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Monday, 25 June 2001
Page: 24957

Senator McGAURAN (1:46 PM) —Mr Acting Deputy President McKiernan, you may notice that I am not listed on the speakers list for the second reading debate of the Dairy Produce Legislation Amendment (Supplementary Assistance) Bill 2001 but I have been prompted to put myself on the speakers list at this last moment because I have rarely seen such chest beating on this issue as I have today with the list of speakers—all Labor senators bar the One Nation speaker that we have just heard—and I feel that it must be countered. Their comments must not go unchecked. They are in absolute free-fall. The pomposity of the previous speaker is unmatched by the Labor speakers but we still have some more to come on, and I am sure they will do their best.

They reached their zenith when they started reading out constituents' emails on this particular matter. Senator Hogg read out an email from Mrs Stark and Senator Harris from the One Nation Party also contributed with a constituent's complaint. Within those complaints were misrepresented points that could have easily been fixed up. In particular, Senator Hogg had an obligation to Mrs Stark to right the wrongs of some of her perceptions. Even if he does not agree with this government's involvement in deregulation, he had an obligation to set Mrs Stark straight on some of her wrong perceptions. For example, he should have told that constituent who it was that set deregulation in train some time ago, because it was his party—the Labor Party—when they were in government. It was the then minister, Mr Kerin, who set down the well-named Kerin plan, which was followed up by Mr Crean, who was also, heaven forbid, the primary industries minister for some time. It was during those years that the deregulation of the dairy industry was set on its inevitable path to conclusion on 30 June 2000, some 12 months ago. That was not said.

After listening to the contributions made by the previous speakers from the Labor Party, you would believe that they were against deregulation—but it is quite the opposite. They are pro deregulation. If Senator Harris suggests that this has anything to do with national competition policy, then I say to him in the nicest terms that he is wrong. But Senator Harris often gets his ACCCs and NCCs mixed up and confused. We always make allowances for the One Nation Party not being across issues. But we know only too well that across the chamber the opposition are avoiding the real fact—I say this to Senator Buckland who is to get up and speak next—that it was Labor that set in train deregulation. I say to those opposite: do not come in here wringing your hands, shedding crocodile tears and quoting constituents who believed that Labor have had a hands-off involvement on this issue when the truth is that you set it in train and we never heard a word about it.

You never told your constituency the truth. What alternative did the national dairy industry have—under the Bracks government and, I admit, the previous Liberal Kennett government and their dairy representatives in the UDV, the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria—when the powerful Victorian dairy industry decided that they were going to deregulate? That is, they were no longer going to be bound within their own state; they were going to send milk across the border into New South Wales and into the lucrative Sydney supermarkets. What alternative did the Queensland and New South Wales dairy industry have when Victoria as a whole—the Bracks government, the previous Kennett government and the representative dairy industry body—set on that particular mission, on that path. Many times before the Victorian dairy industry had been kept at home, so to speak, by previous governments—the Fraser government, the Whitlam government and I dare say the Menzies government. But times had changed and Victoria's market was just bursting at the seams. They saw that they could obtain premiums with their market milk if they could break into the Sydney market and they were just going to ride right over the top of the New South Wales dairy industry no matter what. That has nothing to do with this federal government. That was not said by Senator Hogg to Mrs Stark, his constituent—it was a total misrepresentation.

Senator Hogg and, by implication, everyone else on the opposition side have not represented the facts of this case to their constituencies correctly. Not once have we heard the Labor Party address this issue in regard to the states. The cruellest fact of the deregulation of the dairy industry visited upon New South Wales and Queensland dairy farmers, in particular, is that their state governments will not compensate them for loss of quota, for loss of property. Why is that? Why have we not heard from the opposition on this matter? I will tell you why: they are two Labor governments—the Queensland Labor government and the New South Wales Labor government. What has hit those dairy farmers hardest is the loss of value in the quotas they once held, which they paid stamp duty for. You have not even the courage to stand up here and criticise those state governments.

In Western Australia, the former Liberal Party government and the Labor opposition at the time were unanimous in their support to compensate dairy farmers for their state quotas—but not New South Wales and not Queensland. Senator Hogg ought to go back to Mrs Stark, who is so upset about those people who have had to walk off their properties, and tell her that the real reason is that the Labor state governments never compensated. It is a cruel fact. She has a right to be upset when she hears of, or sees on the news, dairy farmers going to the wall. The reason for that has nothing to do with national competition policy, it has nothing to do with this federal government, but it has everything to do with the New South Wales and Queensland state governments. That was conveniently left out by the previous speaker. I hope Senator Buckland, who is to follow me in this debate, has the courage to at least mention in passing the state quotas, as Senator Woodley from the Democrats had the courage to do.

There is no question that this is the largest deregulation of any primary industry undertaken yet. Heaven knows that primary industries over the last decade or so have taken their medicine in regard to deregulation, because the early years are an adjustment factor, and it is difficult. The largest deregulation undertaken yet has been in the dairy industry. But there have been some others. When the opposition were in government, it was the wool industry. There was not one cent of compensation for the wool farmers when Mr Kerin was the primary industries minister. Wool farmers have suffered for a decade. It is only now that wool prices have finally started to climb, and the stockpile is quickly diminishing. When that industry, which has suffered, went to the wall, was there one cent of compensation? We talk about farmers hitting the wall and having to walk off the farm. The Western District of Victoria is devastated, and that all goes back to the deregulation—and I use that word in its broadest sense—of the wool industry when Labor were in government. What of the citrus industry? Where was your compensation package for the citrus industry when you opened that industry up to the winds of international competition? There was not a cent.

We acknowledge that the dairy industry is the largest deregulation undertaken in the primary industry sector. We are responding to that by supporting the largest adjustment package to dairy farmers, right down to the farm gate. It is not being taken by the middleman; it is not being taken by the supermarkets or by the processors. This compensation goes directly to the farm gate. The package is over $1.7 billion in the first tranche, and we are now in parliament to add more to the measure. There seems to be a problem with the fact that we are adding more to the package. The fact that we are revisiting the package is no error at all. It is quite the opposite: the adjustment is a credit to us. It is a credit to the fact that the minister is responding to a report which he commissioned and which showed that there were certain pockets within Queensland and New South Wales that needed further compensation. So we quickly adjusted to that. We are managing the process. We are making sure that the support packages are there. It would not have hurt the opposition to have managed these large deregulations when they were in government. I cannot understand and nor do I accept the criticism of us revisiting the issue of compensation. It just shows that we are managing the issue, and it ought to be seen as a credit to us.

Senator Harris, we have responded to the concerns of the lessors, and rightly so because they did have an issue. A Senate inquiry heard their concerns and the government has responded to those concerns. It seems absolutely incredible—and the lessors backed up their claims with facts—that so many lessees, once they received the package, walked off the property and broke their leases. It is wrong, and I hope that the lessors, perhaps in a class action, are able to bring those lessees to account. The lessors did have a story to tell and I would like to think that the government responded. We are flexible, and you have seen over the last six months how this government listens and responds.

I utterly reject the previous speakers' comments in regard to the government's dairy deregulation. It is pure political opportunism. If you are against deregulation, then you ought to come into this chamber and say so. We know of one person who would withdraw the whole package. He is quite a prominent person within Labor's ranks: Mr Mark Latham. He probably represents all the city members of the Labor Party who believe that the dairy farmers are simply getting too much. Thank goodness for the National Party. When you are a city oriented party like the Labor Party, the likes of Mark Latham have an enormous influence, and he would withdraw the package.

Debate interrupted.