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Wednesday, 20 June 2001
Page: 28047

Mr ADAMS (10:54 AM) —It is very interesting that the member for Page used terms like `the dairy industry is a state industry'. That is a ridiculous thing to say, and having been a minister in the New South Wales government I would have thought that he would have known about free trade between the states in Australia, that the dairy industry was regulated on a state basis and it was only by agreement that people did not trade across borders. This government was a part of deregulation, and to hear the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry come in here from time to time and say, `It had nothing to do with us, we were just here to help out at the edge,' is really a dishonest position for a federal minister to take and for people like the member for Page to reinforce.

The Dairy Produce Legislation Amendment (Supplementary Assistance) Bill 2001 provides further assistance to dairy farmers in regions and some dairy farm lessors, who have been certainly impacted by dairy deregulation, particularly focused on providing additional assistance to dairy farmers producing liquid milk in the liquid milk market in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. Those dairy farmers have been hit extremely hard. Dairy farmers in dairying regions in those states were identified in a recent ABARE report as having been particularly disadvantaged by the deregulation of this industry. The new package is in addition to the $1.78 billion already provided and comprises $100 million for increases in adjustment payments for producers who are still in the industry and who put at least 35 per cent of their production into market milk—that is, milk into the drinking milk market.

There is $20 million in the package to expand the Dairy Regional Assistance Program and $20 million for discretionary payments to producers and some lessors who may have fallen outside the scope of the original package due to some unforseen circumstances. The existing dairy adjustment levy will be extended by around 12 months. Therefore, another $140 million will be raised by this levy, the consumer paying for this further into the future. It seems amazing that, after all the assurances that were given to the industry by the minister that the original levy would solve all of the problems in the dairy industry deregulation, we have had to now find another $140 million to sort out more problems. Of course, it has been found because it is an election year. The pressure about deregulation is really starting to bite for this government, starting to bite in some of the seats, and of course to sort it out they have tried to bring more money in and start throwing more money at the problem.

There is a number of problems, probably not as many in the last two payouts as there were in the first package. We all remember the Beaudesert polocrosse field that people were talking about that was built out of readjustment money—just bad policy, administered by a minister who had not thought it through, who had not worked through a policy and who had not looked in any way at the real problems that were going to occur. The other one of course—and the big one—in this latest package, in this bill, is that eligibility will be determined by the minister's office and by the minister, not by the Dairy Adjustment Authority. This is not going to be arms-length. Decisions will be made by the minister in an election year. This is a scandal. It is disgraceful that a minister is going to have this sort of control over this sort of money in an adjustment package. It should be the Dairy Adjustment Authority which has that control and makes those decisions, not the minister.

It certainly does not appear that farmers in my state of Tasmania are going to be able to access these funds. It is thought that almost no farm lessors—those who leased out their dairy farms and got virtually nothing from the adjustment package—will get any money from the supplementary package. I know there were 10 farmers from my electorate who talked to the Labor Party task force and explained to them how they had missed out on adjustment money, and we took issues up with the minister. But of course, unless you derive 50 per cent or more of your total income from a dairy enterprise, you missed out. In Tasmania we had mixed farms and people's full income was not always from the dairy side of their farm. The package discriminated greatly against lessors—those who had leased out their farm. The lessees picked up the package and then moved on. Of course, there were people who had actually retired and whose income was coming in from their lease on the farm who have now been forced back into dairying, forced back to the farm. This is real smart restructuring of an industry—to force people to go back into farming when they have basically retired.

It just shows the failure of this minister to think through and look at this policy before it was implemented—to think about the adjustment issues and how it was going to affect individuals and the regions where it was going to impact. It would have been quite easy to look at where it was going to impact on regions and at what those effects would be, and to try and put money into those regional packages to assist in going down a different avenue. We try to deal with some of those issues in our second reading amendment to this bill in seeking to address the long-term skilling needs in the industry, to stimulate further research and development for the industry and to plan and promote further market access for dairy products—that is, looking into the long-term future of the dairy industry, which has certainly not been done. The other thing about this package—and this money for a restructuring of the dairy industry is being raised from the consumer—is that the federal government, one of the big winners out of the package, is taking its share of the tax. So we have, I suppose, a third of the money that is being raised for the restructuring going to the federal government in tax. The federal government is gaining greatly from it.

I can certainly imagine where the dairy industry will go in the future and about some of the future reports by ABARE—`A decline in export' and `Where will export be?' It is very interesting to see that the New Zealanders, who are already in our dairy industry, have recently amalgamated their dairy industry, making it the fourth biggest dairy entity in the world. I have visited and spoken to New Zealanders in that industry on several occasions, and I see now that they have come to a single-desk selling position, which they are very good at. They are selling to the world from a single desk, because they have reached the conclusion that that is the best way for them to go. But I despair a bit about where we are going to sell things in the world. Only yesterday I was talking to DFAT about the WTO, and I think it is going to be some years before we make any great breakthroughs in that area which will increase exports of Australian products.

So we have a deregulated dairy industry, the most efficient dairy industry in the world, and we do not know where in the world we can get the markets, we do not know the future of the industry, we have caused all sorts of grief to dairy farmers and their families, we have put all sorts of pressures on certain regions where this has impacted and we have got a government that has not thought about what sort of impact this was going to have in those regions or what sort of impact this was going to have on those families and the people within this industry. It was very bad policy—badly thought out and badly implemented—and now we are back to pork-barrelling by the minister, who has control of forking out $140 million on his own say. That is a disgrace. It is a very bad position for those dairy farmers to be in. I do not believe that this government has learnt anything from this. This is $140 million to try and patch up the original issues and the original bad policy in the first place. I support the second reading amendment.