CODIFYING FAIR PLAY FOR FARMERS

OPINION PIECE

land and farming practices best.

The third possibility is a contraction in our farm sector, leaving us increasingly dependent on food imports. This last outcome and all its implications for our food security is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to occur. It is our wealth of natural resources and farmer custodianship of our land-mass which guarantees our food security and a significant slice of our export income.

So what is to be done? First of all the Abbott Government must finish what Labor began by bedding-down the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct. Only when it does so will we know how well it does or doesn't work and in particular, whether the voluntary nature of it proves a barrier to success.

Second, the government must do something with the Horticulture Code of Conduct. The mandatory Code has satisfied no one - growers and wholesalers alike. One particular point of frustration and concern for growers is the capacity for individuals to act as both agents for sale of goods and as merchants.

Third, the Government's review of competition laws and policy must be a serious and bold one. It will be a great shame if after raising producer expectations it fails to deliver any change. I don't claim there are any easy answers, having worked in this space since my participation in the Joint Select Committee on the Retailing Sector in 1999.

Back then and ever since, my experience has been one of disbelief on hearing some of the impact of the market on growers and other suppliers only to find myself equally concerned to hear how what appears to be a remedy at first glance, will potentially raise retail prices and adversely affect retail chain shareholders or indeed, employment levels within companies like Coles and Woolworths.

Maybe it's time we simply asked ourselves what's fair? Is it fair that retail prices remain relatively low (not in every case by the way) while our farmers and food manufacturers go broke? Is it fair that the retailers can opt out of industry codes designed to create fairness whenever they threaten their interests? Is it fair that when the retailers decide to run a product marketing campaign or certify food product lines as eco-friendly that farmers have to pay the costs?

It's these questions and many others like them which should guide the competition review. I believe there is scope for a bipartisan approach; our farmers, food manufacturers, shareholders, consumers and employees deserve nothing less.

This article was first published in FARMONLINE on Wednesday the 2nd of July 2014.


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