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Monday, 21 March 2011
Page: 2515


Mr RIPOLL (9:09 PM) —This is a good motion, but it is an unusual one. These are unusual circumstances in which we find ourselves. In this place we generally tend to argue for better value and better prices for consumers. I do get the nuance here about protecting our farmers and competition and finding the right balance. I think that is important too, but I think there is a real issue here. This really is an unusual set of circumstances where we have a Senate inquiry being called and people making very good-quality submissions to that. I suppose there is a great task ahead for that Senate inquiry: to make a proper determination of what is taking place in the market and whether there is actually anticompetitive behaviour taking place. I think there is just as much pressure and onus on the ACCC to ensure that we can find where the balance point is in this between striking a good-value price, a fair price for consumers, and making sure that we can protect farmers in some way—although I am not a protectionist in general terms—and that farmers are not robbed in the process of making sure that consumers get good value.

Of course, there would be a lot of attention on what the giants are doing—the Coles and Woolworths of the world—in terms of brand milk. But there are a few significant points I want to make tonight in my short contribution. One is that a price of a dollar a litre is very competitive; it is a cheap price—cheap in the sense of what we are accustomed to. There is an enormous variety if you like your milk as I do. When I go shopping for milk, I cannot find my way through the milk aisle because there is so much choice it is almost ridiculous. There are 30 or 40 different types of milk at times, ranging anywhere from a dollar and a little bit to $3.50 for the same litre. I find that unbelievable. It is incredible that there could be such a difference in what is, for me, a base product. The reality is that Choice magazine has just done a survey, tested all of these different types of milk and found that there is actually no difference in quality or taste between a litre of milk for a dollar and a litre of milk for $3. I find that a really interesting outcome. The only difference, it seems, is the price. I find that very, very interesting.

I am as concerned as anyone else in here about market power abuse—the abuse of power by the majors in the way they compete—but I am also concerned for ordinary consumers and I am certainly concerned for the good electors of Oxley. Oxley is not, on the whole, a very wealthy place, and people have a lot of pressures on their cost of living, and milk is one of them. For a family of five like mine, the $1 difference makes a huge difference in how much we spend a year on milk. It can mean up to $500 of difference given the latest figures on how much milk is consumed by Australians. We love our milk, we think it is a good product and we love that it comes from good-quality Australian farmers. The fact also is that our dairy products are a major export for Australia and are sought after by many countries in the world. I think there is a lot to be said about how all of that works as well.

For us in this place, there are a couple of things that we need to be clear on. One is not to go over the top in the rhetoric of just abusing the usual suspects. I do not think it actually helps anybody. I think we have a good process and a good commission, and we ought to allow the process to go through. I want to know the facts here, because there are assurances given by Coles and others that in fact they are not reducing the margin. If I am wrong on this, fine. I am not saying I am right or wrong; I am just saying what they are stating in their submission. They are giving assurances that that is not the case. They are saying they are reducing the price of milk. If that is true then that is a good thing. If it is not, they will be held accountable for it, and I think they will be very embarrassed, because there will be a whole heap of us in this place who will remind the community and consumers exactly how they misled people. But the fact is that if they can actually reduce the price of milk while not impacting on the margins of the farmers in particular at the farm gate then I will be very impressed.

There may be an issue with the processors. There may be an issue somewhere else along that chain of production. I am not the expert here, but I am keenly waiting to see the outcome of what comes through the ACCC inquiry and what happens in the Senate inquiry. That is the place for the judgment to be made properly so we can have the full information in front of us. That is what this government is doing. We are against anticompetitive behaviour. We do believe, thought, in a strong market and strong market forces. There ought to be drivers and incentives for big producers and the Coles of the world, who are easily criticised in this place on a daily basis. Where they can reduce the price of something, they should. If that is the case now and they are actually doing that then they should be given some credit for it. If it is not the case then they will have a high price to pay as well. But I think that in this one there is actually a lot of room to see that the proper processes are undertaken. (Time expired)