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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 847

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (20:05): Could I associate myself with those concluding remarks from the member for Brand. I also commend the member for Eden-Monaro for his speech, which was a bit of a tour de force of the dairy industries in his electorate which I found most interesting.

We have before us today a bill and I am glad to see that the bill is supported by both sides. Unfortunately, we have an amendment to the motion for the second reading, which has been moved by the shadow minister for agriculture. I will come to that, because I do not think this bill needs cheap political point scoring associated with it. It is a serious bill and a bill which both sides know is noncontroversial.

This is a very good opportunity for people to come into this chamber and talk about the importance of agriculture to their community and how it provides much-needed employment, not only for people in regional and rural Australia but also for people in urban Australia. The member for Brand gave us a very good speech on where Western Australia fits in that regard. We have already heard from one of the members from New South Wales. My good friend from Tasmania will follow me, and I am sure he will give us a very good speech on the wonderful dairy industry in that wonderful state. Remember that, when the GFC hit, for instance, the sector which kept us out of recession was the agriculture sector, and the sector which still provides this country with much-needed export dollars is the agricultural sector. It is good that we can come in here and point this out and, on both sides of the chamber, use this opportunity to talk about agriculture.

What is the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment (Dairy Produce) Bill 2014 about? I will go over the context of the bill. The bill increases the maximum permitted rates of the Australian Animal Health Council levies on dairy produce from 0.058 to 0.145 of a cent per kilogram of milk fat and from 0.13850 to 0.34625 of a cent per kilogram of milk protein. Australian dairy farmers required the increases in the maximum rates in the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Act to enable it to continue, for the next decade, to meet its obligations, as a partner with government and other livestock industries, under the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement. It is very important to note that the bill will not increase the actual levy payable by industry members and will not impose a financial burden on dairy farmers. I think everyone in this place welcomes that.

The Australian dairy industry is vital for the nation. The dairy industry of south-west Victoria is vital for my electorate of Wannon. It is the largest dairy producing area in the country. As a result, we also have dairy processers in my seat. We have Fonterra and Murray Goulburn. We have Warrnambool Cheese & Butter, which, as we all know, has recently been taken over by Canadian company Saputo. Lion also has processing interests in my electorate. The industry provides much-needed jobs and much-needed incomes. It also supports dairy farmers in my electorate. Dairy farmers work hard, provide local employment and contribute to the community in a significant way. They not only help our local community and help jobs locally but they also provide much-needed export income.

The dairy industry in my electorate this time last year was in a great deal of pain. We had had, in what is usually a reliable rainfall area, one of the driest nine months that we had ever seen. Prices were low, the cost of fodder and grain to feed the dairy herds was high, cash reserves were run down and debts on farm began to increase. Fortunately, the best thing that could happen to farmers, in particular dairy farmers, happened in my region towards the middle and end of last year—we got substantial rainfall. In some cases, farmers were able to cut hay, silage and more silage. They put that away, which means that they have it there in reserve. For those uninitiated to dairying, grass is the best thing that you can provide a dairy cow to make sure you get very good milk, and Australia produces the best milk.

Not only did we get good rainfall, which led to good grass growth, meaning that farmers could restock their fodder, but we also saw, through the battle for Warrnambool Cheese & Butter, people begin to understand the importance of this sector and what it can provide to this nation. An overseas company, Saputo, and two local companies, Bega and Murray Goulburn, bid for Warrnambool Cheese & Butter, and the share price more than doubled. It gave great confidence to the industry to know that people saw it as worthwhile and valuable. In the end of that process, Saputo won. There are a couple of lessons that we need to learn arising from that process, but Saputo won in the end because it was able to convince the shareholders and the board of Warrnambool Cheese & Butter that it was the best option.

Murray Goulburn were also very keen to purchase the asset but they had to go through the Australian Competition Tribunal to be able to put a wholehearted bid on the table. Unfortunately, that process can take some time. Something that we need to relook at as part of our review of competition policy is whether we can speed up the process that occurs when something is taken to the Australian Competition Tribunal. I will say, though, that the rules and regulations, the hoops that all companies would need to go through as part of the battle for Warrnambool Cheese & Butter, were quite clear from the outset, when the process started.

It was very pleasing to welcome the Deputy Prime Minister down to my electorate of Wannon last Friday to speak at the Sungold Field Days, the largest dairy field days in this nation. Sungold is one of the products which is produced by Warrnambool Cheese & Butter. The Deputy Prime Minister gave a very insightful speech about where he saw the future of agriculture and the Australian dairy industry over the next few years. One of the more interesting things that he said was about our need as a nation to understand the importance of our agricultural assets and to encourage Australian investors—whether they be superannuants, whether they be private investors—to realise how important our agricultural assets are to us and the potential returns they can give us over the years to come. I would like to place on the record my thanks to the Deputy Prime Minister for coming down and speaking at the luncheon of that important field day.

I would like to turn now to the pious amendment put forward by those opposite. It reads:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading the House notes the:

(1) failure of the Government to act urgently in response to the effect of the drought on the dairy and other agricultural sectors; and

(2) omission of ‘resource sustainability’ in the terms of reference for the Government’s agriculture white paper."

I will just address drought for a minute. The government was left with a non-existent drought policy by those opposite, so we have had to systematically, methodically and carefully put together a package, and that is what we have done. That is under active consideration as we speak, and I am sure that we will hear in the very near future about what the government is going to do in this area. But for those opposite to engage in cheap political pointscoring on this matter is contemptible. They left us with no money, so we have had to do the best we can to come up with a policy. I have full confidence, following the Prime Minister's tour of drought affected areas, that that is exactly what the government is going to do.

It is also remiss of those opposite to talk about terms of reference being left out of the agriculture white paper. The agriculture white paper process—and the member for Eden-Monaro set it out in detail—is once again going to be a very systematic, very considered approach to what we need to guarantee the future of this great industry for our nation. It is going to focus on the key area—because without this nothing else follows—and that is: how do we ensure that the sector remains profitable? If you cannot have the profitability, you can forget about the sustainability and all the other issues which flow on from that. Profitability is what we need to drive into the sector.

If those opposite are serious about making this white paper process a proper one, the first thing they can do is take away the most serious burden on the industry at the moment, and that is the carbon tax. They should go and talk to Murray Goulburn about the carbon tax bill that they have to pay. They should go and talk to individual dairy farmers, who are currently going to have to pay $7,000 to $10,000—or $15,000 when they are big operations—per annum for the carbon tax. That is before we see the impact on fuel added come 1 July. So rather than putting forward this pious amendment, why don't the opposition look at the imposts on the sector at the moment? There is one impost which they could fix immediately by getting rid of the carbon tax. Do not come in with these cheap political pointscoring exercises. Do your research, do your homework and look at what is in the long-term interests of the sector. If you do that, you will start to realise that we must fix regulation, we must fix the taxation system—in particular, the carbon taxation system—and we must ensure that there is that much-needed flexibility in the workplace. A sector like the dairy industry needs that, because obviously during milking times—mornings and afternoons—there is a greater need for labour than there is in the rest of the day.

I commend this bill to the House and I welcome the fact that both sides are in favour of the substance of the bill.