Senate debates

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Ministerial Statements

Dairy Industry

4:18 pm

Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to take note of Senator McKenzie's statement. It saddens me, it shocks me and it dismays me to see people in this chamber rising to speak on something that they know nothing about. We do not have enough voices of farmers in this parliament, and today I'm standing to talk to you about the challenges that we have. I'm standing to talk to you about farmers right across this state, right across this country—who wept to me after the floods in North Queensland, after the droughts in the rest of the state and after the droughts in the rest of the country—and say, 'We don't believe you care anymore. You sit in Canberra, you talk about climate crisis, you talk about floods and you talk about bushfires, and you have no idea.'

I want to tell you their stories; I won't have time tonight. But these people, these men and women—these generations of great land managers, of great genetic herd-builders and of great pastoralists—have had enough of the posturing, the poor responses and the misinformation that was promoted tonight from the Greens, from Labor and from One Nation.

What those parties are telling you is just not true. The dairy industry in Australia, and particularly in Queensland, is in crisis, but it is a complex industry. Queensland in particular has challenges that the rest of the country does not have. We primarily promote and provide to the fresh milk industry, to the drinking milk that we all enjoy. It is that milk that is valued most cheaply. We don't have the higher levels of fat and protein that are generated in the southern states. The dairy industry in Australia has been and still is being pillaged and bullied into effectively running their businesses at a loss by processors like Lactalis, which even today is bullying its suppliers into an unfair contract that is not right. This is not about price; this is about our values. This is about what Australians want and believe in. We want and we believe in our dairy farmers. Not only does this greedy and destructive practice of processors like Lactalis and Lion and businesses like Coles, Woolworths and Aldi constantly cripple these hardworking, taxpaying, good Australians to the point of going bust, it will damage this nation's dairy industry to the point that Australia will literally run out of Australian produced dairy. My disappointment is immeasurable when it comes to supermarkets being so obtuse when it comes to the salvation of these farmers. It is unacceptable and intolerable that there should be such a lack of ethical behaviour amongst our supermarkets. It was only today that an ACCC report showed that Coles misled Australians when it said it was paying the full 10c drought levy to farmers. That has resulted in $5.25 million being distributed to Norco's farmers right now.

Dairy is a massive part of life in Australia, and this could not only damage our GDP but cripple forever the future of dairy in Australia. Dairy production accounts for roughly 42½ thousand jobs in rural and regional Australia. However, businesses such as Coles, Aldi, Woolworths, Lactalis and Lion are driving a stake through the heart of each and every single one of these farmers. The introduction of dollar-a-litre milk led to a collapse in fresh milk supply prices from Queensland's dairy farmers. I spoke to Peter Garrett in Scenic Rim, who said, 'I knew it would be a tough six months.' He never ever dreamt it would be eight years later. Since then, our farmers have been living impossibly difficult lives, having to sell parcels of land and their herd and use their superannuation trying to stay afloat, but these farmers can stay afloat for only so long. I have travelled this state. I wish other senators would spend as much time as I have getting out on farms, standing with farmers, talking with them about their businesses, about their herd, about their pasture, about their prices, about their relationships and about the way they're being bullied by their processors. Liam Thiess is a fifth-generation dairy farmer. I said to him, 'What do you want?' He said: 'I just want to run these cows. They're like my family. They have names.' He enjoys the process of being a farmer. It is a calling to him.

We have introduced a dairy code of conduct which is going to provide some rules of engagement, some fair negotiation for these farmers and these relationships, but I do say to the supermarkets: it is time that they grew a moral backbone. It is time that they lived up to the standards that they put up on their website, which apparently are good enough for the rest of the country but not for our farmers. If farmers are not even breaking even, surely there is a breach of an ethical policy. And the answer is: yes. It's in the salaries of the deep-pocketed CEOs at Coles, Woolworths and Aldi, who are in breach of their own ethical policies. The Coles Group Ethical Sourcing Policy, at 8.1 under section 8: 'Wages and Benefits', explicitly says:

In any event, wages should always be enough to meet basic needs and to provide some discretionary income.

Coles has misled consumers and damaged the dairy industry to the point where it will take decades to recover from this mistreatment, because farmers are only earning this income as they sell small parcels of land, piece by piece, to stay in the dairy industry.

As for Woolworths, the Woolworths Limited Ethical Sourcing Policy is similar to the Coles Ethical Sourcing Policy. Section 6: 'Living Wages' literally says:

In any event wages should always be enough to meet basic needs and to provide some discretionary income for workers and their families.

It may sound familiar, as it is almost exactly the same as Coles' policy, because both ethical policies were derived from the International Labour Organization. And unsurprisingly, Woolworths has also breached this code, like Coles and like Aldi.

It is extraordinary to me that the Labor Party can sit across there and criticise the coalition for having done nothing, when they have been asleep at the wheel, promoting labour standards for workers, yet leaving farmers out in the cold. So I want to acknowledge the advice—and the support that I want to send out to Brad Teese, Peter Jarvis, Liam Teese, James Geraghty and Colin Daley up on the tablelands. The dairy code will provide them with some protection, but we know that it is the introduction of better prices from Coles, Woolworths and Aldi that has the power to solve the dairy farmers' problems today—not in two years time, when some mythical floor price might be introduced. The ACCC is very clear that it would take years to introduce a regionally based floor price, but what is worse is it has the real potential to wipe out dairying in Queensland because the costs of production in Queensland are so much higher than they are in the rest of the country.

It is also untrue that New Zealand, the US and Canada are regulated by a floor price. They have their own systems of managing prices. In New Zealand it is managed by a really big co-op. In the US, it's managed using a margin scheme. In Canada, it's managed using a combination of pasture and other inputs. So this is not about prices. This is about our values: our values as Australians and our values for dairy farmers.


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