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Thursday, 3 November 2011
Page: 8138

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (12:37): The report of the Senate Economics References Committee is a very significant report and I want to congratulate those, principally led by Senator Colbeck, who were part of it. Clearly, as this whole issue shows, there are some real difficulties with competition policy within Australia. As this report clearly indicates, something needs to be looked at very carefully. I hear the words of Senator Colbeck, and I agree with them: we really do need to look more broadly at issues of competition policy rather than look at a particular industry.

Notwithstanding that, I am very concerned at the future of the dairying industry. On the Atherton Tableland in North Queensland there was once a very thriving and very intense dairying industry. I remember, growing up in the north, that we were often very proud to know that milk from the Malanda dairy factory on the Atherton Tableland was transported by road some of the longest distances in the world, as the advertising in those days used to indicate. Milk from the Atherton Tableland would come from Malanda through the Malanda dairy factory and down the range to the coastal road, the Bruce Highway, to Townsville and then go on the 9,000-kilometre journey from Townsville out to Mount Isa. It was a very significant industry in those days. What happened with the dairying industry a decade or so ago effectively shut down the dairying industry in Queensland, and there were many reasons for that. Some dairying still continues on the Atherton Tableland and there are other pockets of dairying activity throughout Queensland, but it is nowhere near the very significant industry it was in the old days.

The actions of certain of the major supermarket chains in using milk for price competition with their competitors was unfortunate for the industry, and my colleagues have mentioned that. It was certainly very much to the forefront in the evidence given to the committee and I know that this issue exercised the minds of the members of the committee and those issuing the report, particularly those signing on to the report, whom Senator Colbeck was the leader of. We all like lower prices; there is no doubt about that. But when lower prices come at the cost of real competition and when those lower prices can well result in a real problem for the industry involved, then clearly something needs to be done. That is why I am very interested in the recommendation that there be a further look into the laws relating to competition in Australia.

It distresses me to see the way the dairy industry has moved on over many years. As I have said, it was only a decade or so ago that the Atherton Tableland was very significantly based on the dairying industry. A lot of people were employed in dairying. A lot of people were involved in the transport of milk and cream from the farms to the factory, in the factory and then in the transport of milk elsewhere. A lot of subsidiary support and maintenance industries grew up around the dairying industry, and the winding down of many parts of the dairy industry in Australia has really had an impact on those support industries and on the jobs that were associated with it.

I am pleased to say that there is still some dairying in the Atherton Tableland area. Also, it is a very great tourist destination. Mungalli Falls is an enterprise that tourists go to, and there they can get the best scones and cream that you will get anywhere in the world. Of course the cream comes from the very contented cows of the Atherton Tableland area. Madam Acting Deputy President, if I can digress just a little: what a fabulous tourist enterprise this is. It gives some history, by way of photos and explanations, of the dairying industry in that part of the world. It is also a major destination for those interested in tropical rain forest river activities. It is a fabulous area, and I would urge senators who happen to be up in that area to go and have a look at this institution and partake of some of the magnificent scones and Atherton Tableland cream that is available there. Coming back to this report before the chamber: it is a very significant report. This inquiry really demonstrates the worth of the committee system in the Senate and indicates the worth of the work that this Senate does.

I was rather distressed this morning to see that the work this Senate was going to do in very closely examining all of the detail of the carbon tax legislation has been curtailed so that the Senate will not be able to look into that legislation in the way that it normally would. The Senate has been prevented from establishing a committee, as is the normal case—a committee that would usually go into every aspect of the carbon tax legislation in some detail. We have been prevented from seeing that. The fact that there was no Senate committee allowed to look into it means that we are going to, in many instances, be flying blind. When we look at all the particular parts of the carbon tax legislation, we see that there will be many unintended consequences from that legislation, consequences unintended even by the government. It is no secret that we oppose it, but even consequences unintended by the government could be highlighted. I only mention that to say that the worth of committees and committees such as this one—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Crossin ): Senator Macdonald, your time has expired.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.