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Wednesday, 20 June 2001
Page: 28051

Mr ZAHRA (11:16 AM) —The reason that we are here debating the Dairy Produce Legislation Amendment (Supplementary Assistance) Bill 2001 is because the federal government have blown it when it comes to the dairy industry. They have blown it for the second time. They had a great opportunity, with a $1.9 billion package, to set up this nationally significant industry for the future. Instead, they blew it and they blew it completely. That is why they have scurried back into the parliament today with this $140 million package to try and save their political skins. That is all this package is about. It is not about helping the people most in need, it is not about helping people going through difficult circumstances and it is not about helping people in the dairy communities that have been negatively affected as a result of dairy deregulation. This is all about creating a pork barrel fund to save some National Party ministers' seats, because the dairy farmers and the dairy communities in those areas understand that the pain that they are experiencing right now can be attributed only to the Liberal Party and National Party elected representatives that they have right now. They are sick of the duplicity of these people who run back to their electorates and say, `You know, I'm really on your side. I understand exactly what you're going through. Geez, it must be tough. I was a stockbroker in Sydney; I know a fair bit about the dairy industry.' That is what these National Party people are doing. People in those districts have got smart to this—they have got smart to the fact that these people are saying one thing in their constituencies and doing another thing altogether here in the federal parliament. That is why we have this $140 million today.

Unfortunately this $140 million will be another wasted opportunity to be tacked onto the $1.9 billion wasted opportunity which we saw with dairy deregulation via the package which we were discussing in this parliament some months ago. What could we have done with that $1.9 billion? We could have done quite a lot to set this industry up in a way which would have ensured that it had not only a future where it limped along but a future where it grew and prospered and where we could see the manufacturing opportunities in the deregulated dairy industry come to fruition. We could have seen new jobs—high skill jobs, high value added jobs—being created here in our country and we could have set ourselves up as the nation internationally that produced products in the dairy industry which had a high value associated with them and which made sure that Australia could consolidate its natural advantage in the dairy sector. But we have not done that. Instead, when it comes to the dairy industry this government has tried to put in place a strategy where it could maximise only its opportunities for re-election rather than maximising its opportunities to realise the potential of the dairy industry in this country. This is a great shame.

We had a lecture before from the member for Blair about what the Dairy Regional Adjustment Program was all about. He was giving us a lecture—this from a member of parliament who is part of a government whose original legislation in relation to the dairy deregulation had no component at all for structural adjustment for dairy dependent communities. Yet he is giving the likes of the member for Braddon and me a lecture about what Dairy RAP is all about and what its objectives are all about. We on this side of the House all understand, and I think the Australian people understand, that the only reason that we got the Dairy Regional Adjustment Program—$45 million; $15 million a year over three years—is because of the pressure applied by members on this side of the House, including the member for Braddon, the member for Bass, the member for Lyons and the member for Corio, the shadow minister for agriculture. That is the only reason we ended up with the Dairy Regional Adjustment Program in the first place. We know what its objectives are; we know what it should be doing. We certainly do not need any lectures from members opposite about what that program should be doing—we understand that pretty clearly.

It is good to see that there has been some increase in relation to that program. We are concerned about where that money goes. We do not want to see that money go to building wine appreciation rooms in grammar schools, we do not want to see that money go to building polocrosse fields. This is disgraceful conduct on behalf of the government—an absolute insult to all the farmers who have gone through difficulty and hard times and to the communities that are dairy dependent which have gone through difficulties as well and which have gone through the awful circumstances often surrounding dairy deregulation in those communities. Those people's hardships and sacrifice should not be going into creating a fund for people who have already got a quid, who are already doing pretty well. There are not too many battlers that you see on a polocrosse field. Regarding the people who would be going across to the wine appreciation room in the grammar school, I do not think that there would be too many battlers there either. The way they have conducted themselves and the way they have divvied up the money to do with the Dairy Regional Adjustment Program is a real insult.

In my own electoral district, we understand what deregulation means at the coalface. We have had a plant closure in my electoral district, in the town of Drouin. The town of Drouin has about 4,500 or 5,000 people in it. The Bonlac Cooperative closed its plant there about 12 months ago. The plant there employed 150 people. To have 150 people losing their jobs in a town which has a population of 4,500 is a big deal. It is so big a deal that, in Eden, in New South Wales, when that community lost its cannery, which employed about 180 people in a town of about 5,000 people, this federal government saw fit to give them an adjustment package to the value of $3½ million. But we in Drouin, the people of Drouin who know all about sacrifice and hurt, who have experienced the difficulties associated with the loss of that important employer in their town, did not get $3½ from this federal government. They did not get a cracker in terms of an adjustment package from this federal government.

It really is outrageous that we have this type of behaviour, this complete debauching and debasing of the regional development programs which have been established by this federal government. We have a situation where one community gets it—$3½ million—but another community, in this case Drouin in my electorate, does not get any structural adjustment money at all despite very similar circumstances and almost equal loss of jobs in a town of exactly the same population as Eden in New South Wales.

What we did was identify the Dairy Regional Adjustment Program as a way of getting some support for our town so that we might be able to create a few new jobs and help offset the difficulties experienced in the town as a result of the loss of those jobs associated with the Bonlac factory there. I should say that the Baw Baw Shire Council really has done a first-rate job in helping to coordinate that effort. We organised a meeting as soon as Bonlac announced that it intended to close the plant. We called together local councillors. I was there. The neighbouring state member of parliament, Ian Maxfield, was there. Representatives from the workers were there and involved. And there were representatives from the Committee for Drouin and from the Drouin Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

We put in place a plan for the Baw Baw Shire Council to develop a number of projects or to work on developing a proposal. It would submit to the Dairy Regional Adjustment Program a number of projects which would help create jobs in Baw Baw shire and which would help offset the loss of those 150 or 160 jobs associated with the Bonlac plant at Drouin. The officers at Baw Baw Shire Council, including Gary Gaffney and also John Dyer, the CEO, really have done a first-class job and put together a very professional submission to the federal government in relation to this. They did this in consultation with the people associated with the Gippsland Area Consultative Committee, who gave the project the tick, who gave people support and encouragement. And up the line it went.

They did not ask for a lot of money—certainly by comparison with the $3½ million which Eden in New South Wales received from the federal government. They asked for $400,000—$100,000 for each of four specific projects which they had developed, which would benefit the Baw Baw shire and which would create about 50 or 60 jobs. These proposals consisted of supporting a number of the successful industries which we have in Baw Baw shire, including the Tarago River Cheese Company, the Rowse Flowers just outside of Ellinbank, Aus Plants, which is just outside Warragul, and Flavorite tomatoes, which is also just outside Warragul. These are all outstanding companies and very successful companies, a number of which I and some of my shadow ministerial colleagues and colleagues on this side of the House have visited as part of our work. These are exactly the types of industries which you would want to support in a place like Baw Baw shire. They represent the success and the growth which can be achieved in some of these vibrant and important industries. After a lot of work, after a lot of effort, after a lot of going through the motions, the decision came back from the federal government: `No, we won't be funding the $400,000. No, we will not be funding the creation of 50 jobs in Baw Baw shire to help offset the loss of those 150 or 160 jobs at the Drouin Bonlac plant.'

This is really disgraceful. A lot of people have gone through a lot of difficulty in Drouin—and West Gippsland more generally—as a result of this closure. The federal government should support these projects. They should get behind those existing industries which we have, help us develop our expertise and our natural skills in a number of key areas, including speciality cheese manufacture, and help us to develop the tourism potential of West Gippsland. It really is an indictment of the federal government that they have not seen fit to support these projects, especially when they have supported such ridiculous projects as the building of a polocrosse field and a wine appreciation room at a grammar school somewhere else in the country.