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Wednesday, 20 June 2001
Page: 28044

Mr CAUSLEY (10:43 AM) —I suppose it was a forlorn hope but I did come in here for the Dairy Produce Legislation Amendment (Supplementary Assistance) Bill 2001 to listen to the members of the Labor Party giving some suggestions as to what might overcome the problems that are in the dairy industry at the present time, but all we have heard has been empty rhetoric and some politicisation of the whole situation. I have to say that the member for Corio continually misrepresents the truth of this issue in this House, because there is no doubt that he is trying to use this particular situation to the advantage of his own political leanings and is not looking at all at what are the problems in the dairy industry.

Let me go back to the start of this, because I remember the start of this very clearly. This all started in the early eighties, and it had nothing to do with competition policy. It was all to do with the Victorian dairy industry, which wanted to come across the border into New South Wales and sell milk in the Sydney whole-milk market. That is what it was all about: the green-eyed monster from down south. I have heard nothing from the member for Corio about that particular issue. The member for Corio, of course, was aiding and abetting the Victorian industry at that time. He was not out there saying, `This is going to be a terrible thing for the dairy industry.' He, as a Victorian member, was out there supporting the Victorian dairy industry. That is where the whole issue started: in Victoria.

We talk about the Kerin plan and we talk about the Crean plan that was put in place to try to overcome these particular problems. Minister Crean put a sunset clause on the dairy marketing scheme, which ran out in 2000; the Victorians were never going to sign that again. They wanted to break down the marketing arrangements in Australia, and it had nothing to do with competition policy. In fact, if the members opposite want to tell the truth about this issue, all the states under the terms of competition policy had inquiries to see whether it was in the interests of the consumers to deregulate the dairy market. All except one state found that it was not in the interests of consumers, and that one state was Victoria. That is where this whole process started. Anyone who has been around this debate for any length of time knows that I did not support deregulation of the milk market in New South Wales and I still do not, because I do not believe that it was necessary in the first place.

This government has attempted, at the request of the dairy industry, to do something to alleviate the pain that was obviously inherent in the deregulation of the dairy industry. The members opposite, the members of the Labor Party, continually say that the government as such has never put a dollar into this scheme. It seems to me that they must be away on a holiday or something. The member for Paterson, I understand, was a schoolteacher at one time; he obviously was not a maths teacher. If you have a look at this, it is fairly clear. The Labor Party earlier this year was screaming and crying about the government having an excise on fuel and saying that we should remove part of that excise on fuel. Tell me, Mr Deputy Speaker: what is the difference between an excise on fuel and the levy on milk consumption which pays for this particular package? It is a tax. Governments do not have any money; they get the money that they distribute from tax. And yet the Labor Party has the gall to stand up there and say that the government does not have this money, when the reality is fairly obvious. I could go back to the dairy community and say, `The Labor Party is in favour of removing the 11c levy.' I wonder what it would do to the price of milk in the marketplace if there were no such thing as government money being involved in this package.

I would like to take up the issue that the member for Paterson raised on quota. The state governments have continually refused to do anything about compensation for quotas, particularly New South Wales and Queensland. To stand up here and say that in 1989 the New South Wales Dairy Corporation put out a statement saying `Don't consider that quotas are of any value' is absolutely ludicrous. Talk about putting out a statement after the horse has bolted. I have dairy farmers in my electorate whose quotas were considered by the banks to be an asset; it was part of their collateral. One particular dairy farmer had $180,000 worth of quota, and the bank considered that it was collateral. Do not tell me that the state government can suddenly slide out from underneath that and say, `Now we don't believe that it is, because we might be up for some compensation.' They stole billions of dollars from the dairy farmers in New South Wales. That is what this package is trying to do: to compensate for some of that, to help these people adjust to the new marketplace. The state government of New South Wales have done nothing to try to help the dairy industry, but it is a state industry. We had the member for Corio and the member for Paterson standing up here as if it were a federal industry; it is not. They do not understand the Constitution, apparently. It is a state industry, and it has been a state regulated industry. The only reason the federal government became involved in this is that the federal government is the only government in Australia that can set an excise, and the only way that this package was going to be repaid was through an excise. That is the only reason that the dairy industry came to the federal government at all.

The member for Corio mentioned the fact that we had a little stunt from the Leader of the Opposition where he had a dairy industry task force tripping around Australia, seeing what could be done about the milk industry. I have a rather interesting story about this. Up on the North Coast of New South Wales, the Labor candidate for Page was using the electorate office of Harry Woods, the member for Clarence, as his campaign office. The candidate rang up all the dairy farmers in the area of the North Coast to come and talk to the dairy industry task force about their problems. Four people turned up, out of all the dairy farmers on the North Coast of New South Wales. So, if the member for Corio then quotes some of the issues that he heard in those areas, he is not quoting from the great bulk of dairy farmers. I have been to meetings where there have been 200 dairy farmers, obviously putting mixed views across about this deregulation package.

It is true to say that there have been some anomalies, such as the anomaly quoted by the member for Paterson just now. However, if he had bothered to look at this particular package before the parliament, he would have seen that that is what part of the package is designed to do: to address some of those anomalies, to address the exact thing that the member for Paterson raised. If he does his job as a local member, he will make sure that that is brought to the attention of the minister, because in this package there is the ability to address those anomalies. I have three or four anomalies in my electorate that I have taken to the minister. There is an obvious problem, and no matter what you do in a government, no matter what government puts forward a package, there will always be some anomalies at the edges that you have to deal with. That is exactly what this package is trying to do.

The industry is recovering. There is no doubt that the early days of deregulation in Queensland and New South Wales were horrific. There was a sudden reduction in price to the producers. Some of that, of course, had to do with contracts with the supermarkets. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the practices of the big supermarkets need to be looked at, and I have been pushing that issue for quite some time. There should be a close look at some of the processors as well, because there is no doubt that the supermarkets and the processors took the opportunity in this deregulation period to take a greater slice for themselves. I know that the ACCC have looked at this and they have not found at this stage that that was the case. I have gone back to the minister and said that I am not happy about that issue. There needs to be another look at the take that has been taken by the supermarkets and the processors in this issue.

The real issue that the member for Paterson was talking about—and what dairy farmers claim that they are paying for the package—is not the fact that the package is being paid for by the levy but that the bottom line has dropped for the dairy farmers. Where has the money gone? Blind Freddy would know that it has gone to the supermarkets. That is where it has gone. The dairy farmers are suffering from that issue. The minister is well aware of that, and I know the Prime Minister is well aware of it, and I am sure that we will hear more about that in the future.

I commend the government and the minister for this package. As I said, no doubt it is aimed at those who were worst hit in the white milk market, the ones who had quotas, those who were worst affected. In the instance that the member for Paterson raised about someone who had exited the industry, they will not be getting part of this package, they have gone; it will go to the people who are still in the industry and who have been affected severely by the loss of quota—the loss of quota that has not been addressed by the state governments in New South Wales and Queensland and which only this government has had the ability to address.