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Monday, 25 June 2001
Page: 24951

Senator HOGG (1:09 PM) —I rise to support my colleague Senator Forshaw in this debate. There is a degree of anger out there that people on all sides of politics will be aware of in respect of the dairy deregulation. I took part in the Labor dairy task force which visited a number of centres in Queensland, where this anger very much came to the surface and people had an opportunity to vent their spleen on the actions that had taken place under this government. We visited in particular Monto, Maleny and Woodford. I am going to recount today for the sake of the record some of the feelings that came out of that meeting and, in particular, I am going to quote one person at our hearing in Maleny who summed up many of the responses that we got right across the board in Monto, Maleny and Woodford.

Clearly the result of deregulation in my state has seen substantial losses of income. One of the persons who appeared before us in Monto said that two years ago they were getting 46c a litre for their milk; their last payment was 30c a litre. There had been an average loss of $70,000 per farm, and the restructure was only worth $22,000 to them. They said that a lot of people have been forced to take the money up front and the only people who have benefited from the restructure money have been the banks. Another person at the same meeting recounted to us that they had lost a third of their income, and this had restricted their normal spending on repairs and maintenance, new equipment, seed and fertiliser. If they are not maintaining their farms, even if the prices correct themselves, they are still going to be a long way behind the eight ball.

At that meeting in Monto we sat in the shire hall and above us was the crest of the shire of Monto. At the head of the crest was a dairy cow, because the shire of Monto obviously is heavily dependent upon the dairy industry. It was rather ironic that underneath the crest the words of the motto read: `In abundance prepare for scarcity'. I do not think that the dairy farmers who are the lifeblood and the source of wealth, employment and livelihood in that area ever thought that that would apply to them—that in their previous period they should have been preparing for the scarcity that has now been thrust upon them.

When we moved to Maleny we had similar sorts of statements placed before us. In the case of one farmer, their income had been cut from an average of 45c per litre to 25c per litre. There was someone who had found themselves $12,000 in the red each month, $1 million in debt, with a 13-year-old son and no future. There was an element of despair, dismay and no way forward. The response was probably best characterised by a Mrs Nolene Stark, who has taken the time to put together a number of emails which have been sent to all senators. Nolene Stark's comments in her emails encapsulate the despair that has been felt by many people who have been in the dairy industry over a long period of time. I am going to take a few minutes to look at the comments that she has forwarded to all senators. Her first email was on Sunday, 4 March. She said:

I have just watched Channel 7's Sunday Sunrise Program which contained a story about a family being forced off their farm because of the deregulation of the dairy industry. Every man woman and child in Australia should be forced to see a program like that. Maybe then it would bring home to the powers that be what an inhuman thing they have forced on ordinary hard working men and women.

I am in tears. The sadness of it all just makes me cry—and then I get angry.

Mrs Stark obviously—and I have met Mrs Stark—is a person of great passion indeed and was moved by what she had seen not simply because she was a bystander but because of her knowledge of the industry over a long period of time. She goes on to outline the length of her association with the industry:

I am almost 70 years of age. I have owned my farm for 50 years and my son wishes to carry on after I am gone, and then I have a grandson who wishes to carry on as well. We are faced with the same outcome as those poor people on your program. I was in tears as the old couple watched their cattle being driven away. In my eyes we were watching my herd being driven away.

Senator McGauran —So you're against deregulation.

Senator HOGG —Mrs Stark went on to explain how she came out of retirement to come back to the farm to help her son out of the current difficulties that she and her son were experiencing. She is a fairly prolific emailer, Senator McGauran. You might like to pick up some of her emails. She went on to say in her email of 30 March:

I cannot believe the ignorance and arrogance of the Prime Minister in his press conference at Parliament House on the 18th March. He said, “This country is irrevocably on the path toward change and reform because we need to do so in order to create jobs for our children and to maintain our living standards.” He goes on to say, that he does understand that people can be hurt in the process and he has to do better at ensuring that those people are protected.

Then she said:

(What about the dairy farmers who are suffering? 200 have gone out in Queensland alone and now we have a shortage of milk. So much so that we have to import milk powder from New Zealand.)

Mrs Stark said further:

The Prime Minister also said, “Wherever a policy is being implemented that involves change and reform, we have to be absolutely certain that we identify people who might be adversely affected by it, and that where possible to provide them with help to adjust to change. The dairy industry is a classic example. The dairy industry itself asked to be reformed. We didn't force it on them. And many dairy farmers are much better off now as a result of reform. You go to Tasmania or Victoria and ask the dairy farmers there what they think about dairy deregulation. They think it's marvellous.”

That is the Prime Minister speaking of the deregulation. Then Mrs Stark went on to pick up the points that should have been picked up. She said:

I take exception to two things the Prime Minister said in that quote. Firstly, the dairy industry leaders asked for reform—Grassroots dairy farmers did not want a bar of it. We trusted our dairy leaders who let us down so badly that we do not want anything to do with them now.

Secondly, it is typical that the Prime Minister quoted the Tasmanian and Victorian farmers as thinking deregulation was marvellous—Deregulation has got nothing to do with why they are so happy now. It is all to do with the low dollar value. I wonder how the Victorian farmers will feel when the dollar value climbs back up to 60 cents. I believe for every cent the dollar falls, it is worth 5 cents per litre to the export market. Let the Prime Minister, come to any of the other states, Qld, WA or NSW, and really get out in the country and ask the true farmers what they think of deregulation.

So there is an element of despair expressed by Mrs Stark in her email. As I said, it was not something that was isolated to Mrs Stark alone.

Senator McGauran —You led her on.

Senator HOGG —Mrs Stark was not led on, Senator McGauran, because this was sent prior to any contact we have ever had with Mrs Stark. These are Mrs Stark's own words of desperation trying to reach the Australian people, trying to reach the government of the day to say, `We are desperate. We are in need of help.' Whilst we have an amended package before the Senate this week and we have amendments being put forward by the Democrats and the opposition, that of itself will only go part of the way to resolving the difficulties faced by Mrs Stark and her colleagues in the dairy industry in Queensland. She went on to say on 20 May:

At the moment we are at the bottom of the bargaining chain. Cows do have to be milked twice a day, every day. Our milk vat will only hold a certain amount of milk for so long before it has to be dumped. Our hands are completely tied. Whatever processor we supply, we have no choice but to accept the price they are offering for our product. The supermarkets on the other hand are the big winners as they can sell our milk for whatever price they please. Therefore, the margin farmers were getting before deregulation has now been transferred to the supermarkets.

Then at the end of her email of that day she said:

P.S. The Dairy Structural Adjustment Program for farmers was not in the best interests of farmers. Most farmers have taken it up front to minimise debt. However, we do still have to pay tax. If the price for our milk does not improve, every farmer is going to be much worse off in the long run. Some farmers have been refused assistance from Centrelink for family assistance, parenting allowance etc, because they have received their package. Many farmers who have applied for the Dairy Regional Assistance Program to help them finance some project for diversification have been refused because they have received their package. So much money—So little real help for the dairy farmer.

Senator McGauran —Did you—

Senator HOGG —No-one can walk away, Senator McGauran, from the frustration that is out there. No-one can walk away, Senator McGauran, from the difficulties that are being confronted by Mrs Stark and the like.

Senator McGauran —Did you set her straight? You know half of that is wrong.

Senator HOGG —Senator McGauran, it is very good of you to interject in this particular debate, and I invite you to get up later and say a few words. Obviously, you do not come from a state where the farmers have been adversely affected, where people's lifestyles have been decimated as a result of the deregulation. Otherwise, Senator McGauran, these people would not come forward and would not raise the difficulties that they have. But, as I said, Mrs Stark is one of the people who I believe has eloquently and rightly put her case to the members of this Senate and the members of the House of Representatives with her various emails. For a person who is 70 years of age and who has a longstanding association with the industry—as she said, over 50 years in the industry—she cannot believe what she is seeing happening to the industry that she hoped would be the provider of a lifestyle not only for her son but for her son's son as well. Of course, she now sees that slipping away from her.

But it is not as though Mrs Stark is the only person who has made comments about the difficulties being faced. There were others also, and perhaps it is worth while to spend a few moments looking at some of the comments that came from people in the Woodford area. One dairy producer in that area claimed that those who had made the most effort and had increased their herd size were now in more trouble than those who have stayed the same size. That particular dairy farmer went on to say, `The most efficient are those who are now in the most trouble; no-one is doing all right.' These dairy farmers went on to explain the degree of difficulty that is confronting them in their area. At the same meeting, another dairy farmer was critical of the short-term lead-in time for the restructure. He said that most major industries could not undertake such a restructure in such a short period of time. In that sense, many see their life and their lifestyle slipping away from them, without there being any real prospect of going back to anything even reminiscent of their previous way of living.

These people were concerned that they had no bargaining power. They saw the pre-eminence of the banks, in their coming out to suck up whatever benefits these people might have got out of the packages that had been delivered to them. They were frustrated with government. They were frustrated and critical of the processes. They were looking to vent their spleen and their criticisms and, indeed, to see that some of the injustice that, in their eyes, has taken place is redressed. As both my colleagues Senator Forshaw and Senator Woodley have said, the package goes down the path of further addressing the concerns and the needs of these particular people. However, I think the Labor amendment is important.

Senator McGauran —What is it?

Senator HOGG —I am glad you ask that. As I understand the amendment, it seeks to extend the package—but not to those who have 35 per cent of their market milk. As part of the amendment, we seek to reduce that to 25 per cent. That, in itself, is quite a commendable path to be going down. This amendment is being undertaken because we believe it is important to see that those who are in the greatest need in the community do get the real benefits of this legislation. I commend the amendment and the bill to the Senate.