Thursday, 13 September 2018
That the Senate—
(a) notes that:
(i) the dairy industry in Australia was de-regulated in 2000, and since that time milk production has fallen from 12 billion litres a year to 9.5 billion litres a year, while the population has increased from 19 million to 25 million people,
(ii) the number of dairy farms has declined in Queensland from around 1,500 to about 380,
(iii) Queensland dairy herds are now in immediate danger through a failure of the winter and summer seasonal crops, and the shortage of quality feed means it is likely that whole herds will be sent to the slaughterhouse and families destroyed,
(iv) the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) dairy inquiry report was handed down in April 2018, and found that an increase in the fresh milk price in supermarkets would not benefit dairy farmers, only the processors,
(v) none of the eight recommendations in the ACCC's report have been implemented by the Federal Government,
(vi) there is an immediate need to deal with the imbalance in bargaining power between dairy farmers and processors by legislating to make unfair contracts and, in particular, multi-year contracts (which bind farmers but not processors) unlawful because dairy farmers do not have the means to pursue these unfair contracts through the courts, and
(vii) it is a myth that milk prices are set by market forces because farm-gate prices for milk are set by processors, that are often foreign-owned; and
(b) calls on the Federal Government:
(i) to provide immediate additional financial support to dairy farmers who cannot feed their herds,
(ii to implement all of the ACCC recommendations, and
(iii to regulate the price of milk per litre paid by processors to dairy farmers to ensure a viable dairy industry.
The government strongly supports Australia's dairy farmers and the dairy industry and acknowledges that many are doing it tough at present. The Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources is currently considering the ACCC's dairy report and has acknowledged industry and processor support for a mandatory code of conduct following a regulatory impact statement. The government will work to address the significant imbalance in bargaining power and marketing information for dairy farmers through the code and particularly through its dispute resolution mechanism and other means where suitable.
Katter's Australian Party will, of course, be supporting this motion. Any action that helps the dairy industry has our full support. The dairy industry in Australia has been gutted in recent years as a result of deregulation, which has simply stolen wealth from farmers and handed it to giant transnational corporations. The motion is entirely correct in saying that this has led to a gross imbalance in bargaining power between farmers and those to whom they sell their products. The only solution to the crisis facing the dairy industry is to return to a statutory marketing board that allows farmers to collectively bargain on the sale of their products. Just as employees have the right to join a union to collectively bargain on the sale of their labour, farmers need to be given the right to form organisations such as co-ops to collectively bargain on the sale of their goods. The only long-term cure for the problem facing the dairy industry is legislation to allow us to return to orderly marketing.
Labor will not be supporting Senator Hanson's motion. Whilst there are many points Labor could provide strong support for, sadly there are other points that have an eye more to an election, rather than to assisting farmers. Labor also condemns the Morrison government for its lack of action in relation to the ACCC report. Labor has been working closely with the dairy industry. In October we will be holding a roundtable with representatives across the supply chain in Queensland to discuss key issues and challenges facing the industry.
The Greens will be supporting this motion today, but I did want to put on the record a clarification of our position on regulation. We support regulation around the way that processors set prices, including with the prevention of unfair contracts, but we do not see that that necessarily means the government's setting the price per litre of milk or kilogram of milk solids. But, clearly, some regulation is necessary. We absolutely are also in favour of support for drought-stricken farmers and support of the extension of the Farm Household Allowance from three years to four, which went through this place a few weeks ago, and we entirely endorse the ACCC's recommendations and hope that the minister's now stated intention of introducing a mandatory code of conduct is indicative that the government will be moving to implement the ACCC recommendations.