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Wednesday, 20 June 2001
Page: 28048

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (11:05 AM) —Members opposite really have not got much to talk about when they are criticising the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry for making decisions. I applaud the minister for the decisions he has made in relation to this package, and also the earlier package, which I must remind members is the largest one that we have seen in Australia to assist a rural industry—$1.78 billion being injected into the dairy industry for the very large restructuring that is going on within that industry.

Let us begin at the beginning. This has not been a very easy issue for members, no matter where they are from. This has been a very difficult issue to deal with, because the moment those Victorian dairy farmers decided that they wanted to be able to sell their product across state borders, as they are entitled to do under the Australian Constitution, there was nothing under the Constitution that could stop them from doing that. Of course, the ramifications of their decision went far and wide. I think it is all to the credit of the minister—and this government—that, when representatives of the industry appeared here in Canberra and said, `This is going to have a serious impact on our industry, and this is the package that we believe you should be looking at in order to respond to it,' he responded effectively by having meetings of people representing dairying areas and going through the package with a fine-tooth comb. I must admit there were bits of the package that I would have preferred to have perhaps gone a different way, but of course it was the package that the industry itself was proposing. As a result of that, we were able to introduce an effective package that provided $1.78 billion into an industry that really was hurting very badly.

The opposition spokesman represents a Victorian electorate. It is strange that in this debate on the Dairy Produce Legislation Amendment (Supplementary Assistance) Bill 2001 we should be lectured by someone from Victoria about what is going on in the dairy industry, because it was the Victorians that made the decision in the first place that they wanted to sell across state borders, and the ramifications that flowed from that were quite serious. I think it was the member for Corio, or perhaps one of his colleagues who spoke after him, who said that a recent ABARE report, in fact released this week, said that milk prices should rise. But, instead of welcoming that, what did he do? He went into an absolute rage about some other part of the report that contained a negative comment. This is what we get all the time from members opposite. You can be in a very difficult corner and you can be working as hard as you can to find a solution to a problem and members opposite can be counted upon to carp their way through it, to criticise and to be negative about anything. We had $1.78 billion injected in the first place, and now we have got a further $140 million. This $140 million is a direct response to this report from ABARE, The Australian dairy industry: impact of an open market in fluid milk supply. I want to speak to a couple of the points that are raised within this report. It states on page 23:

Outside Victoria the regional economies that are relatively heavily dependent on dairy farming include:

ยท Eacham, Monto, Rosalie and Warwick North in Queensland ...

As a representative of the Rosalie area, I am glad to be able to speak on this bill. There are of course other areas within my electorate that are heavily affected. I would pick Kilcoy and Nenango as being very heavily affected by the whole issue of the changes within the dairy industry, but of course the report has identified those places. It goes on to state on page 19:

... the largest reductions in dairy farm incomes are expected in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia, followed by South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.

It also says:

For the majority of dairy farmers in Victoria and Tasmania, the sum of farm cash income and their DSAP payments in 2000-01 is likely to exceed their average farm cash income in 1999-2000.

Isn't that interesting? Victoria and Tasmania overall, according to ABARE, are going to have more money under the deregulated system than they had previously; they will be the beneficiaries of deregulation. Isn't it interesting that from the opposition side we have had spokesmen from Victoria and Tasmania carping, whingeing and carrying on about a program that, according to ABARE, has actually benefited their local industry? The people who are actually directly affected are the constituents that I and the member for Fairfax represent.

Mr Sidebottom —Listen to what they are saying.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—Member for Braddon, the chair is not interested in listening to you at the moment.

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON —We are taking a positive outlook to this. We are looking at the problem and endeavouring to address it. When you look at what ABARE actually found, you realise the response of the minister in coming forward with this further package of $140 million is very timely indeed. It is not the perfect outcome. Instead of having the minister producing this $140 million, we should have the state governments injecting money into this industry. Premier Beattie in Queensland, who now presides over a budget in deficit, as of last night, and has a total spend on agriculture in Queensland of only four per cent, has delivered not one zack to supporting dairy industry at this difficult time—nothing of any real impact—and yet, for example, to quote the ABARE report:

Individual milk quotas were transferable assets.

So these transferable assets, which in effect through their impact on the tax system at the state level have been generating income for the state government in Queensland for many, many years, have been part of the thing that supports the state government and keeps it running. Now that it has fallen into disarray, what are the Queensland government doing? Nothing. Yet they are the ones who are admirably positioned to be able to support that industry in its time of need. One of the things that happens under this package that we are debating now is that the $140 million is allocated, according to the ABARE report, to focus on states such as Queensland and New South Wales where there is a higher reliance on market milk, not manufactured milk.

That means that those struggling producers in my state and in my area who produce a large proportion of manufactured milk are not going to be supported by this package. Of course, ABARE makes the point that the majority of support in effect should be going to those people more reliant on market milk because they are the ones whose incomes are most affected. Yet we have a state government which is positioned to be able to fill the gap, to be able to do something about those guys—those manufacturing milk producers—doing absolutely nothing.

I find it particularly galling to read in the South Burnett Times—a newspaper that covers the South Burnett area where a lot of milk is produced—that the local former One Nation member, now an Independent, is telling everybody that this $140 million allocation is unfair to milk consumers as well as producers. I would swear she was working for the Labor Party, I would swear that she was a mouthpiece for those members opposite, because that is the kind of negative rhetoric that we get from people over there. If there is a shortcoming in this package, then let the state governments and state members like her actually do something about it instead of just spouting forth with hot air and doing nothing to support this very important industry that is so vital to local communities.

One of the things that has been made a lot of by members opposite is the so-called polocrosse field. It just shows you how ignorant of the whole regime and the idea of the Dairy Regional Assistance Program that is tied in with this overall package are members opposite. Under that package we have seen $88,000 going to a pipeline to support the expansion of the pork industry in my electorate, to provide jobs and to provide economic activity to make up for the losses that have naturally occurred because of what has happened in Victoria with the dairy industry. In effect, we have seen an enterprise cooperative being formed, supported by Dairy RAP, with $26,400 in Kilcoy to grow turf. They have subsequently been able to get an $88,000 grant to expand their turf growing activities and to take up some of the slack that is caused by the impact of changes in the dairy industry. We have had $73,000 going to a very good company that is building fire tenders and rural fire brigade equipment. There are many other grants that have gone into these affected areas and they have had a very good and positive impact.

We are seeing changes that have been difficult but we are now seeing people more and more finding a way through it. I applaud their activities, I applaud their commitment and, above all, I applaud them for their forbearance under these difficult circumstances. I am sure that we will see the dairy industry fighting back, and it certainly is apparent in many of the places within my area.