actually have a good candidate, who comes from four generations of dairy farmers and knows how it is to struggle. If she comes here, she'll vote for the legislation which will see this policy made law. The message to the Nationals is: you can't hope one way and vote the other. You've got to back your dairy farmers.

9:43 am

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

The relevance deprivation of the member for Hunter has extended to day 2. What a stunt! It's another political stunt at the expense of farmers. You have reached a new low in your job. It should be above this. There are farmers out there doing it tough; in particular, dairy farmers.

You asked me to apologise to those supermarkets. Let me tell you right here, and let me tell Australia: I won't apologise at all. I won't say one word of apology to any supermarket. I will hold them to account. What I'm here to do is to represent agriculture. That's what you want to do, and God help agriculture if you ever get on this side of the chamber, because you don't care about agriculture because you don't understand agriculture. You are a danger to this nation. You are a danger to the agricultural sector. You are all about politics.

Photo of Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Young Australians and Youth Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Direct your comments through the chair—you've been here long enough to know that.

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

Sorry, Mr Speaker, but I didn't want to cast that aspersion on you, because it is the member for Hunter who is an absolute disgrace in what he has been trying to bring up here over the last couple of days. Instead of standing up for the agricultural sector, he wants to play politics—when there are people in pain. In fact, I was at the Australian Dairy Conference last night, which he was absent from. He could not even be bothered to turn up. He did not even bother to go and listen to their concerns. He only wants to politicise. Yesterday he tried another cheap stunt, a cruel hoax. When these people are on the bare end of their existence, all you want to do is play games. You have belittled this parliament by using their pain for your political gain. It is a disgrace to come in and give them false hope about an instrument that you, better than anyone else, know will never succeed. In fact, the report of the ACCC—the same report that you want to quote and the same organisation you want to use—said it was not even feasible. It's an absolute disgrace!

Let me tell you what you would do by putting in this floor price. You know very well that it sets an artificial price above what consumers are prepared to pay and that you get an oversupply. Remember what happened to the wool industry? Even I'm young enough to know what happened there. Do you know how long it's taken us to fix that up? We fixed it up with the trade agreements that we put in place. That's the other thing that you're going to put at risk. The member for Hunter will be prepared to put at risk the trade agreements that we put in place, the trade agreements that he and his side of the House have decided they don't want to support. It's the tinfoil hat approach that Labor has to trade agreements that have helped agriculture grow from a $30 billion industry to a $60 billion industry and will take us to a $100 billion industry. That is about leadership, not politics. That is what people expect us to do: come into this place and lead, not play politics.

So too can I say about this harebrained scheme of putting a floor price: let me go back to when the member for Hunter was Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, in 2013, when he was pushed on this. He said:

I have an open mind, but also believe the industry is best left to the markets … I'm not interested in intervening in the market, I am interested in helping the market.

But it gets worse from those opposite, who are again playing politics at the expense of dairy farmers. The Labor-led Senate Economic References Committee in 2017, led by Senator Chris Ketter, came out and said, on page 71 of its report—and this is very important; the Labor Party supported it:

… the committee does not consider that direct government intervention, either through a floor price or milk levy, is appropriate.

Why is there such a change in policy from the Labor Party? It's called political opportunism at the expense of people's agony and pain. What I would say to those opposite is: instead of coming in here and belittling this House by trying to take advantage of people's pain by making a political point, go out and sit with them. Sit at the kitchen tables like I have.

Mr Fitzgibbon interjecting

Well, it's about time you did. It's about time you did a better job at that and at listening.

Mr Fitzgibbon interjecting

Please come to my electorate. I need a swing to me. The reality is that this is above politics; this is way above politics. What the member for Hunter has tried to do over the last two days is bring agriculture into the mire of politics. It's a disgrace! This place is above that. I thought we were, but there's been no bipartisanship. This has just been cheap politics—cheap, tawdry politics.

And it extends even further. We saw it extended yesterday when those opposite declared they would vote against the Future Drought Fund, a $3.9 billion fund that will grow to a $5 billion fund, giving a $100 million dividend every year. What the Labor Party said yesterday is that they don't care about agriculture. What they said is: 'We'll do a rolled gold promise'—another rolled gold promise—'of giving $100 million a year.' Well, that's worth nothing because you can't be trusted. You are only here to play politics. The Labor Party has proven they can't be trusted with rolled gold promises. They're going to hand that $100 million off. They'll do it for a couple of years and then they'll go, 'Oh, we're going to take it and put it somewhere else for something more important.' You shouldn't look at your phone. You know full well you can't look me in the eye and tell me you won't do that. I'm going to legislate to make sure that that dividend goes back into the agriculture sector and continues to make the agriculture sector grow, not treat it with disdain, which is what the Labor Party has come in here and done today. They have belittled a great industry. It's an industry that is driving regional and rural Australia, yet the Labor Party has decided to play politics with it.

It's great to see the member for Watson. I'm glad the member has come. I have to acknowledge that the member for Watson is someone that has been able to reach across the political divide and solve the Murray-Darling Basin Plan instead of playing cheap political tricks with something that is so important to this nation. A drought fund that will support agriculture in regional Australia for generations to come is something that's visionary. We've spent $1.9 billion already in the here and now, keeping farmers alive, and the $5 billion, which will give a dividend every year, will make sure that we make the agriculture sector even more resilient.

I'm sorry to say that I might only have been in this parliament for 2½ years, and it may be a little unconventional for a member or a cabinet minister to call out corporate Australia. Well, bad luck. I'm going to call them out. That's my job as the Australian agriculture minister. If someone does something wrong by regional and rural Australia and by the agriculture sector, I don't care whether they're corporate or anyone else. It wouldn't hurt those opposite, every now and then, to call out their union mates, the people that support them, the unions every day. It would be great to see the Australian Labor Party call out the labour movement, but they haven't got the intestinal fortitude to do it. I'm prepared to call them out and I will call anyone out. It goes to the heart of destroying agriculture.

To those opposite: this is another disgraceful act. When we could be debating the drought future bill, we are wasting our time on another political stunt. If that is the level of contribution that you bring to this House—is that all you can bring to this? If that is the level of contribution you bring to this House—and that is what you propose to bring if you sit on that side of the chamber—then the sad thing is not only that have you belittled this place but that you will destroy regional and rural Australia. Regional and rural Australia deserve better. They deserve to get out of this political mire that you are trying to put us in. I can assure you I'll do everything can I to protect them, whether it's against you or any corporate. I will never apologise to any corporate that hurts regional or rural Australia.

9:52 am

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was going to move a motion, but, with the time limited, I'm not going to do that; I'm going to speak to the member for Hunter's motion. The reintroduction of a minimum price scheme is the only way this can ever be fixed up. Seventy years ago, the founder of my party, the Country Party, got into politics by introducing a minimum price scheme. The history books read that, when a couple of blokes at the big meeting disagreed with them, he took them out the back and gave them a flogging. From then on he was called 'Black Jack' McEwen. There are a few blokes over here on this side that probably deserve the same treatment. Let me be very formal. Jeff Kennett deregulated the market and took away the arbitrated price into the Melbourne market, which destroyed the industry in Victoria. It did not destroy the industry in New South Wales and Queensland. They were subsequently deregulated. This is what arbitration does for you: on the day before we lost arbitration, we were on 59c, and on the day after we lost arbitration, we were on 41c. So how can you answer that arbitration is wrong? When the price was introduced 60 years ago, the price went up nearly 400 per cent.

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the wool industry when Doug Anthony, in a most controversial manner, introduced the wool scheme, the price went up within two years by 300 per cent. For those larks in this place, there's a bludgerigar here that was yelling out 'wool'. That was the last example you should ever have used, because when the wool scheme was introduced by that great man Doug Anthony, the price went up 300 per cent. When the bludgerigars on this side deregulated the wool industry, which was precipitated by you blokes, the price for wool dropped to one-third and the income to Australia dropped from $5.9 billion a year to $2.4 billion. I will repeat that: when it was deregulated—

An honourable member interjecting

The member for—I don't know his name; the bloke here with glasses. I have no idea of his name, and I ain't going to remember it because you won't be here after the election! He's saying that that was a bad thing, right? So it was a bad thing that Doug Anthony introduced it and took the price up 300 per cent and then, let me be very specific, within three years of the deregulation it fell from—I will repeat it slowly—$5.9 billion down to $2.4 billion? Sixty-four per cent of the sheep herd is gone as a result of the deregulation in this place.

In the egg industry, the price to the consumers went up and the price to the farmers went down. In the sugar industry, under deregulation, the price to the farmers went down and the price to the consumers went up. How much evidence do you want? If the honourable spokesman opposite has had a fall off his horse on the road to Damascus—I'm still in a state of shock because of his reputation for being one of the great free marketeers in this place. I'm still in shock. But if it could happen to Saint Paul, I suppose it could happen to a lesser like in this place. Now, what happened? Who got the money? In the egg industry, if the price went down to the farmers and the price went up to the consumers, the boys in the middle got $320 million. In the sugar industry, the boys in the middle got $311 million. And in the milk industry, with this great champion over here with his glasses on—he clearly doesn't use them very often because he hasn't read anything—the price went down to the farmers from 59c to 41c and it went up for the consumers from 115c to 156c. Piggy in the middle, and I use the word 'piggy' with forethought, got $1.1 thousand million of extra profit. (Time expired)

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

The time allotted for this debate has concluded. The question is that the motion moved by the member for Hunter be agreed to.

10:07 am

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move the following motion:

That the House:

(1) notes that:

  (a) it was the National Party which deregulated the dairy industry taking the farmers income from 59c a litre down to 41c a litre;

  (b) at the announcement of deregulation there were over 230 dairy farmers on the Atherton Tablelands, now there are 51;

  (c) neither the ALP or LNP will introduce arbitration for farmers;

  (d) for supply and demand in the free market to work there must be an unlimited number of sellers and buyers; and

  (e) dairy farmers in North Queensland have only one processor to sell to and in the whole of Australia effectively only two buyers of milk - the supermarket duopoly; and

(2) therefore, condemns both sides of politics in creating misery and heartache where dairy farmers are the victims of the free market 'fundamentalists' in this House.

Leave not granted.

Mr Speaker, I am not sure of the process, but I want to move it anyway—

An honourable member interjecting

by moving for a suspension of standing orders to bring forward the motion.

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

The Leader of the House on a point of order.

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order, so that I can explain this to the member for Kennedy. While I obviously don't want to be at all disrespectful to the member for Kennedy, we just had a debate about the dairy industry, from 9.30 to 10.10 this morning, and the government has other priorities, including passing the Future Drought Fund Bill today so that farmers can get drought support. So I'm not giving leave to move the motion, because it will just delay the house for another hour or when actually we need to pass the drought fund bill today, and I thought you wanted to do that.

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think the 10 minutes I'm going to take up here are not going to stop the drought bill from going through. I take the member's point, but—

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

The member for Kennedy, now leave has not been granted, would need to move to suspend standing orders.

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent the member for Kennedy from moving the following motion immediately:

That the House:

(1)notes that:

(a)it was the National Party which deregulated the dairy industry taking the farmers income from 59c a litre down to 41c a litre;

(b)at the announcement of deregulation there were over 230 dairy farmers on the Atherton Tablelands, now there are 51;

(c)neither the ALP or LNP will introduce arbitration for farmers;

(d)for supply and demand in the free market to work there must be an unlimited number of sellers and buyers; and

(e)dairy farmers in North Queensland have only one processor to sell to and in the whole of Australia effectively only two buyers of milk—the supermarket duopoly; and

(2)therefore, condemns both sides of politics in creating misery and heartache where dairy farmers are the victims of the free market 'fundamentalists' in this House.

This may sound like I'm taking up the time of the House unduly, and I take the honourable Leader of the House's comments, so I'm going to be uncharacteristically brief. But it is very, very simple. The president of our party is one of the biggest dairy farmers in Queensland. It is very simple. The reason we have to go in the direction that we are going in is that, on the day before deregulation, we were on 59c. That's not very complicated. The day after deregulation, we were on 41c. I carry the letter that was sent to all the farmers in North Queensland and I would be very surprised if it didn't go to all the farmers in Queensland and all the farmers in New South Wales. It did not go to Victoria, because Victoria had already been deregulated into the Melbourne market and all they had was the export market. I note the honourable member, one of my esteemed colleagues behind me here. Victoria wanted deregulation at that stage because they they'd already been deregulated and they felt that, if they could get across the border, they could get the 59c that the New South Welshmen were enjoying instead of the 40c they were getting in a deregulated market. That was the only reason Victoria went for it. They'd already been deregulated.

So, anyway, the deregulation proceeded and we lost a third of our income. In our area we had over 230 farms. We now have 51 farms. 'You can't blame the penguins in Antarctica.' That's a quote from the Nuremberg trials. You can't blame penguins in Antarctica; you've got to blame people on this side of the house and on that side of the House. They made the decision. So I'm not going to condemn for the purposes of politics the ALP for proposing to reinstitute arbitration. If every worker in Australia enjoys the protection of an awards system, well, thanks to the Country Party, every farmer in this nation enjoyed an awards system.

The great architects of our Country Party, Jack McEwan and Doug Anthony—Doug Anthony introduced the wool scheme. A person here—I don't mean to denigrate the man, but I was around at the time and he wasn't, I suppose. But we saw the price of wool go up 300 per cent when he introduced that scheme. When the scheme was removed, over the next three years it dropped to one-third of what it was. Oh, what a coincidence! When we introduce arbitration the Country Party way into the system, the price goes up. When we take it away, the price goes down, and I would strongly recommend to the minister to read that section of my book. He might hate me and he might even hate the book, but read the section where it gives the actual figures in the egg industry, in the milk industry and in the sugar industry.

You don't have to be Albert Einstein. I want to sue the University of Queensland for my economics course, because they told me you need an infinite number of buyers and sellers for the free market to work. Well, with Coles and Woolworths holding 93 per cent—and I'm not blaming Coles and Woolworths; they're out there to make money, that's their objective. You can't blame a bird-dog for chasing birds! But this place is here to set the rules. In this country, if you remove arbitration workers will be working for nothing. But it's infinitely worse for farmers, because there are only two people to sell food to in this country and they get 90 per cent of the market. When I went to university, it was called an 'oligopoly' and there was no free market operating.

I don't want to go on any longer. I framed that resolution before the ALP took their fall off the horse from Damascus, because it was the ALP which deregulated the wool industry. They can take full blame for the wool industry—and part of the blame for the others too, because it was ALP state governments that were in there. All I can do is to thank them; they've taken their fall from the horse to Damascus. I thank them and I move that accordingly. I support any party or group of people in this place who will give us back our right to arbitration and our right to protect ourselves against a situation where there is no free market, where there are two people to sell food to in Australia and two people to buy food from.

I don't wish to take up any more time in the House, because I think the government is entitled to help the people up north, who I represent.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

10:17 am

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

I acknowledge the member for Kennedy and his passion and belief, not only in the dairy industry but also in agriculture. In fact, I was up in Malanda the other day with the member for Leichhardt, and met with a number of dairy producers up there. I was listening not only to their concerns but also to what they see as opportunities.

I think that the reassuring piece of where we sit at the moment is that while there are challenges within the dairy industry there are also opportunities. I saw that from producers firsthand. That's why we, as a government, have instituted a review through the ACCC. I had that review back in April; I asked the industry to give me direction with respect to a code of conduct, to make sure that there was fairness in the marketplace. The ACCC clearly found that there was an imbalance, and this government is working towards rectifying that imbalance. We're putting in place a mandatory code of conduct. The consultation process will be completed in the next couple of weeks, and the code will commence in 2020. It's commencing in 2020 because we have to align with contracts and production cycles.

The industry supports it fully and is supportive of where we're going with respect to that. But it's also important, as the member for Kennedy has quite rightly pointed out, around the imbalance with supermarkets in the purchase not only of milk but of agricultural products, that we, as a government, give our producers, whether dairy or any other commodity, the opportunity to spread their risk and to sell their commodity, not only domestically but internationally. That's what we've done with the trade agreements that we put in place, particularly with Japan, China and Korea. And now there is the TPP-11 and also—very soon, hopefully—Indonesia. Those give us the opportunities to spread the risk for our producers and to get a better commodity price that they may not receive domestically.

We have to understand that we're a nation of 25 million people and that we produce enough food for 75 million people. So it's important that we do engage the world and embrace the world through trade. That's what this government has done, obviously, to make sure that we get better returns at the farm gate and support regional communities, and that's the journey that we'll continue on as a government. We'll make sure that we, as a government, enter into a marketplace only when there is an imbalance. That's what a good government does. It doesn't interfere in a marketplace. It'll only interfere when there's an imbalance, and that's what we're doing with the mandatory code of conduct. That's what we'll continue to do. Anything else would risk the trade agreements that we have in place not only for dairy but also for other commodities. That has benefited agriculture, taking it from a $34 billion industry some eight years ago to, now, a $60 billion industry and to one that we intend to take to $100 billion by 2030.

10:20 am

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

I will also be very brief. Like the minister, I want to congratulate the member for Kennedy for his passion and the way he so energetically represents his constituents. He is, of course, a former member of the National Party, and it is a great shame that current members of the National Party aren't following him on some of these very, very important issues. I didn't hear what the member for Kennedy said about the wool industry; I was having a conversation with the member for Mallee about very important agriculture issues. But, certainly, the minister made a reference to the disaster that occurred in the wool industry. Of course, that was a National Party disaster, beginning with 'Black Jack' McEwen. It was Labor—

Mr Katter interjecting

If you want to interject, I might hear you, member for Kennedy. It was the National Party that destroyed the wool industry with the reserve price scheme. And I have read Charles Massy's excellent book on the reserve price scheme and the way the government just kept buying wool in the face of falling—

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll give you a copy.

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

I thank the member for Kennedy; I'd be very happy to do some more reading on it. It was left to a Labor government—the Hawke government—and an agriculture minister by the name of John Kerin to clean up their mess. It's important that I tell the House that we will be—

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's just the complete opposite to what happened.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Kennedy, you've had good run!

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

It is a statement of fact that the reserve price scheme was implemented by 'Black Jack' McEwen and exercised through the Wool Corporation and the Wool Council. They kept buying wool, buying wool and buying wool while the price continued to fall, and it was left to the Labor Party to clean up the mess.

But I just want to indicate to the House that, while there are obviously some things said by the member for Kennedy that we agree with, there are a number of things that we can't agree with. We will be supporting the suspension to allow his resolution to be put to the House, but, if it gets to a vote on the motion itself, then the opposition will be seeking to amend it.

10:22 am

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is an issue that is about consumer law. It's not solved by a floor price, and I will tell you why. Any floor price that is introduced for milk will obviously be assessed by our major trading partners as a government subsidy and, as such, will bring a form of possible default in the record returns that we've had in so many areas of our agricultural industries. Through this term of government, we've had record lamb prices, record mutton prices and record cattle prices. In many areas of the horticultural sector we've had record prices. Wool is at a very, very, very good price. What the Labor Party is doing today is putting all that at risk. So we should say that.

Obviously, at first blush, it is a palatable idea, but the issue that we now have is that you need to actually explain how it is that, after we put in a floor price for milk, we're not going to have, and justifiably so, every other industry coming in to ask for a floor price—a floor price for lamb, a floor price for mutton, a floor price for wool, a floor price for carrots, a floor price for plums. Everything will have a floor price. We will have lobbyists lined up outside the door and, after we're finished with a floor price for them, we'll have a floor price for small businesses in other sectors. Why not? We'll have given them the precursor to it.

They definitely have a huge problem and we definitely have to deal with it. I definitely support access to justice—absolutely. It's something we've been supporting for ages, and we got it. So much for the ineffectual National Party in the last fortnight! We've also—

Mr Katter interjecting

Member for Kennedy, I am empathetic to the core with you, but please listen. We must have something that gives protection to all small businesses. I entirely agree that you need multiple buyers and multiple sellers to have a market—

Mr Katter interjecting

but we have to have a Corporations Act that has the capacity to deal with it.

Mr Katter interjecting

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Kennedy will be quiet or he will be able to go for a walk himself.

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One of the greatest ways to get the attention of the big organisation is to vest your powers. By gosh, they listen to them. But we in this parliament can't seem to get even the most minor section of the industry covered by a divestiture power, which is the power industry, which of course is another great asset. It is a huge cost for dairy; it's probably the biggest one they've got. If we can't affect the power prices and we can't convince—I'll be more bipartisan here—a greater emphasis on water infrastructure, which they need for irrigation, you're not going to solve this issue by merely a floor price. Why? Because once the big organisations—Coles and Woolies—knows there's a floor price, how will that encourage them to say: 'Great, we'll offer them any price and the government will make up the difference. That's what happened in the wool game. Let's do that again. It worked out well.' While we had the floor price on wool, we had so much wool in store that one of the honest suggestions was to burn it to try and get rid of it.

I'll just also go through the deregulation required back in, I think, 1999. The regulation for deregulation was to go through the states and then it would be funded in a support package by the federal government. You may ask where I got that from. I got it from Dairy Australia. So it is ridiculous that we are somehow going to reinvent the wheel. It most likely won't even be supported by the dairy industry. In fact, we have not had a serious report back—and I reflect to the member for Murray: they had a meeting with the Australian Dairy Industry Council, and they don't want this. So we're in the odd position where we're supporting something that even the industry doesn't want. Just believe that they know more about this issue, if you're not following it, than some voices we may hear in this debate.

What I would say to the Labor Party is that, if you go out and say you support a divestiture power, I'll be backing you. I'll be backing you, because, by gosh, Coles and Woolworths will listen to that—and, in saying that, I reckon I'll have every lobbyist in Australia knocking on my door. So let us be more sophisticated and listen to the real ways we can fix this and put to the side the gloss of something that will not only hurt milk but will hurt every agricultural industry.

10:27 am

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I won't take too much of the time of this House. I actually just want to acknowledge many of the comments of the member for New England. I have a number of dairies in my community, although the number of those farming families is shrinking day by day. Yesterday I had the great privilege to meet a young lady called Casey Treloar. Casey comes from a dairy family down on the South Coast, and her family is leaving the industry.

I agree with the member for New England: what we need is not something radical; what we need is something that exists in many countries—the USA, the UK—and which former senator Nick Xenophon was very supportive of, and that's divesture laws. We need that when we are a nation where, as the member for Kennedy said, there are just a couple of processors in the dairy industry and a couple of buyers. I would urge every member of this House to read Malcolm Knox's book. It is called Supermarket Monsters: The Price of Coles and Woolworths' Dominance.

Let me tell you: we are crippling family farmers because we are not acting with divesture laws. That's where we need to go in the next parliament. We need to make sure that we have competition and protection when the duopolies are squeezing from the very top. The ones that hurt are the farmers down the bottom. I do not want to get to a time in Australia when my children and grandchildren cannot drink Australian milk. It's the same for apples. It's the same for every horticulture industry. It's the same right across the board. We are killing family farmers because we are not acting in this place. I would urge whoever is in government in the next parliament to make sure we put front and centre divestiture laws for the protection and peace of mind for a number of industries in the farming sector.

10:29 am

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Murray, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand that the government has important legislation it needs to get through, but I cannot let this debate go on without commenting. Right at the moment, the dairy industry, certainly in the Goulburn Valley, is doing it very, very tough. Primarily this is all about input costs—the cost of water, the cost of hay and the cost of electricity. What we need to do is we need to have a general conversation or inquiry into the profitability of dairy. But this is a cruel hoax against an industry that is on its knees. This is a cruel hoax that is being played out for purely political reasons by the Labor Party. I understand the member for Kennedy has ideological reasons and he fully agrees with what he is saying. However, there is no practical way that this can actually work, and the ACCC's report recently handed down effectively says that. It says that you can't have this opportunity if you only produced fresh milk. If Australia only produced fresh milk, which, I think, is produced by five per cent or six per cent of all dairy farmers and if we only sold that fresh milk in Australia, you could institute a floor price, provided the government was prepared to pick up the free fall whenever the cost of sales didn't meet the cost of production.

Yesterday, the member for Hunter actually said he wanted to set a floor price that was going to be over the price of production. Is that over the price of production right now, where input costs are high? Or is that over the cost of production from years gone by? There is no way you can set a floor price over and above. I asked the member for Hunter, 'How much are you prepared to pay to make sure you prop up this floor price?' 'We will not pay anything,' he said, 'We're not going to put any money into this.' You can't have a floor price for all those struggling farmers out there if you're not prepared to stump it up when the price of milk slips below the floor price that you create.

This is just all politics. It is cruel. It is a cruel hoax on the people who are doing it incredibly tough, people who are exiting this industry after 20 and 30 years. They're exiting because the input costs right now are too expensive for them to make money. But for you to be playing down this part is disgraceful. I'm sorry to the member for Kennedy, but what we really need is a conversation about the profitability of dairy, where we take everything into account and look at all the different commodities we actually make out of milk, because fresh milk is only five per cent or six per cent of the total milk that is produced.

10:32 am

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the contribution made by the member for New England, he says it can't be done because it will threaten our other free trade agreements. I must remind the member, who I have great respect for, that the average support levels for farmers throughout the world is 41 per cent. They are not my figures; they are the OECD's figures in the last landmark report. Every farmer on earth gets 41 per cent of his income from the government, with two exceptions—Australia and New Zealand. Australia is 5.6 per cent. So how can these other countries argue that they should act against us when they're sitting on 40 per cent? I'm talking about the support levels in Europe and the United States, which were 39 per cent last time I looked. How can we continue to compete when they're getting 41 per cent off their government and we're getting 5.6 per cent off our government? We can't. Your argument won't work.

It was introduced when Jack McEwen came in, which was about 1935 or whatever it was, and that milk scheme was there from 1935 to 1990. I don't know how many years that is but it is a lot of years. It worked for 60 years. And the wool scheme was raised. I repeat quietly, please listen: when the scheme was introduced, the price went up 300 per cent. It's a matter of public record. When Keating undermined the scheme and then abolished it, over the next three years, it dropped down to one third. No-one cut off our trade to any country on account of this. I mean, all the free trade agreements were in place when these things occurred. We had these sorts of free trade agreements then.

I don't want to take up the time of the House because I know how busy the government is doing a lot of good things. Every agricultural industry, including cattle, was dominated by the beef agreement with the United States and Japan because the vast bulk of our exports went to those two countries and we had government-to-government agreement on the price. So even the beef industry was regulated.

The Country Party believed that if we went into the free market, we'd be eaten alive. It that was true then for the wisest men this place may have ever seen, in the form of Doug Anthony and Jack McEwen, who fought for 60 years, and the ALP. Chifley introduced the wheat scheme. (Time expired)

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

The question is that the motion to suspend standing orders moved by the member for Kennedy be agreed to.