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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 827


Ms MacTIERNAN (Perth) (18:30): I wish to support the bill that is before us and the second reading amendment that has been proposed by the opposition's shadow minister. I think it is very heartening that we have seen here at least some recognition by the government that not all regulation is bad. I am very pleased to see that the proposal to abolish the Australian Animal Health Council levy is not on the basis that it constitutes red tape. The presentations by the minister, by the parliamentary secretary and by others who have spoken here are recognising that this is actually a very effective and important piece of legislation that allows the dairy industry to act collectively, to come together and to ensure that there are funds provided for these important tasks of biosecurity and research and also to ensure that we have suitable animal welfare practices in place. I would urge the minister in future, as he is ranting and raving about the abolition of red tape and that regulation is all bad, to consider the very positive role that is played by this legislation.

I want to make a few comments on the West Australian dairy industry. We do not have the biggest dairy industry but we do have a very strong and very innovative industry, albeit with some problems. We produce about four per cent of the national milk supply but we consume about 11.5 per cent of the nation's milk dairy products. Certainly our industry has a couple of challenges. One is associated with soil fertility and acidification of land. Under the federal government's Landcare policies there has been considerable investment over the last few years in trying to deal with those issues. Another challenge which has not been mentioned yet—which I am surprised about given people are talking about the dairy industry—is the problem with prices and the use of a very market dominant position that we have seen in the first instance by Coles and then in response by Woolworths, who said they had to go there because Coles were going there. Certainly the dairy farmers in WA point to the fact that, whilst their production is increasing, their farm gate prices have been decreasing.

I really admire the dairy industry in Western Australia and its very active marketing techniques. Harvey Fresh have been very innovative in the range of products that they are putting on the market and the way that they sell their products and encourage people to purchase them. We have seen not just dairy farmers but the processing industry in WA create an incredibly interesting array of treats that greet us at our supermarkets and produce stores. We are seeing fantastic innovation. Indeed, there is product differentiation that we are seeing happening just with milk as drinkable milk, if that is the term to use, and the ways in which individual companies have been trying to rise to the challenge presented by the Coles-Woolworths milk wars. There are signs, obviously, that we can bring that market back to the differentiated product and ensure that our dairy farmers get a decent price at the farm gate. This is another area where we have to look at regulation. I know that in other debates members of the National Party have raised their concerns about the power of this duopoly. It is not something that we can go on ignoring forever. As I said, it has had a very critical impact on dairy farming Western Australia.

That having been said, I quite rejoiced a couple of months ago when I was down in Busselton and met a couple in their 30s who were dairy farmers. They were having a weekend off, saying how much they enjoyed their life as dairy farmers and how they were making a good return and they deserved their fabulous weekend at Bunker Bay. So while it is certainly not all doom and gloom, I think that of all farming tasks this is one of the hardest, with its requirement to be there day and night, to ensure that you have always got someone on the property, that you are there with that very labour-intensive process of bringing in the cows and ensuring they are milked each day. It does really mark this out as a very hard task.

I like to think that I have some other personal basis for being interested in the dairy industry. Some of my ancestors were very much involved in opening up Gippsland as a farming area. One strand of my family, the Bolands, came over to Gippsland from Ireland in the 1860s and proceeded between them to open up four or five dairy farms. I note that the names of the towns or townlands they were from in Tipperary are still marked in some of the names of those properties in Killeen and Nenagh, around the Tinamba-Maffra area, and that my great-great-grandmother, a dairy pioneer, is buried in the Maffra Cemetery. I would like to just make that little reference. Certainly we knew the stories of how hard the dairy farming life was and of my father's refusal to be part of it because it was, indeed, too hard. Some of us actually regretted him taking that attitude when he was young and losing that contact with that area.

Perhaps I can use that as a small segue into commenting on something that the minister said during his speech which I found truly extraordinary. The minister was commenting that his family had also come from Ireland and he spoke, quite rightly, of the famine in Ireland and how shocking it was and that there were millions of people—I am not sure he actually said millions, but there were in fact millions of people—who either starved or died of petulance, I am sorry, pestilence.

Mr Frydenberg: Your side's known for its petulance!

Ms MacTIERNAN: The pestilence, as they used to call it then, which was a form of plague. The minister was quite right and he went on to acknowledge that at the same time there was in fact a surfeit of food being produced in Ireland—of course, also totally correct. But what I found really extraordinary was the conclusion that he drew from this. The conclusion was that this is the deadly hand of bureaucracy, as defined by politics beyond your domestic control, and the reality of where power truly lies when it comes to food. The bureaucracy? It was, somehow or other, a group of public servants or bureaucrats that decided that this food was not going to be consumed in Ireland and it was going to be shipped off overseas. That is totally wrong—and this is an important thing that we need to recognise. This is a Tea Party mantra, that we are constantly surrounded with this evil bureaucracy that is doing in our country. It has got nothing to do with bureaucracy. This was a deliberate policy at the time of the British government and the British landed gentry, who believed that Ireland was overpopulated and that the best thing that could happen for Ireland, and particularly for their interests in Ireland, was for there to be a significant reduction in their population. And, indeed, there was a genocide that occurred at that time, with probably not 400,000 but closer to a million people starving to death and another two million or so people being forced overseas—although I am one of those people who say I am glad my ancestors had the get up and go to get up and go, because I think we have a great land of opportunity here in Australia.

Coming back to my first comment, we have a strange conundrum with the minister. On the one hand, notwithstanding all his ranting and raving against 'regulation' and 'red tape' and 'just get out of the way', a la the Tea Party, he is very sensibly supporting an amendment through this piece of legislation to ensure that the Australian Animal Health Council can provide a proper emergency response when there is a requirement to do so. Then contrast that with the completely ill-informed idea that the Irish famine and the fact that so many people died was somehow or other the fault of a bureaucracy, rather than a conscious and deliberate policy on the part of people who had a lot of vested interests. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): I thank the member for Perth for the tour around Ireland and Maffra and I call the honourable member for Calare.