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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 834

Mr WHITELEY (Braddon) (19:08): I am so pleased to rise this evening to speak on the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment (Dairy Produce) Bill 2014. It will amend the primary industries levies act to increase the maximum rates of the Australian animal health council levies on dairy produce. It will amend the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Act 1999 to enable the dairy industry to continue to meet its obligations in relation to its Animal Health Australia annual membership and other animal health and welfare initiatives. The levies are payable by the producer of the relevant dairy produce and are collected by the Commonwealth for disbursement to Animal Health Australia. Australian Dairy Farmers Ltd, as the national representative body for the dairy industry, has requested the amendments. Australian Dairy Farmers Ltd is also party to the emergency animal disease response agreement, so this bill will allow the dairy industry to meet requirements of being a signatory to that agreement, including the ability to meet its obligations in the event of an emergency response and where a nationally costed share response has been agreed.

This bill gives me the opportunity to highlight the importance of the dairy industry in Tasmania, and more particularly Braddon. I enjoyed the contributions of both the member for Hume and the member for Calare, and I look forward to the contribution shortly of my colleague from Lyons, whose also shares a passion for the dairy industry in Tasmania. It not only gives me the opportunity to get excited about future prospects for the industry, but to also warn of the challenges that are being faced. The dairy industry is the largest agricultural sector in Tasmania: 1,500 people are employed on farms and over 3,000 are employed in the industry; 160,385 cows—I am not sure when that count took place, but maybe this afternoon—on 437 farms produce around 770 million litres of milk. Dairying accounts for about 38 per cent of all agricultural gross products, second only to the salmon sector. But when downstream products including confectionery are included, the dairy industry is in fact the largest agriculture sector—valued at more than $1 billion. My electorate in north-west Tasmania and King Island is the largest dairying region in Tasmania, with more than 54 per cent of the total number of farms and about 58 per cent of the cows. My region employs about 800 people in the industry; 145 farms and 67,523 cows are to be found in one particular region—that is, the Circular Head region. As we say in my electorate, it is the land of milk and honey.

It is an honour to be able to stand here today and declare to all members present, and to those hopefully listening, that your electorates, wherever they are across this great nation, do not do cheese or butter as well as my electorate in Braddon.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER interjecting

Mr WHITELEY: You may cough as you wish, Mr Deputy Speaker Broadbent, but the proof is in the pudding—or should I say that in this case the proof is in the multiple gold and silver medals awarded to north-west Tasmanian producers at the most recent Royal Sydney Cheese and Dairy Produce Show. So I am not making this up!

Honourable members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I would remind honourable members that the member for Braddon does not need encouragement.

Mr WHITELEY: That is true! Over 800 cheeses and butters were submitted for judging recently, but only a few were worthy of being named winners or awarded gold and silver medals. There just is not enough time to list all the winners here, but special mention must go to Fonterra, and to Lion-owned King Island Dairy and Heidi Farm—both their cheese makers won cheese categories and managed to take home more than a dozen gold and silver medals.

For the benefit of members, and particularly you, Mr Deputy Speaker, it was never a fair contest. I mean how could the mainland ever compete with the cleanest air in the world, the healthiest and happiest dairy cows in the country, the greenest and most nutritious grass, and some of the most skilful cheese makers in the world? In the case of King Island Dairy, farm manager Mr Scott Clark—a good friend of mine, in fact—takes great pride in his work. He manages to get the highest quality milk from his cows, which is then handed over to master cheese maker Ueli Berger. Mr Berger is one of Australia's leading cheese makers, with awards from a host of international and local shows, including the New York Fancy Food Show and the World Championship Cheese Contest in Wisconsin. Congratulations to Ueli; he has done it yet again.

If there are members of parliament yet to taste the world's best cheeses from the electorate of Braddon, I suggest you get down to your local supermarket and pick up one of the many Tasmanian cheeses there. Or, even better, book yourself a ticket to the north-west coast and King Island! I will be happy to take anyone from either side of the House on a tour—except for the minister at the table, the member for Paterson. Mr Baldwin has been before, and I cannot keep the food up to him. Maybe I could put on a few platters one evening and invite you all to my parliamentary office—or maybe not!

As I said in my first speech, I have a vision for a better Braddon that can build on its Tasmanian brand by increasing dairy production by the targeted 40 per cent over the next five years. Reaching this target will require tens of thousands more cows, more sustainable farms and new farms. Most importantly—particularly given the results of the Brotherhood of St Lawrence research results yesterday showing my electorate, unfortunately, disappointingly, sadly, at the top of the pile when it comes to youth unemployment—this target, if it is to be reached, will provide hundreds and hundreds of new jobs in the industry.

To reach this target we need innovative dairy farmers, and my electorate, Mr Deputy Speaker Broadbent, you will not be surprised to learn, has many. Fifth and sixth generation farmers Norm, Lesley and Rob Frampton were named the 2013 Australian Dairy Farmers of the Year. In the Tasmanian Dairy Business of the Year Award in March 2013, the Framptons achieved a return on investment of 12.9 per cent through a focus on low-cost productivity, including labour, fertiliser and weed control, and through attention, importantly, to animal health. So not only do we produce the best cheese and butter and win those awards at the royal show, we also knock over the best in the country when it comes to the dairy farmer of the year awards.

There are exciting opportunities for us in dairy farming, not only in Tasmania but certainly in my electorate. The $66 million upgrade to the Cadbury factory in Hobart, to which the government contributed $16 million to reopen the world-famous Cadbury chocolate tours, will create the biggest difficulty facing the industry, believe it or not. The dairy industry will need, on this initiative alone, to increase its herd by 6,000 cows and produce an additional 80 million litres of fresh milk in order to accommodate the Cadbury upgrade alone. No wonder this is such an important investment, and most of this increase will need to come from my electorate in north-west Tasmania.

In addition to Cadbury, Lion Dairy and Drinks has just completed a $140 million upgrade to its Burnie facility, which will lift cheese production of 11,000 tonnes to 18,000 tonnes by 2016. Tasmanian Dairy Products invested $80 million in a processing plant in Smithton, which opened in March 2013. It processes raw milk from Tasmanian farmers into a range of dried dairy products for export to overseas markets. The Van Diemen's Land or VDL Company proposes to develop 11 new dairy farms on its Woolnorth property in Circular Head, which will create 58 immediate, direct, ongoing roles, and add 14,000 milking cows to its herd and an additional $100 million to the local economy in north-west Tasmania. In September last year, Tasmanian Dairy Products started operation of a powdered-milk processing facility at Smithton. The project will employ another 50 people and process up to 480,000 litres of milk each day.

The export opportunities for dairy related products are opening up before our very eyes. The Asian market in particular, as alluded to by the member for Hume, wants our stuff. I cannot put it any more bluntly than that: they want our stuff. Those in the growing middle class of Asia are seeking quality products, especially for their children. They want the best for their children.

Markets will continue to open up as a result of the very good work being done by Minister Andrew Robb in the area of trade, with exciting developments on free trade agreements with Korea and the work being done with Japan. Those two markets alone will open up many opportunities for us.

As I try to wrap up in time, I will say that there are some challenges facing the dairy industry. Like every farming region, Tasmanian dairy farmers face a host of difficulties: red tape, regulation, the questionable market practices of large supermarkets, fluctuating milk prices and poor weather. But perhaps the biggest issue facing dairy farmers in Tasmania is demand—meeting the demand, not the lack of it.

Let us talk about the carbon tax. Analysis undertaken—and I will not take exception to the member for Calare, but I am not sure that he had the most recent data as he alluded to this topic—would indicate to me that the impact of the carbon tax on the average dairy farm is approaching approximately $20,000 per average farm. That is right: $20,000.

The carbon tax leaves its toxic footprint everywhere. It finds its way into the cost of transport and the cost of energy and water. It finds its way into the cost of machinery and asset repairs, and even finds its way into the cost of fertiliser. A 2011 ABARES report of research into the impact of the carbon tax on agriculture highlights that:

… dairy farms are expected to be more affected by the carbon price than any other sector considered.

Unlike most businesses, dairy farmers cannot simply pass on the carbon tax impost. As you would all be aware, they are price takers and are mostly at the mercy of multinationals. Farmers generally work their butts off. They toil in inclement weather, they wake every morning to uncertain economic factors and the price of the dollar, and they risk much year on year.

As this industry grows, there is a need for more flexible working arrangements on dairy farms, and in agriculture in general, given the vagaries of the agriculture sector. It is imperative that we all understand the cost implications of labour. Workforce shortages are very much real, and—unbelievably, given the data released yesterday, as I said, about youth unemployment—dairy farms are still struggling to attract and keep workers. Unbelievable!

At this point I need to put paid to the idea that the basic skills of literacy and numeracy do not matter in a job on a dairy farm, because they do matter. We have a great deal of work still to do on this front—making sure that our young people in particular are job ready. So it was pleasing to have the Assistant Minister for Education, Sussan Ley, with me in my electorate last Friday discussing this very challenge.

There are good jobs to be had and working on a dairy farm is more than placing cups on cows and sloshing around, dare I say it, in cow shit. It is also about animal husbandry and developing a business. Farming is not just farming—it is in most cases a small business and far too often this fact is forgotten by too many. In Braddon most dairy farms are multimillion-dollar revenue businesses.

I do not want to give the impression that increased dairy production is the economic panacea for the electorate of Braddon—it is not. But it does represent one significant piece of the 'repair jigsaw' and the benefits to jobs, growth, farm sustainability and profitability, state GDP and flow-on dollars to small businesses in my regional communities who desperately need it should not for one minute be underestimated. I thank the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): Member for Braddon, just for clarification, did I hear you say cow manure before?

Mr Whiteley: I think that is correct.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank the member for Braddon for his erudite explanation. I call the honourable member for Blair.