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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12223

Mr CHEESEMAN (Corangamite) (19:11): Today I rise to speak about the very important contribution that the dairy industry makes to the Victorian economy, and particularly about the contribution out of south-west Victoria. Whilst we have a number of friends in the gallery I will acknowledge the fantastic work that the firefighters union has done in representing the interests of many people in my electorate—the paid firefighters—particularly in terms of the exposure they receive through their duties as firefighters. As someone who has worked very closely with a number of Victorian fire agencies, particularly DSE and Parks Victoria, I know the fantastic contribution that the unions in that sector make. I would like to acknowledge Peter Marshall for his presence today and for the hard work he has put in around the halls of power in making sure that firefighters are looked after. Regarding the chemicals they are exposed to in the course of their duties, hopefully the amendments and the legislation we have been debating will be passed on Thursday, to provide them justice.

Today I take the opportunity to acknowledge the fantastic work of the dairy industry within south-west Victoria, which very substantially provides to the Australian dairy industry. We have somewhere in the vicinity of 22 per cent of the industry nationally in south-west Victoria. It equates to about 38 per cent of the Victorian dairy sector. I share the views that presented by the member for McMillan on the absolutely fantastic contribution that the dairy sector makes. Indeed, I would hazard a guess that, in the federal seat of Corangamite, the dairy industry would be the largest exporter. We have a number of very large exporters in the broader region, and dairy would certainly be right up there. Raw milk production within our part of the world is valued at about $2.4 billion according to the 2008-09 figures. Victoria produces about six billion litres of raw milk. Overall Victoria produces about 85 per cent of Australia's dairy products, largely between the three dairy districts of south-west Victoria, the Murray district and the Gippsland district. This equates to about $1.76 billion worth of exports to the Australian economy. Indeed, the largest single value commodity that is exported from the Port of Melbourne is dairy related. In 2006 there were some 13,232 people employed in the dairy sector and around 8,000 of those were employed in the dairy production sector, which is the manufacturing and value-add component within that.

Australia is a very substantial player in the world market. We equate to about 10 per cent of the international export market, with New Zealand, the European Union and the United States making up the balance of the large export markets. Australian farmers are probably the most innovative dairy farmers anywhere in the world. Australia was one of the very early movers in putting in place arrangements, particularly through the eighties and nineties, to ensure that deregulation took place, which has led to some substantial innovation taking place. But that is not to say that there are not very substantial challenges. Those challenges come from a world where there is not a level playing field. Australia has removed most of its barriers to trade, but many other countries—particularly the European Union and the United States—have put in place trade barriers, which of course disadvantages Australian dairy farmers in the production and selling of milk on the international market.

Dairy farmers in Australia, particularly in my part of Victoria, have been extremely innovative and have looked at the way in which they undertake their business and have put in place a raft of world-leading practices to ensure that they can compete against what is often a very unfair international marketplace, particularly in terms of world's best practice in dealing with things such as feed management, animal management and the use of water. The member for McMillan spoke about the consequences of drought and the difficulties that many dairy farmers have experienced over the last few years with drought. One can only imagine what will take place in the years and decades to come as a consequence of climate change leading to a drying eastern seaboard.

The member for McMillan very eloquently spoke about the type of work and the way work is organised within the dairy sector. It is true that the hours that they have to work are very unsociable, with very, very early mornings and, if they are milking a couple of times a day, late afternoons as well. Dairy farms have changed dramatically in the last 30 to 40 years. In many parts of Victoria where there have historically been dairy farms the farms are much bigger today than they were in the years and decades previously. Indeed, in south-west Victoria we are seeing a lot more neighbours buying out neighbours to ensure that their farms are economic in terms of scale, and I think we will continue to see a lot more of that in the years to come. As I said earlier, the Victorian dairy sector has contributed enormously to the wealth of this nation. Dairy farmers continue to strive to find best practice in the way they undertake their work. I have many thousands of dairy farmers in my part of the world and many thousands of workers that work in the process chain as well. Certainly, I recognise the very substantial contribution the dairy sector makes to south-west Victoria and more broadly to the Australian economy. Indeed, south-west Victorian dairy farms produce goods that are valued in excess of $2 billion. As you can see, it is a very substantial part of the local economy. I acknowledge the difficult times that dairy farmers have been through, particularly through the drought over the last few years, and look forward to working closely with them to ensure they remain competitive on the world stage. The Commonwealth government looks forward to doing everything it can to ensure that their businesses remain competitive.