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Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Page: 7678

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (21:30): I would like to table a petition which has been found to be in order by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Petitions. This petition relates to the potential for negative impacts on the dairy industry, as a direct result of the decision by both Coles and Woolworths to push down the price of milk to unsustainably low levels. In addition to receiving the petition, which has more than 600 signatures, I had the opportunity to meet with concerned residents in Gippsland, representing Gippsland churches, who supported this call for a 'fair go' for local dairy farmers. This is, I acknowledge, primarily an economic and industrial issue—and some may argue it is a bit unusual for the churches to be directly intervening—but I believe it is also a classic case of a social justice issue and fighting for a fair deal for smaller players in the marketplace. I can understand why the local churches were so keen to be involved, with their parishioners, who understand the impact that this type of a decision can have on the dairy farmers in my community. My constituents can see through the marketing spin put forward by the supermarket giants that this is about the cost of living and giving a better deal for customers. It is all about market share and I believe the decision to sell home brand milk at $1 per litre has the potential to harm farming families and branded milk producers in the future.

Mr Bruce Scott: It is outrageous.

Mr CHESTER: I take up the comment by the member for Maranoa, who said that it is outrageous. It is outrageous and I think the regional families recognise that and see through this marketing gimmick. In that same vein, I would like to congratulate the operator of a locally owned supermarket, Mr Jim Feltis from Foodworks in Sale, who has countered the corporate giants by putting forward his own position through his small supermarket of $2.50 for two litres of milk and donating 50c from the sale of each product to Australian Dairy Farmers Ltd. I think that is a good way to respond to that particular challenge. So I congratulate Jim for the work that he does in our community as a supporter of so many different community organisations and sporting groups and for working in the community's interest, which I fear the major supermarket giants are not doing.

The petition read as follows—

To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives

The petition of certain citizens of Australia draws to the attention of the House:

In May 2010 the Senate Economics References Committee released the report from their inquiry into milk pricing entitled Milking it for all it's worth — competition and pricing in the Australian dairy industry.

The Senate Committee formed the view that the retail and processor levels are now dominated by two supermarket chains, Coles, and Woolworths, and a handful of (now mostly foreign owned) processors, placing the farmers at a competitive disadvantage. It took the view that the major supermarkets appear to be using their dominant market positions (having captured 80% of the grocery market) to drive down the farmgate price through the sale of generic products that puts pressure on processors who are forced to compete with their own products.

We note that at times this is leading to severe hardship amongst dairy farmers, accelerating the process of forcing some to have to leave their farms.

Your petitioners therefore ask the House to:

Act on the recommendations of the Senate Economics References Committee report Milking it for all it's worth — competition and pricing in the Australian dairy industry.

from 615 citizens

Petition received.

Mr CHESTER: I would also like to speak on a separate issue in support of efforts to have the Swing Bridge, near Sale, included on the National Heritage list. Peter Synan is a former history teacher of mine, at Sale High School, a local author, a former Mayor of the City of Sale and a person who is heavily involved in environmental campaigns to protect and enhance the environment of the Gippsland Lakes. In short, Peter has been a terrific member of the Sale and district community over many years and is one of nature's true gentlemen. As an historian, Peter has researched the Swing Bridge and made a submission to the Department of Environment and Resources, which I would like to refer to, in relation to National Heritage listing. He points out that the Swing Bridge, which is located between Sale and Longford, is the oldest operational bridge of its kind in Australia and it has been likened to a giant Meccano set. He says it is the best Australian example of a rare and vanishing engineering structure which was pivotal to early transport and settlement in riverine Australia.

Heritage listing would add to the prestige of the bridge and would no doubt also benefit the local tourism industry. The Sale and district community is making great efforts to improve the Latrobe River enviĀ­rons and the canal which links the Latrobe River to the port of Sale. I think it is worth mentioning, in the context of my comments here tonight, a little bit about the designer of this bridge. The bridge is arguably the greatest engineering work of the renowned Australian architect and civil engineer, John Grainger. Grainger has probably not received what we would regard as proper recognition for his contributions to the Australian built environment. Recognition of the Sale Swing Bridge would go some way to redress that fact.

The bridge itself was built between 1880 and 1883 under Grainger's supervision. There were some considerable difficulties in that era in terms of managing the foundations of the actual structure and the original design had to be modified during construction. I think the fact that it has lasted so long and is still operational today is a credit to the original design and to the builder, Mr Peter Platt.

The bridge is no doubt a link to our more recent history in Gippsland when Sale was actually an inland port and the rivers were the highways, linking Sale to the sea via the Gippsland Lakes. The 61-metre-long bridge that I am referring to was opened several times a day when the river trade was at its peak and it is now opened, on a less frequent basis, to allow larger recreational vessels to access the port of Sale when travelling through the Gippsland Lakes. I certainly support Peter Synan in his efforts to have the Swing Bridge included on the National Heritage list. I believe it fulfils the criterion as being of outstanding heritage significance to Australia. I think it is deserving of the status that such a listing would bring in recognition of the engineer and also in recognition of an important stage in the settlement of one of the most productive regions in the nation. (Time expired)