Monday, 4 December 2017
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia representing the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Canavan. Can the minister update the Senate on the health of the dairy sector in Australia and advise how the coalition government has supported our dairy farmers' growth?
Thank you, Senator McKenzie. I understand and know your strong support for the third-largest agricultural sector in our country, the dairy industry, which produces more than $3½ billion across Australia but is especially strong in the senator's home state of Victoria. It also supports 42,000 Australians. We are a big supporter of the dairy industry. It has been a tough year and a bit for the dairy industry, suffering price falls on world markets and issues with domestic pricing. The Australian government has done what it can to support our dairy farmers through these difficult times.
Last year, we announced a $579 million dairy support package for the sector. I can inform the Senate that, to now, $161 million in concessional loans has been put out the door to help our farmers get back on their feet through these difficult times. It's good to see that prices are starting to rise now. Just last week, we engaged a provider to deliver the milk price index that we announced as part of the support package. That will provide greater transparency to dairy farmers so they can appropriately price and try to avoid the situation we saw last year with Murray Goulburn. Of course, over the last few years, the government has concluded free trade agreements with many countries in our region. That's of great support to our dairy sector. The Chinese agreement in particular was a great opportunity and boon, and hopefully now, as prices are recovering in the world, the full opportunities of that will start to translate. We announced an ACCC inquiry into the dairy market. An interim report was released last week. Also, I recognise the work that Senator McKenzie has done, getting out into her community and engaging with a number of round tables and discussions through these processes. All of that has helped inform the government response. While it is a tough time, we are doing what we can to assist our farmers through these tough years.
As I mentioned in my answer to the first question, the ACCC released an interim report into its dairy inquiry last week. We welcome that report. Its recommendations are simply interim ones at this stage. I would encourage those affected in the industry and those who are interested in this report to provide feedback on those recommendations. They are due by 31 January 2018 and a final report will be released by 30 April 2018. The recommendations are quite broad. As I say, the government will consider what is recommended in the final report. I note that a mandatory code of conduct is recommended. That's something the government will consider. We already have a voluntary code of conduct in place, but all of these things give strength to why the government is doing what it can to help support our dairy farmers. We are ready to take further action if necessary to ensure that a fair price is delivered to dairy farmers so that they can keep investing in their business and keep supporting the more than 40,000 people who rely on this industry.
I can, Mr President. I thank Senator McKenzie for that question. We are ensuring that dairy farmers can get access to the raw natural resources they need to build their business. The start of that, of course, means water. You can't have a dairy industry without water. Every year, cows need to eat grass, and to grow that grass we need to have access to water. That is why the Commonwealth government is taking a sensible and balanced approach to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, ensuring that we not only meet the environmental objectives of that plan but also support the economies and social structures of the communities in rural Victoria that need access to water to have an economy and provide those jobs.
Also, I note that the Australian dairy industry has received a major boost with a $335,000 grant under the Australian government's $5 million Leadership in Agricultural Industries Fund. That has helped build the leaders for the next generation in our dairy sector. I'm sure the Commonwealth government will keep supporting this important sector. I thank the senator for her interest in Victoria's dairy industry and will continue to work with her and others in Victoria to build on the strengths of the last year.