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Friday, 22 May 1970

Mr SPEAKER - There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr DALY - As a result of general dissatisfaction in the community over a rise in the price of milk coupled with widespread unrest in the vending sector of the industry the Minister for the Interior (Mr Nixon) referred this matter to the Committee in July last year. The Committee looked at the economics of the industry as a whole and focussed its attention on the elements of cost in the supply and distribution of milk and on their effect on its price to the householder. In doing this, it also examined the profitability of the industry in the Australian Capital Territory with a view to determining whether the profit was being distributed equitably among the various sectors. As honourable members will see from the report, the Committee found that there were a number of aspects of the industry adversely affecting the community. Many of these had long been known to my predecessor on the Committee, the late Mr J. R. Fraser, former member for the Australian Capital Territory. Over the years he had listened to the complaints of householders and milk vendors in the absence of any independent arbitrator within the industry. Until his death in April Mr Fraser took an active part in this inquiry. His searching questions based on his wide knowledge and interest in the community's problems and attitudes quickly elicited a wealth of information and enabled the Committee to reach decisions which we consider will benefit the people of the Australian Capital Territory for whom he gave so much.

This has been a most thorough inquiry. Despite the heavy parliamentary programme and the interruption caused by the election, the Committee met regularly to examine witnesses and to consider evidence. Some honourable members may be aware that during the course of the inquiry the New South Wales Government brought down legislation to regularise the milk industry in that State. As most of Canberra's milk comes from New South Wales the Committee was anxious to see the effects of this legislation. The community may rest assured that the Committee is confident that the cordial co-operation which has existed will continue and that this legislation will benefit the Australian Capital Territory.

Turning to the Committee's findings, let me say at the outset that the evidence overwhelmingly supports the need at this stage in Canberra's growth for an independent body to regulate the industry. Whether this should be a tribunal consisting of a number of people representing interested parties or 1 person, perhaps to be designated Milk Commissioner, it should have the power to arbitrate in the disputes which have become all too common and hence cannot be considered in any sense to be of a passing nature.

Areas which require its urgent attention are: Firstly, an examination of the economics of the competitive elements in the industry, which are unique and costly to the Australian Capital Territory; secondly, the supervision of the vending sector to enable it to re-organise uneconomic milk runs, allocate runs in the new suburbs, mediate between the vendors and the milk supply companies, and deal with the complaints of householders against individual vendors; thirdly, the establishment of machinery for close liaison with the New South Wales Government and all other bodies which have influence over supplies of milk entering the Australian Capital Territory; fourthly, the rationalisation of the distribution sector through the introduction of one brand zoning, because, bearing in mind the excellent quality of milk supplied at present to Canberra households, the community simply cannot afford the cost of the type of competition which in some instances involves 2 vendors following each other along a street; fifthly, the introduction of a system of tokens for payments by householders, which would virtually eliminate thefts common to the industry throughout Australia and with them the costly accounting systems used by vendors and would also benefit the community through facilitating alterations in price of less than lc a pint. Tokens have been readily accepted and have operated efficiently in many areas of New Zealand.

It was also clear that the price of milk in Canberra is too high and that consideration should be given to reducing it by at least lc a pint. The Committee emphasises that the milk companies could purchase more milk from areas which experience less marked fluctuations in output due to seasonal conditions; for example, north eastern Victoria and the southern Riverina district. At present too much milk comes from high cost producing areas and there is no need for this. The Committee also recommends that the Department of Health regulations be amended to allow milk processed outside the Australian Capital Territory to be brought in in cartons. This is not possible at present. This change would introduce an element of competition which is lacking at present and would discourage further price increases by the 2 companies supplying Canberra now.

The inquiry covered all sections of the industry including the producer, the consumer and the distributor. To reduce the price, or even hold it at the present level, in an inflationary period is a difficult problem. However the Committee believes that if the report is implemented all sections of the industry wm benefit and milk will be provided to consumers at a reasonable price.

Ordered that the report be printed.

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