SUBJECTS: Labor’s dairy announcement; dairy industry crisis in Australia.
ALAN JONES: This milk issue again, there is a heap of humbug about this. I have got to give credit to the Shorten Opposition and their Shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon. He is the only politician, at the moment - this is not a set up by the way, Joel is listening – he is the only politician I should say who is currently making sense. He said that our dairy farmers are caught in a long running cost price squeeze that has been compounded by drought and the inaction from the Morrison Government and he makes the point if we are going to save our dairy farmers there has to be a floor price for milk. Now no one wants that intervention but I agree with him entirely. He’s on the line, Joel good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: G’Day, g’day Alan.
JONES: Now Joel this is not a set up. He is laughing. I want to know this, before giving you praise and that’s why I said currently - can I ask you why you’ve come out supporting the dairy industry today which is fantastic, but the Labor Party voted down a One Nation motion last September which succinctly, and I checked the Hansard last night - on the 13th of September highlighted the problems in the dairy industry that you have rightly highlighted and then called on the Federal Government to one; provide immediate additional financial support to dairy farmers who cannot feed their herds, two; to implement all of the ACCC recommendations and that called for a serious investigation of the contract arrangements that you’ve alluded to between processors and the farm gate price. And three; to regulate the price of milk per litre paid by processors to dairy farmers to ensure a viable dairy industry. Now that’s precisely what you’re saying. Why did the Labor Party vote against that motion?
FITZGIBBON: Because as you’ve indicated Alan, it was a very, very long motion making a lot of other points some of them –
JONES: It only made those three points. It highlighted the problems you’ve voted and then there were those three points.
FITZGIBBON: Well my memory of that motion is that it was about a page long and it was full of rhetoric -
JONES: No, No, No I will tell you why you voted against it. Because someone in the Labor Party, like in the Coalition said oh it’s a One Nation motion so no - without voting on merit. But anyway forget that, that’s what I’m saying. Let’s come to now. You said yesterday that it’s not acceptable – and it isn’t, for farmers to be paid less than the cost of production. Now that motion, just coming back to that last September 13, made the point that the industry was deregulated in 2000 and since that time, milk production has fallen from 12 billion in litres a year to 9.5 billion litres a year while the population has increased, the number of dairy farmers has dropped in Queensland from 1500 to 380 and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission dairy inquiry handed down last April found that an increase in the fresh milk price in the supermarkets, which is what they are all going on about now, and thankfully you didn’t - would not benefit dairy farmers, only the processors. The ACCC has done the work for us Joel. I think that is the point you were making yesterday but who is listening you or me?
FITZGIBBON: There are plenty to me down here now and full marks to you, I will return the compliment - you were ahead of the game on this one. And here’s a confession from a politician- you don’t get that very often on your show.
FITZGIBBON: I spent a long time resisting a form of re-regulation of the industry. I believed that the market would take care of itself.
JONES: Correct, yep.
FITZGIBBON: (inaudible) if we were able to govern the behaviour of the people in the supply chain.
JONES: That’s what you’d hope.
FITZGIBBON: Earlier this year I just came to the conclusion that that’s just not going to happen and we are heading for a crisis and if we are not very, very careful you and I will have milk in our coffee that is imported and made from powdered milk.
FITZGIBBON: We cannot afford that.
JONES: So you have Government Joel, and I’m sure you’re aware of this. Government has allowed Tasmanian dairy farms to be bought by China, so every week two QANTAS planes of dairy product including fresh milk go to China every week. And the ACCC said in last year government ignored it. Currently processors can impose milk prices and other terms of milk supply contract terms that are heavily weighted in their favour - that’s the processors. Some milk supply contracts, the ACCC said, contain terms that restrict farmers ability to change processors for a better offer, so it only requires someone to pull processors into line.
FITZGIBBON: It is a foundation of our society that we have a minimum wage for people generally and farmers deserve a minimum wage as well, because if we can give them certainty, if they know in the year ahead the least they will earn is x
FITZGIBBON: they can confidently reinvest in their business -
FITZGIBBON: they can lift productivity -
FITZGIBBON: - and be stronger. But they can’t do that in this environment.
JONES: But it is two minutes to midnight Joel.
FITZGIBBON: Exactly. We are -
JONES: This is Joel Fitzgibbon, the Shadow Minister for Agriculture in Canberra, yes Joel?
FITZGIBBON: We are now near a net importer in this country of dairy products -
FITZGIBBON: - and that is a great tragedy and I am determined to turn that around and I am determined to save our dairy farmers.
JONES: Well, see, I made the point, I have made it many times, you are a Hunter Valley man, I’ve got a place in the Southern Highlands, there were 270 dairy farms near Moss Vale in the Southern Highlands a generation ago, today there are eight. Eight, so, we are nearly at the point of being a net importer and as we speak, as I am speaking to you now, I mean the farm-gate price is hopeless, so you argued that, the cost of hay has gone from $300 a tonne to more than $500 a tonne in a couple of months. The grain price has gone up. In drought cows give less milk. So there is the hopelessly low farm-gate price, costs going through the roof, revenue going through the floor. I mean, doesn’t someone other than you understand this?
FITZGIBBON: Milk prices in retail shops remaining stagnant. It just can’t go on.
JONES: When I spoke to Woolworths, to be fair to them, last year, because the ACCC said there is a process with them in the contract whereby prices can be increased and that can be passed on, and when I spoke to Woolworths last year, on air and off air, they said they would wear that cost. We would wear that cost. And people are ringing here every day and saying “I’d pay much more for milk if it kept the farmers alive and our own dairy farmers in business”. So it is all out there, it just requires someone to do something.
FITZGIBBON: And you can see the retailers are now really concerned about their reputations and Woolworths has now tried to mend that. And it is very clear to me if we put a minimum price at the farm-gate that price can be absorbed –
JONES: Our problem is the processors, Joel, the processor, most of them are foreign-owned, except Norco and Bega, and I spoke to that dairy farmer from South Australia last week, Casey Treloar, she said, quote, she hoped we would never have to make this decision but due to the state of the dairy industry we can no longer shoulder the debt burden, the clock has run out, it’s time to say goodbye, we are getting 38 cents a litre across the year, it is completely unsustainable, we can’t afford to keep going anymore. Her video on facebook has had 300,000 supportive views and she has had responses from all over the world. A Canadian dairy farmer said, beautiful cows, so sorry you have had to make this tough decision sending love. A farmer in the United States said, I am sorry to hear about your family farm, I am a dairy farmer in Ohio, we are still going but not sure for how much longer. I mean, I ask you again, are you talking to an empty tank?
FITZGIBBON: I know I am not. Bill Shorten and I met with Casey yesterday and I thanked her because her video has helped give my campaign here momentum. And as you know we had a debate in the Parliament yesterday, we tried to bring this issue on, to force the Government to support us on this minimum price, but the Government voted us down, very disappointingly. But we won’t give up. The media release that announced our policy had Bill Shorten’s name on it as well as mine so he is backing me. He is determined –
JONES: Good on you.
FITZGIBBON: We are going to do this.
JONES: Give credit where it is due. He is right. I mean I disagree with other aspects of your policy but on this one you are right. We will keep in touch.
FITZGIBBON: Good on you Alan.