Senate debates

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Matters of Urgency

Dairy Industry

6:35 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today four proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Hanson:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

"That Australia's dairy farmers are facing ruin and the government must take action to ensure they are paid a fair farm gate price for their milk."

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

"That Australia's dairy farmers are facing ruin and the government must take action to ensure they are paid a fair farm gate price for their milk."

The dairy industry in Australia is on its knees. Less than half an hour ago there was a vote in this chamber to address the dairy industry. My notice of motion was to call on the federal government to provide immediate additional financial support to the dairy farmers who cannot feed their herds, implement all of the ACCC's recommendations and task the ACCC to investigate how it can regulate the price of milk per litre paid by processors to dairy farmers to ensure a viable dairy industry.

The support I got was from the Labor Party and the Greens. It was the Liberal Party, the Nationals, Senator Patrick, Senator Sterling and Senator Bernardi who voted against that motion. It needed one more vote. It was 30-all, so it was negatived. I call on Senators Patrick, Stirling and Bernardi to consider the fact that—all three of them are from South Australia—their dairy industry cannot supply the needs of their own state, so they have to import milk from Victoria. The same applies for their electricity. They can't even supply their state with electricity. They have to import it from another state. It's an absolute disgrace that they care not. They voted against this, which was for the dairy farmers of this nation.

It is a desperate situation, and I want to make sure people realise just how serious things have become. Farming in this country has become progressively more difficult with the extended drought, on top of rising water and electricity prices and general increases in expenses like fuel, farm supplies, machinery, maintenance, fodder and other farm running costs. Dairy farmers have even more hurdles to achieving viability: farmers also suffer from harsh contracts with milk processors and retailers that squeeze prices so low that it robs them of any profit. The processors and retailers are just being cold hearted and cruel, putting their profits way ahead of the needs of a traditional Australian industry and the lives and livelihoods of hardworking Australians.

As I have mentioned many times, we cannot allow our farmers to be crushed by the compounding weight of all these factors. We can't let them crumble to such desperate lows that they simply walk off the land or, worse still, suffer family breakdowns or resort to other drastic actions like suicide, which has occurred in an unacceptable number of cases. The fact that there has been little meaningful support from government only makes the battle even more hopeless and lonely for many struggling dairy farmers. This is why I am pushing so hard for the introduction of the long-awaited code of conduct for the dairy industry that will, among other things, set a base farmgate price per litre of milk so that dairy farmers can at least have some surety that they will earn enough money to cover their production costs and allow them to make a profit. We need them to stay profitable so they can keep producing milk and provide for their families—and preserve their chosen way of life, which has been that way for generations.

The code of conduct has been in the pipeline for at least five years. It was suggested in 2014 by the Australian Dairy Industry Council and Dairy Australia. Along with the fair farmgate price, the farmers want initiatives that help provide some balance in the industry between farmers, processors and retailers.

In September 2018, in response to my motion, the government assured us it was working towards introducing the code. In the motion, I asked them that measures be put in place to provide immediate additional financial support to dairy farmers who cannot feed their herds and also to regulate the price of milk per litre paid by processors to dairy farmers to ensure a viable dairy industry. In reply, the government said:

The government strongly supports Australia's dairy farmers and the dairy industry, and acknowledges that many are doing it tough at present.

It also said at the time:

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.

Well, that was 13 months ago. Since then, nothing has happened. We have a dairy farmer leaving the land every week. And what has the government's response been? Nothing. The government has been sitting on its hands while the farmers continue to struggle. Farmers continue to walk off the land, our farmers face ruin and our dairy industry is on the verge of becoming unviable. If we don't support farmers and their families, we will eventually become dependent on imported milk. That would leave us susceptible to unknown milk quality and unpredictable pricing, and put us at risk of losing this iconic farming sector that has been such an important part of our wonderful country.

From September 2018, let's fast forward to this week. The Minister for Agriculture, Bridget McKenzie, has been exposed for having done nothing on this matter. I asked the senator:

Why has the government waited until there has been a mass exodus of dairy farmers before realising a code of practice was required?

Minister McKenzie replied:

That's actually not true. Our government has been taking steps to stand by dairy farmers and the industry more broadly over many, many years. Getting this code in place is an important commitment we have made. There is no hold-up whatsoever, on our side, to get this in place to give the farmers the security they need.

Well, the stats show something different. The total number of dairy farms in Australia has dropped from 6,853 in 2010-11 to 5,699 as of 30 June 2018. I wonder how many more farmers were lost in the last 12 months. Milk production has also dropped. At its peak, in 2000, we produced 12 billion litres annually. But that fell to 9½ billion litres last year and dropped further to 8.7 billion litres this year. And then there's population. At the industry's height, there were 19 million people in this country. Now, there are 25 million people, yet we have dropped the production of milk.

I am also concerned that delays in the introduction of the code of conduct may come as a result of the conflict of interest from Minister McKenzie. Minister McKenzie's home state of Victoria is the only state in which the industry has consistently opposed the introduction of the code. Victoria has more dairy farms than all the other states combined. It is home to more than 64 per cent of the dairy cows in Australia. While the number of cows has dropped considerably in all other states since 2010, the number of cows in Victoria has stayed steady at over one million. Victoria is the only state in which farmers don't have contracts with processors, due to strong competition between processors. Victoria also exports considerable quantities of milk to other states. These factors all combine to raise concerns that the process for introducing the code is being compromised.

As we know, Senator McKenzie is up for re-election at the next federal election due in 2022. It is of great concern to me that dairy farmers, who are desperately waiting for some farmgate price support for their milk, might be waiting in vain for the code of conduct due to some political reason. I hope it's not true. But, with years of delay and government slackness in introducing this important document, I am now starting to wonder.

Labor is no help either, which is no real surprise. They have been using weasel words on this matter and have not made any positive contribution. As I said, if you're not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. But watching the vote in the chamber today gives me hope that Labor are starting to wake up. Last September, Queensland Labor senator Anthony Chisholm, who is also up for re-election, added his two cents worth in relation to my notice of motion. He said:

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.

Well, I haven't given up my fight, Senator Chisholm. He further said:

Labor has been working closely with the dairy industry.

This is total BS from both the government, which has done nothing substantial in over a year, and from Labor. They're playing a political game at the expense of farmers' lives and livelihoods, just because it's One Nation.

If we don't do something, we're going to end up importing milk, and who wants to drink milk from China? Their own people don't even want to feed their babies their own baby milk formula. I want to say thank you very much to the Greens for their support. (Time expired)

6:46 pm

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

This government supports our Australian dairy farmers and fundamentally believes that they must be paid a fair farmgate price for their milk. Dairy is Australia's third-largest rural industry, with almost 5,700 dairy farms, most of them family owned and operated, producing $4.3 billion last year at the farm gate. It is true that dairy farmers are facing challenging times, with higher costs of input during this drought, particularly around grain and electricity prices, and those costs are higher again for Queensland dairy farmers. Right now, the opening farmgate prices for milk are rising, and they are helping to improve confidence in the industry. Some processors have announced step-ups for the current milk season. Let's be clear: in 1999, the dairy industry came to government asking for deregulation, and the government complied. Government does not support the re-regulation of the dairy industry, because industry does not want re-regulation. I draw your attention to today's media releases from the Australian dairy organisation and the National Farmers' Federation.

As a government, we're working hard to ensure a strong and robust dairy industry now and into the future. During the election, the Liberal-National government announced a range of commitments to assist dairy farmers, including $10 million to help farmers reduce their energy costs through improved infrastructure and equipment; $1.5 million to Dairy Australia and Australian Dairy Farmers to support increased price transparency through advanced contracting and milk marketing tools; and the development of a mandatory code of conduct, just like we delivered the Sugar Code of Conduct for our Australian sugar cane farmers.

Let's not forget that this government is focused on achieving new markets for our farmers. Our track record on free trade helped our world-renowned dairy farmers to export 36 per cent of their production last year, and we are working to get our farmers new and improved access. These export markets are crucial. Not only do they provide another market opportunity but they boost competition for our farmers' products, which, in the context of the Woolworths-Coles-dominated supermarket structure, is important in driving better pricing for our farmers. This is what we're doing for all of our agricultural industries. Whether you produce fruit, vegies, meat or milk, as a government, we're working for you.

But can we do more? I think we need to look at the impact of the market power of retailers in order to prevent unfair bargaining practices in the agrifood supply chain. Across the board, unequal bargaining power, right through from the retailer to the processor and the farmers, is indirectly affecting farmgate prices. We are bringing forward Federal Court divestiture powers as a penalty for companies and corporations engaging in misconduct in the energy market, and I think it is time we give the ACCC the right powers to deal with repetitive and unfair bargaining practices by retailers. Addressing these issues holistically makes more sense for the longevity of the entire agricultural sector. This will help our farmers as they continue to push through the challenges—disease, market disruption, product perishability, drought, fire and flood. On that note, we will continue to stand with our drought affected farmers and regional communities.

The government has announced over $7 billion in measures to help drought affected farmers across Australia, including dairy farmers, facing hardship. Our government's drought plan is designed to provide immediate action, support for the wider communities affected and longer term resilience and planning. The farm household allowance gives income support to farming families, helping them meet costs for basic household necessities while they're in hardship. We've also topped up the Drought Community Support Initiative, which provides a grant of up to $3,000 per family to help with bills.

In closing, I think our dairy farmers are among the best in the world. I'm proud to be part of a government taking holistic action when it comes to our agricultural industries. We will continue to stand with our farmers and fight for their right to fair prices. I'm looking forward to working with my colleagues to address any challenge that keeps our farmers from doing what they do best, which is producing the world's best food and fibre to the world's highest standards.

6:51 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

I just want to clear the Hansard record first, after Senator Hanson's contribution, as she kept saying 'Senator Sterling'. I know you meant Senator Stirling Griff. Me being Sterle, I don't want to get bombarded by all the cranky South Australians listening to your contribution, looking for who to pull the nose of and finding the closest thing to 'Sterling' is 'Sterle'. It's Senator Griff. No worries. Hey, everyone in South Australia, it ain't me. I'm supporting Senator Hanson's matter of urgency.

Look, we do know. Our dairy industry faces existential threat. I know darn well, because I worked closely in the RRAT committee with the dairy farmers years and years ago during the Howard regime, and nothing has changed. For six years the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has ignored the plight of our dairy farmers who are caught in a cost-price squeeze exasperated by drought. Labor does believe that government intervention is needed to save our dairy sector and our dairy farmers. It is why on 20 February of this year Labor sought to task the ACCC to test the efficacy of a minimum farmgate milk price and to make recommendations on the best design options. It is not acceptable for our farmers to be paid less than the cost of producing their milk, like our truck drivers. If Australia wants a thriving dairy industry, leaders must act. Business as usual needs to end, and directing the ACCC to assess, test and design a floor price is an important first step in giving our dairy farmers a fair go.

The Liberals and Nationals talk up a big game in Canberra, but they have done nothing to help our dairy farmers and they refuse to intervene in the market. If you don't believe me, you only had to sit in question time, like yesterday, and listen to the feeble attempt by the minister to try and answer some of the Senator Hanson's fair questions. It was pathetic.

The coalition government has had more than five years to implement a code of conduct and has miserably failed. The Morrison government has kicked the mandatory code down the road to 1 July 2020. Australia's $4 billion dairy industry supports more than 5,500 farming families, which we've heard, and creates around 42½ thousand jobs. It is also a key exporter of quality Australian dairy product. This is not a new issue that we are discussing in this Senate.

On 14 September 2016, the Senate undertook an inquiry into the Australian diary industry in order to establish a fair, long-term solution to Australia's dairy crisis, with particular reference to fresh milk security. This inquiry was part of a general notice of motion where the Senate noted the Australian dairy industry is facing an unprecedented crisis, with the retail cost of bottled milk per litre often less than the retail cost of bottled water—go figure that one out. Australian milk production, since deregulation over 15 years ago, has decreased from 11 billion litres per year to nine billion litres per year now—a 20 per cent decrease. Meanwhile, New Zealand milk production has almost doubled.

In 2011, a report of the Senate Economics References Committee recommended that producer contracts with dairy farmers should offer a clear and consistent formula for milk pricing, with unambiguous conditions. I was on that inquiry. I chaired the Perth end of it. I know. Five years later, the livelihoods of up to 40 per cent of Australian dairy farmers are under threat because of imposed retrospective debt helped by unclear, inconsistent milk pricing contracts with ambiguous conditions. Australia's largest dairy producer and milk price setter, Murray Goulburn, has been allowed to force onto its suppliers unprecedented milk contracts or agreements, ensuring that dairy farmers are burdened with retrospective debts ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Australian rural and regional communities face losing millions of dollars and thousands of jobs if a fair, long-term solution to Australia's dairy crisis is not found.

I shouldn't be delivering this speech. It should be that mob over there. I can't believe this. No, I can. The mental and physical health of dairy families and workers is being unnecessarily and unfairly placed in jeopardy as these politicians and legal and industry experts argue about possible solutions to the dairy crisis. The Senate must not forget the lack of action by the Turnbull-Morrison government following the Murray Goulburn dairy crisis. Farmers need political leaders and farming representative groups to stand up for our dairy industry.

Sadly, the National Farmers Federation, whom I have absolutely no respect for—let me put it clearly on the record that it's me, not the Labor Party, saying that—put out a statement on the same day Labor made its announcement, stating:

The National Farmers' Federation says 'sure' ask the ACCC to look at a floor price for milk, but it remains highly cautious about simple solutions to the dairy industry's complex problems.

"Our dairy sector is under significant pressure, there's no doubt about that," NFF President Ms Simson said.

"We are always willing to listen to new strategies that might ease this pressure and to ensure a fair price for farmers; this includes hearing the ACCC thoughts on the merits of a minimum farm gate milk price."

However, Ms Simson said Labor's floor price idea appeared to be a nod to the past rather than a serious strategy for the future.

"We need a dairy sector that is strong, sustainable and competitive at home and on the world stage.

"As an export dependent industry, that exports two thirds of what we produce, prices for Australian agricultural products are largely determined by international market forces.

"We'd be really interested to see if and how a regulated floor price might enhance the dairy sector's global competitiveness."

"It's imperative that any such measures are considered in full consultation with, and with support from, the industry—most importantly farmers."

Ms Simson recognised that a move by Woolworths this week to scrap $1 milk was not the sole answer but said it was definitely a step in the right direction.

"A guaranteed return of an additional 10 cents per litre to farmers whose milk is sold to Woolworths is a real and tangible benefit to the hip pocket.

"We're calling all other major supermarkets to follow suit, with the same or ideally, larger increase."

Ms Simson said the NFF was keen to see the implementation of the Dairy Mandatory Code of Conduct, which was agreed to last year by industry and Government.

The Code includes making milk supply contracts subject to unfair contract legislation.

"The majority of dairy farmers are largely family operations who can be at a distinct disadvantage when negotiating with the might and force of large processors.

It appears that the National Farmers Federation does not understand the true pressure of dairy farmers and what they are currently facing. However, the NFF does agree that the Morrison government should implement the dairy code of conduct, but how long does it take to implement a code of conduct? For the sugar industry, it was less than 24 hours, when Senator Hanson threatened to withhold her vote on the government tax cuts, and so it should have been. I also worked hard with the sugarcane growers too—make no mistake about that. But for Australia's dairy farmers it appears to be on the never-never.

It also appears that Australian Dairy Farmers, ADF, continue to oppose dairy farmers receiving a fair farm gate price, putting out a media release today reaffirming their opposition. However, they then stated:

Clearly this is an extremely complex policy decision, particularly given our export exposure. However, it is important to note that the dairy industry is at a critical point and these issues must be addressed.

Wow! But ADF offer no hope or solutions to farmers who face the real challenge of being paid less than what it costs to produce their milk. ADF also continue to see no problem with the Morrison government's go-slow approach the implementation of a dairy code of conduct. This simply is not good enough for our dairy farmers.

Post Labor's announcement, the former agriculture minister, David Littleproud, announced that the Morrison government would review the milk price index. This has done nothing to assist dairy farmers and was just another tactic to do nothing. It appears that the Morrison government is hoping that our dairy farmers leave the land. How can they sit on their hands while our dairy farmers continue to suffer? How can the Morrison government not understand that dairy farmers need to be paid a fair price for their milk? Or should our dairy farmers take the advice given by former agriculture minister Mr Barnaby Joyce? He said on Sky News in response to criticism of the Morrison government's lack of action on drought:

We've got to support you in the drought, but if your place is just not viable, $36,000 just isn't going to make a difference and people have to answer their own question in their own mind if this is the job in their life for them.

Seriously, I'm not making that up! And then Mr Joyce said:

We don't want to keep people in potential poverty.

People who have not made a profit in the last 10 years really need to seriously think, what are you doing with your life? What are you doing on the land?

Does this callous comment also apply to Australia's dairy farmers, who are not receiving a fair farmgate price and who are not making a profit? The fact is Australians want to ensure that they have a prosperous and thriving dairy industry. Under this government—oh, my goodness me!—I absolutely feel sorry for them. (Time expired)

7:01 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens have a proud history in this chamber of fighting for a better deal for farmers, including dairy farmers, who are up against the market power of big food and big grocery companies. Indeed, Senator Christine Milne, the previous Leader of the Greens, was herself the daughter of a dairy farmer.

When I started in 2012, we went to the 2013 election with a full suite of policies to tackle the supermarket duopoly and provide an effective set of competition policy laws, as well as backing in increased powers for the ACCC and putting in place laws and better legislation, standing up for small business and supporting farmers. I'm proud to announce that in 2013 we called for mandatory codes of conduct between the supermarkets and the dairy farmers. In 2016, we called for unfair retrospective price changes to be removed from these contracts. I'm exceptionally proud to say that in 2017, having campaigned on it for four years, we worked with the National Party and the Liberal Party to bring in what was one of the most revolutionary changes to competition policy in this country in a decade, which was an effects test.

For those who don't remember, it was one of those extraordinary moments in time where, although we had put up motions to bring in an effects test and it had never been supported—but the Nationals had crossed the floor and voted with us—the day we got the law up was the day that Mr Malcolm Turnbull had just assumed the leadership, and they had done a deal to get the Nationals' support. That deal was that the Liberals that day would vote for an effects test. So we have a great set of competition policies because of an unusual time in history. But it came from the persistence of the Greens and the Nationals in this place to work to get that in place. Senator Xenophon would, I'm sure, be very disappointed in your stance today too for voting down One Nation's motion, but I'm sure you will explain that.

The question of how milk prices are regulated is obviously an important issue for this parliament, as it is for many industries. It's clear that the current free market approach is working more for big producers and supermarkets than it is for farmers. As Senator Sterle acknowledges, this has been the case for many years. I remember us having exactly this same debate back in 2012, 2013 and 2014, yet nothing has changed. We let One Nation know today that the Greens won't commence the need to directly regulate the price of milk paid by processors, and I thank One Nation for amending their motion today to perhaps leave it more open-ended for more discussion on that point. But we do believe very strongly that we need to regulate how milk prices are negotiated to protect farmers.

The important point to consider with milk, as with other perishable products, is that farmers can't hold out to get a better price, unlike a wheat farmer, for example. For those of us who have been on RRAT for a number of inquiries that, for example, looked at wheat boards and wheat markets, wheat farmers can hold out by putting their crop in their silos for a month or so to wait for better prices. Dairy farmers need to move their product on the day that it's produced. Of course, this puts dairy farmers at the mercy of producers and the contracts they have signed.

Two points, one about my home state of Tasmania: our party has often argued that for a small state like Tasmania the future for dairy producers is to value-add, to leverage off the brand. Brand Tasmania is one of the best things my state has going for it, So produce high-value products, leverage off the brand and of course diversify your product. From King Island all the way to Bruny Island, we've got some of the best dairies in the country, producing products that are sold on supermarket shelves right around the country while leveraging off that brand. Going value-added is always a good way to diversify your risk and get good money and not rely on the commodity markets and not get screwed over by supermarkets and milk processors.

Lastly, I'd like to mention an issue in Tasmania, especially in the dairy industry, that is very acute and very sensitive, and that is the sale of Tasmanian businesses to Chinese interests. I have raised in this parliament that Van Diemen's Land was bought by a Chinese investor who'd made an undertaking to spend $100 million in upgrading the business and employing locals. That undertaking has never been met. This government refuses to hold that investor to account, and it's totally unacceptable. It's totally unacceptable that our Foreign Investment Review Board laws aren't worth the paper they're written on if the government's not prepared to act and stand up for dairy farmers in Tasmania. I also made the point that the sale of Bellamy's, which is currently being considered by FIRB, looks like open direct market manipulation by Chinese state-owned enterprises. Stay tuned on that one! (Time expired)

7:06 pm

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the urgency motion moved by Senator Hanson regarding dairy farmers. It's been quite some months now that I've been in the Senate, and finally Senator Hanson has developed a resolution that I feel capable of supporting—I suppose a stopped clock is right at least twice a day! Everybody knows that the dairy farming industry needs government action. Even One Nation realises that. Our dairy farmers are caught in a long-running cost-price squeeze that is being compounded by drought and Morrison government inaction. Labor believes that government intervention is needed in order to secure our dairy sector and our dairy farmers. Absent government action, our kids will no doubt be drinking imported milk, and I don't think that is a future Australia should be setting up for itself.

Of course, the history of government action in the dairy industry goes back some decades now—right back to when the Howard government deregulated the dairy industry in 2000. As curious as I was to search back through the history of dairy market deregulation, there was one notable proponent for dairy market deregulation in 1999 and 2000, and that was former Labor MP Mark Latham—the current leader of the One Nation party in New South Wales. In an article titled 'Pull the udder one'—a dad joke that even I hesitate to make!—the article said:

Labor MP Mark Latham, about as gung-ho for competition policy as you get on either side of the parliament, said in an ABC interview in February: "I'm on the side of the dairy farmers. Ninety per cent of Victorian dairy farmers voted for deregulation. This was Australia's first ever democratic deregulation. So how can anyone like Hanson or other people campaigning on these issues say that they want to reregulate the industry when it's the industry itself, the great bulk of Australia's dairy farmers are in Victoria and they decided that they wanted to go down in path?"

That's what Mark Latham, the leader of One Nation, said then. After the dark despair of the election loss in 2004—the self-loathing, the despair, the sewer that he climbed into over the course of the ensuing years to finally emerge as a leader of the One Nation Party in New South Wales—that's his political record in terms of the dairy industry. I'm actually very surprised to find One Nation here in the Senate with a skerrick of sympathy and interest in the future of dairy farmers, if that's the kind of character they are prepared to recruit for political leadership in New South Wales.

In February Labor promised that if we were successful at the election we would task the ACCC with testing the merits of a minimum farmgate price and to make recommendations on the best design options. That's the responsible course of action. There is only one potential party of government in this place that would act to save the dairy industry. It's not acceptable for our farmers to be paid less than the cost of production for their milk. If a floor price is needed to win this crisis, that's what Labor, in government, would support. Australia needs a thriving dairy industry, not a dying dairy industry. Scott Morrison should act.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

I would encourage you to use the Prime Minister's appropriate title.

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. It is a lack of experience that leads me to make these mistakes, of course.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

Consider yourself experienced, Senator.

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes. I'm learning every day—learning on the job, which is about the only option that the Liberal's vocational education policy allows people these days.

Directing the ACCC to test and design a floor price would be an important first step in giving dairy farmers a fair go. The Liberals and Nationals talk a big game in Canberra, but they have done nothing to help dairy farmers and refuse, for ideological reasons, to intervene in the market.

Where, in fact, is the National Party on the dairy industry? They have always been on the side of big agriculture, not family farmers and not farming families. Examine the history of dairy deregulation and government action and inaction in this area and the application, the relentless application, of Liberal Party big-end-of-town, neoliberal principles to the dairy market and you will always find the National Party there, the enablers of Liberal Party policy in the dairy industry—Liberal Party policy that is hurting family farms; Liberal Party policy that is making it harder for dairy farmers to operate. They are always there for big corporate power and big retailers and they have got the mealy-mouthed words and the quisling approaches to try to justify their proposition, but they weren't anywhere to be found when the crisis was on in the dairy industry. It's always the National Party. They are enabling pushing prices down.

It was Mark Latham in 1999 and 2000 who was into pushing competition policy and neoliberal policy in the dairy industry, but it's the National Party all of the time on that agenda. With friends like the National Party, dairy farmers in Australia sure don't need enemies. No amount of posturing in this place about the beneficial impact of free trade deals for market access for the dairy farmers will remove the memory of Liberal Party and National Party failure in the dairy industry, from deregulation in 2000 to a refusal to act now.

The member for Cook, the Prime Minister, is a failure in agriculture policy. He has no drought policy framework. He has no action on dairy. He is all talk and no action on water infrastructure. There isn't a dam that the Liberal Party has promised to build that has ever been built. It is about time the pretend friends, the National Party, wised up and realised that the show over here hasn't got the slightest bit of interest in the future of the dairy industry. The coalition has had more than five years to implement a dairy code of conduct and they have failed. In budget estimates last February, the government admitted that it had kicked the mandatory code down the road to 1 July 2020. Australia's $4 billion dairy farming industry supports more than 5½ thousand farming families and 42,500 jobs.

I should say that the crisis doesn't just affect dairy farmers; it is also costing jobs in the dairy processing industry. Brancourts, a dairy processing company that has made cheese since 1895, went into administration in September. Thirty-three full-time jobs have been lost in the Latrobe Valley. Twenty full-time jobs have been lost in Hexham near Newcastle. Brancourts cited ongoing stress in the market and a decline in the national milk supply as the reason for their closure. In August, Nestle announced a factory closure at Tongala in northern Victoria—106 jobs were lost. In May Fonterra announced a factory closure in Dennington, south-west Victoria—108 jobs were lost. Murray Goulburn has closed factories in Victoria and Tasmania, and at least 360 jobs have been lost. That is a litany of failure in terms of dairy farming families, it is a litany of failure in terms of dairy farming capability and it's a litany of failure in terms of secondary food processing jobs that people in country towns rely upon to maintain a decent standard of living for their families. And that's a failure that can be put at the feet of the people who've been in government over the course of the last six years.

Senators in this place and the people of Australia can be absolutely assured that, in government, Labor would act to implement an ACCC review and would act to move towards a farmgate price. The Australian dairy farming industry is in crisis. It's not alone. The American industry is in crisis, as is the industry in the European Union. The dairy farmers in the United States and the dairy farmers in Europe have had their governments actually stand up for them and actually take steps to protect their industry and to protect dairy farming jobs.

7:16 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of Senator Hanson's proposition. We did not support Senator Hanson's motion before, because we did not support the exact solution that she was proposing, but we absolutely stand by our farmers. We could, of course, listen to the government on this matter, but I actually prefer to listen to the farmers, and they are saying they are in trouble. Our farmers are in trouble. We are shortly to become a net importer of milk. So, when the government says, 'Nothing to see here,' they're right, because soon there will be nothing to see here, and it's a significant problem. We didn't support Senator Hanson's specific solution, because it's actually a really complex problem. It's a really complex problem that requires multiple adjustments in order to give our farmers a fair go, as the Prime Minister is often keen to say.

We start off, of course, with the first problem being that, as Senator Sterle mentioned before, we allowed the sale of $1 milk in supermarkets. When people now talk about $1.10 and $1.20, people need to understand that creates a perception that milk is less valuable than water. When you buy a bottle of water you'll find out that it's much more expensive than milk. How that works out as a proposition is completely foreign to me. One of the solutions there, as mentioned by Senator McDonald—I trust she will support us when it comes to divesture—is, in actual fact, to put in place divestiture laws that will assist. We do have changes to section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act, as mentioned by Senator Whish-Wilson, but we need to go further. We need to implement divestiture laws. If it's okay to implement them for the electricity sector, it's okay to go more broadly, so I will welcome everyone's support when that amendment that I've put to the chamber in respect of extending that power across all market sectors for any monopoly engaging in egregious conduct is voted on.

There's also the market imbalance in respect of farmgate prices. Once again as Senator Sterle mentioned, there have been a number of inquiries. There was an ACCC inquiry. There was a Senate inquiry back in 2011. And there was a Senate inquiry in 2017. When I look at the recommendations of that Senate inquiry and the recommendations supported by the government, the government has done nothing. In fact, if I wanted to go and look for the response to the 2017 economics committee report I wouldn't find it because the government hasn't responded to it. Even though coalition senators indicated they supported a number of the recommendations, the government has failed to respond to this report. (Time expired)

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Hanson be agreed to.