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Thursday, 11 November 1976
Page: 2660

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - I take up the theme from the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Simon) who perhaps overstressed the gloom of the industry in the speech which he made to the House. It is true that the dairy industry in Australia, as in the rest of the world, is in trouble. We are dealing with the question of research. If we look at the report of the Dairying Research Committee we find that it covers an immense range of activities in the scientific area. Although the Committee is charged with research in the economic area, I do not see all that much evidence of such research in the report or the results of that research. It is that aspect to which I wish to address myself. The facts are that we are living in a world in which the dairying industry is essential. In this debate I represent the consumers rather than the producers. It is important to the people whom I represent that the products of the dairy farm be available at an economic price. It is important to their social and political philosophy that the people who produce that milk do so with reasonable comfort and with reasonable returns. So, we are speaking about a product which is essential and regarded as a vital food.

We are speaking about an industry which is in trouble in an economic sense. We are speaking about a product which is needed by many people in the world. About 1000 million people will go to bed hungry tonight because they lack this product. So, I suggest that the economic charter of the Dairying Research Committee should receive more attention. We are speaking about an industry which I think is basically efficient. My association with the industry came, of course, through being Minister for the Capital Territory for a couple of years. I was faced with the problem of reorganising the consumer end of the dairying industry in this city. Let me say a word of two on behalf of Australian primary industry. I think it is efficient and becoming increasingly more efficient. I will not write any charters or guarantees, of course, for the political philosophy of many of the people on the farms. But the facts are that statistics show that, although the number of cows in production is falling, the amount of milk they are producing is increasing. In general, although it is not absolute from year to year, the productivity of each cow on an average is rising. It has done so from 1968-69 when 2300 litres was produced to 1972-73 when 2600 litres was produced, as shown in the latest statistics available.

I think it is a good thing for people to consider the dairy industry and its relative efficiency, particularly in the marketing area. In this city milk is now costing 1 7c or 1 8c for what used to be a pint. It is brought to the city from hundreds of miles away. Some of the milk sold in Canberra comes from the other side of Wodonga. It is produced on the farm, transported to Albury, bulk handled, reprocessed, brought to Canberra and processed again, put through the whole system, put into bottles and delivered to the doorstep 6 nights a week for about 17c or 18c- for what the Post Office tells us is the cost of delivering a letter. In this case one gets the milk, the bottle and the lot for the price of the delivery of a letter. I have no real complaints about the general efficiency of the postal system, but if one considers the immense amount of effort in the production of milk, and the health requirements involved in the transport and processing of milk one will see that that aspect of the dairy industry is very efficient. The citizens who consume the milk ought to be grateful for that.

A good deal of the efficiency comes from the orderly marketing processes. It has been a long and tortuous process to get orderly marketing into any part of Australian primary industry. I think the first moves towards having a levy or a research system in the dairy industry started in 1958. That did not become a reality until about 1972. As my colleague the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) remarked, this is not a levy, it is an investment. There are 2 points I want to make. First, I think that much more research and much more effort must be put into finding ways of processing milk and marketing overseas that processed milk. There is no doubt in my mind, following my travels overseas and visits to underprivileged parts of the world, that processed milk which can be reprocessed at the other end into full milk is an important contribution Australia can make. We have not resolved the general problems, although the Dairy Board has made some effort in some parts of South East Asia. We should not allow ourselves to be conned out of a system simply because our competitors in Europe use all sorts of rather underhand economic exercises in order to get their products on the market. I hope that in the next report we will see some evidence from the research committee that it has examined this aspect.

The other point I want to make relates to the economics of the farm itself. I do not have at hand any figures on what the capitalisation of his farm is costing the average farmer, but I presume that at current interest rates, if people have $30,000 or $40,000 on mortgage they are paying $3,000 or $4,000 a year in interest-that is $60 to $70 a week- before they start. Somehow we have to find a better method of financing the people in primary production, as indeed we finance other productions. If this were a normal company operation with an investment of $250,000 there would probably be equity shares and people would receive dividends in accordance with the profit made. Unfortunately, in the private farming area most of the capital has to come from very high interest areas, and I believe that that is one of the killers of the system.

I suggest that the Committee turn its attention to the question of financing the farmer, financing the marketing and processing of milk for overseas, particularly for the underprivileged parts of the world. I would remind the House that there is always the possibility that unless we solve some of the problems associated with financial arrangements on the farm, more and more people will go out of the dairy industry. One of the prophecies which was made at the inquiry held here in Canberra was that in the future we could easily be short of milk as greater opportunities were offered for more economic crops on farmland. The farmers would go out of dairying and into something else and we could end up being out of milk because the farms had gone out of dairy production. I made the suggestion at the time to some of the people involved in the industry that we ought to buy the farms and ensure that they are always used for milk production. They looked upon that suggestion as one of the more dangerous elements of my political philosophy, but I think that it is a logical thing to do.

Mr King - You could not blame them.

Mr BRYANT - I would not blame them because I do not expect people involved in that part of the industry who support the Country Party to do any logical or constructive thinking. In this city we see the benefits and advantages of government ownership and control of the land so that its usage can be guaranteed. I am not suggesting that we ought to run the farms, but we ought to have enough farms to ensure that there is a continuous supply of land for milk production. I will hand over now to the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume), who is obviously champing at the bit, if that is what one does in a dairy industry debate. I suggest that those 3 areas of research ought to get much more attention than they have hitherto received.

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