SUBJECTS: Labor’s dairy policy, dairy industry crisis in Australia.
PATRICK DEEGAN, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR PAGE: It’s fantastic to have Joel Fitzgibbon here in the Page electorate today standing up for dairy farmers and it’s fantastic to have two dairy farmers here with us today. Of course Paul whose farm we are on here today and Shane who has been advocating strongly for dairy farmers for quite some time so we have been lobbying Joel and Joel has been working hard for dairy farmers right across the country. So over to you Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Thanks Patrick, and I thank you because he is one of many candidates around the country who have urged the Labor Party to do more to help our struggling dairy farmers and indeed to help me shape my views and policies in this area. I thank Paul for hosting us today and Shane for being here. I have had earlier discussions with both Paul and Shane and they in turn have also helped me shape my thoughts and therefore guided Labor’s policy in the dairy sector. The reality is our dairy farmers are in crisis. They are facing a cost price squeeze which has been compounded by drought and we are at real risk now of finding ourselves in a situation where we will be importing our drinking milk either in long life or powder form. That is an outcome I’m sure will not be welcomed by any Australian in any community across the country. So the Labor Party has come to the conclusion that we can’t continue to ignore the problem. We need to intervene and a Shorten Labor Government will intervene. Today I’m here to continue my consultations on Labor’s proposal to implement a minimum farm-gate milk price. That means a guaranteed price for farmers to keep them alive and hopefully in the future, well and of course which will give them the investment certainty they need to further invest in their farm businesses, to lift productivity and to remain competitive. The alternative to the minimum farm-gate milk price is to do nothing. Doing nothing is not an option. A Shorten Labor Government will also introduce and fast track a Mandatory Code of Conduct for the dairy sector which will deal with the disproportionate power of the people along the value chain giving more strength to our dairy farmers so it’s not just one policy, there is a suite of things we can do to assist our dairy farmers and to return them to profitability. I had the pleasure of consulting Norco again this morning and I am very pleased to say they are very welcoming of the fact that a senior politician is finally saying something meaningful and talking about doing something for our dairy farmers and I look forward to working with them and other processors and indeed retailers because we need to take a whole of value chain approach to this issue to ensure that Australia’s dairy farmers have a future. Now Paul’s operation here is not atypical in the sense that he has a large herd size which makes him efficient and when Paul can’t make a good dollar in the current circumstances, no one can. So it is not just the smaller dairy farmers struggling, it is the larger efficient players who are also struggling and that is a sure sign the Government needs to intervene and do something to back our dairy farmers. Now Kevin Hogan here, the local Member, says he sits, well does sit on the cross-bench in Canberra. But strangely he still attends National Party Room meetings. Kevin Hogan, despite sitting on the cross-bench has never voted against the Government, has never voted with the Labor Party. Now a few weeks ago in the Parliament I gave the Government an opportunity to take a bipartisan approach to our proposal to put in place a minimum farm-gate price; if they had done that the ACCC inquiry would already be underway. By the time day one comes around after the election, we would be well advanced in getting this minimum milk farm-gate price in place. Sadly, Kevin Hogan voted against us, in the Parliament, and I say to Kevin Hogan, if you are not prepared to vote with the Labor Party on this issue, to save your dairy farmers, when will you ever exercise your right as a cross-bencher and vote against the Government? It is time Kevin Hogan stood up for local dairy farmers and lent his support to our proposal to introduce a minimum farm-gate price. Questions?
JOURNALIST: So we have had a lot of things being said about the price of milk and that type of thing, but how are you practically going to help the dairy farmers because it is people like Paul here that are suffering from all this?
FITZGIBBON: Well, the dairy sector is a complex value chain but my proposition when melted down is a fairly simple one. We have an independent entity, maybe the ACCC, maybe an entity we will create for the purpose, going into each subregion of the dairy farming sector, determine what is the cost of production in average terms in that region and having done that, the regulator will then set a price, a minimum farm-gate price, somewhere just above the cost of production. Now obviously that improves revenue for dairy farmers but it also gives them certainty. Too many of our dairy farmers at the moment don’t know whether they are going to be here next year, let alone make investments to lift productivity. If farmers know that their revenue is assured over the coming period, that will embolden them and give them confidence to make productivity enhancing investments in their farm businesses and that is very, very important for their survival and again, it is very, very important for Australian consumers.
JOURNALIST: The Government today announced an advisory unit in the DPR, a sort of milk crisis taskforce and a marketing campaign for NSW farmers, what is your reaction to that?
FITZGIBBON: This is the NSW Government?
JOURNALIST: Yes, and does it go far enough?
FITZGIBBON: I see Gladys Berejiklian has come to the party very late, Michael Daley has been well ahead of her in his interest in the dairy sector and made his own announcements about an advocate for our farmers. So it is good to see Gladys and John Barilaro playing catch-up. We really should be on the same hymn sheet here. We should be working on a bipartisan basis to support our dairy farmers. That is why Kevin Hogan is to get on board, exercise his right as a cross-bencher and start backing his local dairy farmers. Thanks everyone. Cheers.