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Wednesday, 20 June 2001
Page: 28057

Mr PRICE (11:50 AM) —I am always pleased to yield to my friend the member for Braddon, who is a passionate advocate of the dairy farmers in his electorate. As you have so unkindly pointed out, Mr Deputy Speaker, I no longer have any dairy farmers in my electorate. But that does not mean that I am not interested in the plight of dairy farmers. I notice the arrogance of the government in handling the Dairy Produce Legislation Amendment (Supplementary Assistance) Bill 2001. We do not have the minister here and we do not even have the courtesy of advisers in the advisers box.

I want to agree at the start with only one point that coalition members have made, and that is that this process was started by Victorian coalition or Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett, when he agreed to undertake a referendum of farmers in that state. Indeed, the referendum was undertaken under the subsequent government of Premier Bracks. That is the genesis of the change that we are debating here today.

This package is about a new tax. It is a tax on every litre of milk drunk by every child in Australia. When the mums and dads of Australia buy a litre of milk, there is a new tax of 11c. It was going to be on for eight years, but now that is being extended to eight years and nine months. If this bill was about cheaper milk for consumers, I might find it attractive. But let me quote Mr Ian Langdon, the Chairman of Dairy Farmers, who said in the Financial Review:

Deregulation was never going to lead to cheaper milk for the consumers.

So this is not about cheaper milk for consumers. I know what it is about; I know whose pockets are being lined. It is not the dairy farmers and it is not the mums and dads in my electorate; it is the producers and the supermarkets. These are the people that coalition members champion. Coalition member after coalition member made many points about why the states are not kicking in. Maybe that is a fair point, but let me first ask the question: why aren't you kicking in? Why does it have to be the kids and the mums and dads of Australia that have to fund it? Why won't you stand up, Parliamentary Secretary, and kick in? Why won't you get the senior minister that you work for to kick in? You are not putting $1 in. It is the mums and dads of Australia in electorates like mine that are funding this.

I support the principle that all Australians should help industries that are in transition. I am particularly attracted to helping battling dairy farmers. But who are the big winners out of this? The first big winner is Peter Costello and his parliamentary secretary. They are putting $500 million in the back pocket. This is a tax on a tax: 11c a litre for every litre, plus clawing back in addition to that another $500 million. What a disgrace you are!

What power do the states have to put on levies? You know full well that the High Court has ruled that out. Why should the states dig into their revenue for police, for education and for hospitals when you will not put $1 in. What utter hypocrisy! Again, I want to make the point that I can live with the proposition that we should assist dairy farmers. Take my state of New South Wales: I asked Mr Truss over there, the minister who has just walked into the House—and I thank him for that—how much money is going to be raised in New South Wales with this tax. The answer is: $521.6 million is going to be raised in New South Wales, but that is only after eight years—I apologise; I do not have the figure for eight years and nine months. But how much of this is actually going to New South Wales dairy farmers? About $337 million. If you take out the Commonwealth's $500 million in the back pocket, it gets down to about $255 million net. So, for every child who drinks a litre of milk in New South Wales, that 11c goes not to New South Wales dairy farmers—although some of it does—but $184 million slips out. Who is the big winner of this dairy deregulation? It is the most efficient industry—that is, Victoria. It gets $739 million. It is the most efficient dairy sector—and congratulations to it; I do not deprecate that. It is very export oriented—I do not deprecate that; I applaud that. But it is the biggest winner here.

It is not as though we are setting out to develop a proposal that really meets the needs of dairy farmers on the basis of actual need. We have already heard the member for McMillan talking about what is happening with one grant—building a polocrosse field, for goodness sake! The mums and dads and kids in Mount Druitt are paying a levy that will build a polocrosse field. This is not going to dairy farmers based on need. Indeed, some of the wealthiest dairy farmers are getting the most money out of this. What is fair about that? I have never before seen a scheme that abandons principles of equity, of trying to give measured assistance where assistance is really needed. I am going to use a quote that I have used before and it is from John Ralston Saul:

Unregulated competition is a naive metaphor for anarchy.

I happen to agree with that. We are seeing that in the civil aviation industry—that is, if you actually want competition, often you have to put in regulations. What has happened as a result of this dairy deregulation in my state of New South Wales? Are mums and dads actually getting cheaper milk? No, not really. The comparison used to justify the cheaper milk used the price when the farm gate price was deregulated, not the pre-existing price—a little bit of fiddling the figures there. But what has actually happened, Minister? The producers have tendered literally uneconomic prices to the supermarkets, and then they have squeezed the dairy farmers. So they have actually made this deregulation even worse. Of course now the producers are trying to get back money from corner shops. In fact there is a 5c differential.

The supermarkets do not actually care what the price of milk is because they have the market power to put their margin on top of it. Minister, tell me why in your portfolio your main mission is to prop up supermarkets. Why are you the champion of supermarkets? Shouldn't you have a regard for dairy farmers? Shouldn't you have a regard for consumers? I will quote Minister Amery in a notorious letter to the National Competition Council Chairman, Mr Graeme Samuel:

Our experience of deregulation in the ... milk market has demonstrated that none of the theoretical benefits of deregulation have occurred.

What a damning statement. I regret that time is running out—

Mr PRICE —If I am being offered an extension, I am happy to go on. I will quote a National Party member, the member for Cowper:

I believe that while we must have competition—there is no doubt about that—it has to be leavened with a degree of sanity.

There is no sanity in this, Minister. Listen to your own backbencher. I hope we can all learn from this abortive scheme. The idea that we can just blame the states for not picking up the mess, the trail, that the minister has left is outrageous. We have got the shadow minister here at the table. He led a task force; he went out there and talked to dairy farmers.

Mr Truss —We are still waiting for the report.

Mr PRICE —I hope it will be released shortly. I am sure it will be more constructive than this mess that the minister has presented to the parliament. Make no mistake: what we are debating here today is a tax on kids of 11c, on the mums and dads of Australia. If you think it is going to help the dairy farmers, the biggest winners are John Howard and Peter Costello to the tune of $500 million. It is not targeted to help those dairy farmers most in need. Why have you turned your back on them, Minister? You are a disgrace. You should resign.