In 2016, dairy farmers Bec and Glen Casey heard from milk producer Murray Goulburn that it would be cutting the price of milk.
Worse, Murray Goulburn told them that it had been overpaying its producers and would have to claw back some of the money they had been paid. The decision cost the Caseys' 320-head operation a full two years of profit.
Bec said that Glen "feels like someone's come in and taken half the herd from underneath him".
We see the problems facing dairy farmers as pretty similar to the problems facing workers in the labour market. The reason trade unions were created was to address a power imbalance in the workplace. The Dickensian mistreatment of workers by unscrupulous bosses was the motivation for the creation of unions. From minimum wage laws to annual leave, safety standards to penalty rates, the employment system recognises that Goliath doesn't always give David a fair go.
That's why we are pleased to see the competition watchdog recommending a mandatory code of conduct. It will mean farmers get more information about prices, remove restrictions on switching to a new processor, and lead to a fairer allocation of risk. As the commission notes: "While the introduction of a mandatory code will not overcome farmers' relative bargaining disadvantage, it will mitigate some of the significant negative consequences."
The government's alternative was the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission review. Eighteen months on, it's too late for many farming families; but it's not too late for the Turnbull government to drop its opposition to a mandatory code of conduct. Farmers deserve no less.