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Thursday, 16 March 2000
Page: 14933

Mr O'CONNOR (5:21 PM) —The opposition will not be opposing these amendments to the Dairy Industry Adjustment Bill 2000. We will be expediting the passage of these amendments. I note the contribution of the Democrats to this debate and the amendment that they have moved substituting `Chair' for `Chairman'. That is a fairly substantial contribution and I thank them for it. The second one relates to certain legal provisions and we will not be opposing that one.

The third one relates to the creation of a dairy regional communities program worth $45 million—$15 million over three years. I would like to make some comments about this. We ought to look at the time clock: at the eleventh hour plus in this sitting with one of the most rigid deadlines on one of the most complex pieces of rural legislation, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry brings amendments into the House, expecting the opposition to just go along with them and pass them. I say this to you, Minister: if it were not for the fact that you are providing $45 million to the regions of Australia and that you are responding to the pressure that we put on you out in the community, we would be taking a different attitude to this sort of nonsense.

For the public record, let us record what transpired in the development of policy that brings us to the eleventh hour passage of this legislation. This package was put to the government in April 1999. I had discussions with industry before and after that, and I made the point to them that, if you are going to get public acceptance of an 11c a litre levy over a period of eight years and you are expecting the consumers of Australia to buy this, you ought to have a very hard look at the provision of assistance to regional communities that are going to be adversely affected by dairy deregulation. I give credit to the industry because they took our suggestion on board and even presented it to the government, as I understand it, in the proposals that they put in April 1999, or in discussions before the tabling of those proposals. It is a matter of public record that at that time the government rejected all the entreaties from the opposition, from good regional and rural members, from the Democrats and from the industry itself, and they rejected the proposal. Labor continued to mount the public argument, and I pay tribute to the honourable member for McMillan, the honourable member for Braddon, the honourable member for Bass, the honourable member for Lyons and Senators O'Brien and Forshaw, who kept this issue alive in the dairy debate.

When I had discussions with the industry and asked, `How's it going with the minister?' they said, `It's fallen off the back of the truck. The government won't accept what we're proposing, and we won't accept it either—we won't have the moneys come out of the moneys that are going to be raised.' Yet here we are today: the minister and the industry have accepted that these moneys are going to come out of the levies that are raised. It went to the Senate committee. An enormous amount of information was presented to the committee—on which we can presume are good government members, along with members of the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Democrats—and it presented a recommendation, recommendation 4, that this should be included in the package that the government was putting. As we know, the government rejected that recommendation—up until now, up until today. This provision does not have any basis in research; the only research done on the impacts has been done not by the government but by the Bega community. Let me also say that not one centavo of the government's money is in this—this is dairy farmers' money and consumers' money. (Time expired)