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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 821

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (18:04): I rise to speak in favour of the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment (Dairy Produce) Bill 2014. While the amendments in this bill may appear to some to be minor, they will have an important impact on the industry, and I support them.

Farm animal health is important to the productivity and sustainability of the Australian dairy industry, and in the Bendigo electorate we still have a stake in the dairy industry. This bill will allow for levy cap rates to be adjusted to enable the dairy industry to meet its obligations in relation to its Animal Health Australia annual membership and other animal health and welfare initiatives.

Australia's reputation for clean, green safe products is its greatest competitive advantage. This reputation is maintained by the work undertaken by Animal Health Australia. This work will ensure that the dairy sector is able to capitalise on the world's demand for safe milk products, particularly in Asia.

This bill is important to my electorate. Agriculture and the food and beverage manufacturing sector are important and employ thousands of people in the Bendigo electorate, making them major employers. There are roughly 2,000 people employed in agriculture and an additional 4,000 people working in food manufacturing, so securing the supply chain is important, and this proposal goes to the heart of that. For example, food and beverage manufacturing contributes an estimated annual output of roughly $550 million to the local economy and employs just over 1,200 people. That is just within the City of Greater Bendigo, not to mention the rest of the region. That is why it is important to ensure Australia's reputation for clean and green safe products, which is its greatest competitive advantage overseas. This will help ensure that people within my electorate continue to be employed.

I want to talk about the levies in this bill and the way in which this bill has been structured. It is important to the dairy producers that the levies be collected by the Commonwealth for disbursement to Animal Health Australia. This will ensure that there is accountability and efficiency within the system.

The levy system will enable industries to maintain competitive advantage not just in world markets but in our own. As I have mentioned already, Bendigo, in central Victoria, has a stake in the dairy industry. I wish to highlight Parmalat Australia, who has taken ownership of the oldest dairy farm in Bendigo. The Symons Dairy is an independent franchised distributor for Parmalat Australia Ltd. It is Bendigo's oldest locally owned dairy and has been servicing the area since 1919. Symons Dairy has been owned by three generations. Today it produces various products which all of us enjoy, whether it be here in parliament, in our restaurants or in our kitchens. The site employs 150 local people, demonstrating why a strong dairy manufacturing sector is important.

Bendigo's becoming home to more dairy and food beverage manufacturers is a key priority for our region. In a recent meeting with the Bendigo Manufacturing Group we talked about establishing an alliance of our food manufacturers. We see the opportunity in this industry. The levy will also support other small and emerging industries which may benefit from cooperation and resource sharing. Bendigo and northern Victoria are home to some fantastic local producers which, with the right industry support, could become stronger not just in our region but in Australia.

An example is Jonesy's Dairy Fresh. Their farm, just north-west of Bendigo, has a significant number of suppliers of their product in the electorate. Jonesy's Dairy Fresh want to make sure that farmers get a fair price for their milk and that consumers get a great product. They enshrine the 'Buy local, produce local' motto. Jonesy's milk does not contain added permeate. Whilst the debate on added permeate has not yet been resolved, there is a market for milk that does not contain added permeate. Jonesy's have stepped in to make sure they have a product consumers want.

Another example are Holy Goat Cheese, which you may know of if you attend regular farmers markets. The farm is 30 minutes south of Bendigo towards Castlemaine. Their goats have free range access to a wide variety of native grasses, herbs and shrubbery. Their cheese is a hit. It is sold out at every local market and in Melbourne and Sydney delicatessens and it is used in restaurants. There is not one piece of cheese that they produce which is not sold—again, another outstanding local producer doing well in our region. Their philosophy is simple:

Our farm is small, producing high quality and desirable cheeses. We don't get side tracked by others agendas. The heart of a business started years ago. We are ethical, idealistic and can stay in business.

That is a wonderful motto from a diary producer in our region. Both producers are part of the growing farmers market and foodie scene in central Victoria—another opportunity for industry development. We often hear of the dining boom in Australia and the overseas growth that will come with it. We need to extend that dining boom to talk about the entire supply chain, from the paddock to the plate. In Bendigo and central Victoria, we are embracing this philosophy with gusto, quickly becoming a foodie destination as well as a producer of products to be sent overseas. With continued support from farm to plate this industry will continue to grow.

I also understand the importance of supporting Animal Health Australia and the proposals this bill puts forward to ensure that this not-for-profit public company can react if there is a disease outbreak. Its role is to facilitate improvements in Australia's animal health policy and practice in partnership with the livestock industries, governments and other stakeholders.

Another Bendigo manufacture active in this space is MSD Animal Health. MSD is a global, research-driven company that develops, manufactures and markets a broad range of veterinary medicines and services. Their modern production plant in Bendigo, Victoria, produces high-quality vaccines for most of Australia's domestic and farm animals and gives employment to over 100 people, including 40 scientists. I was very pleased to be at the site a few months ago when they officially celebrated and launched their solar energy. They were able to install a number of solar panels through the former Labor government's clean technology grant program. They are now the largest producer of solar energy in the Bendigo electorate. This is another way in which governments can partner successfully with industry, whether it be through levies to support the development of the industry, as we see in this bill, or through clean technology grants. MSD research, develop and market vaccines not just for our local market but also for overseas markets. This fantastic local manufacturer demonstrates our region's potential. Whether it be producing food or vaccines, there is an opportunity here not just in the Bendigo electorate but for Australia.

While I support the bill, we need to start addressing what we are doing in relation to drought. It is disappointing that the government has failed to act urgently in response to the effects of drought not necessarily in my electorate but in electorates further north. As I have mentioned, jobs will be put at risk. In my own electorate, if drought were to hit, there would be concern. As I have mentioned, there are 2,000-plus people employed in agriculture and 4,000-plus people employed in food manufacturing. Those supply chains are linked back to the farms. This sector is a big employer even within my own electorate.

Food and beverages manufacturing was the largest manufacturing sector in Australia in 2012-13. It will continue to grow and innovate, but we have to get the support right at the farm gate. At the moment, this sector employs 1.7 million people in Australia, including many in my electorate. Over time, demand for high-quality produce should see employment in the sector increase. But jobs in this area of manufacturing will only increase if we continue to have a strong and healthy agricultural sector. That is why the government needs to act urgently in response to the drought effect in the agricultural sector in Queensland and New South Wales. The agricultural sector comprises a large share of our export revenues. So, economically, this sector matters. These industries must be supported to adapt to climate change, so that they are ready and able to react to the droughts that are increasing in our time in history.

It is disappointing that the government's failure to react quickly could see a slowdown in production not just in what we see driven out of the farm gate but also in the manufacturing sector. It is disappointing because there was a plan in place. In government, Labor delivered Australia's first ever National Food Plan, a blueprint that aimed to increase Australia's food production by 45 per cent by 2025. Those opposite fail to appreciate that Labor is in the business of securing and creating jobs, and that means working within this sector. Food and beverage production is such an opportunity for us and we need to make sure we are assisting the first step of the supply chain: our farmers. Work is needed to be done by government and industry across the supply chain, from the paddock to the plate, to use the science and the research to put farming and food production at the cutting edge of industry worldwide. We know we have the expertise in the science area. We continue to put funding in that area and it is the right thing to do, but it is all for nothing if we do not act quickly to support our farmers, particularly those in drought affected areas.

Australia needs to seize the trade opportunities, especially those offered by the Asian dining boom. Australia's farmers are great innovators and that is why we need to partner with them to ensure that more of the food we grow ends up on the consumer plate. The Labor Party in government had a plan and that plan aimed to tackle the droughts in New South Wales. It is an easy one for the government today to pick up on. The government could immediately assist drought affected farming families by restoring the $40 million that the minister withheld from the farm finance low-interest scheme. The minister could continue to publicly call on the cabinet and his colleagues to act. But this one simple decision could see an additional $40 million being made available now. Further, a quick and effective response to the growing drought emergency would be to enhance farm finance by further lowering the interest rates to 4.5 per cent and adjusting the guidelines to improve access for drought affected farmers. Given that the farm finance scheme is already in operation, the additional money could flow quickly, thus getting to the farmers now. Every day counts. It is not just about farmers and their families; it is also about the supply chain and jobs, from the paddock to the plate. We need to act quickly to ensure that we continue to have a viable agricultural sector because so many other sectors can be built on it and we can secure those jobs.