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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9553

Mr ZAPPIA (7:51 PM) —Let me say from the outset that it is my view that the dairy industry it is extremely important to our nation and to the future of our nation. It is important that we have a viable dairy industry well into the future. Just before I get to the question of the dairy industry specifically, I note that the motion that is before the House talks about doing something equivalent to the support the Rudd government provided to the automotive industry in Australia. I make this point: in respect to the automotive industry in Australia, the support provided by the government was more than simply about providing support to one particular sector. It was about supporting the sector that underpins the manufacturing base right throughout this country. It was broad support to the manufacturing industry which began with the automotive sector. Secondly, it was about providing an investment in reducing carbon emissions into the future; again, one of the most critical challenges we face not only in Australia but right across the globe. Thirdly, it was about investing in more fuel-efficient motor vehicles, because, in the future when petrol prices are likely to escalate as a result of the world oil shortage, it is important that we bring back value for money for the motorists. So it was more than simply about underpinning a particular industry.

Having said that, I do value the dairy industry in this country. It is my view, that, next to water, milk is probably the most critical liquid we have on earth. It sustains life right across the earth. The dairy industry in this country has been in decline for several decades. In about 1980 we had something like 20,000 dairy farmers across Australia, that figure is now down to about 8,000. In my own state of South Australia, in 1980 we had just under 2,000 dairy farmers, today it is around 300 or so. I have seen the decline. Like so many other agricultural and horticultural sectors in this country the decline has been there for a range of reasons. It is not something that I would like to see continued; I make that absolutely clear.

Nevertheless, the dairy industry would not be unique in the agricultural sector in the difficulties it is facing. These difficulties were acknowledge by the previous government when they introduced the 11c per litre levy on milk in order to try to provide some income back to the farmers, but, in reality, led to a rationalisation of the industry but seems to have done very little else in sustaining the industry well into the future. It is an industry which got the benefit of the $1.9 billion from the 11c levy that was raised, but, nevertheless, is still facing very real hardships today which I very well acknowledge. These are hardships that, I believe, arise from two areas. One is because of the water shortages that members opposite have spoken about—and which I acknowledge. As a result of those water shortages, the ability to irrigate the pastures required to sustain their herds has become much more expensive.

Water shortages are a critical issue being faced by orange growers, vignerons and people across the agricultural sectors. They are facing the same cost pressures on their ability to remain viable. Nevertheless, this issue is very real and we need to do what we can to improve water availability for our agricultural and horticultural producers right across this country. I will not labour the point, but the $13 billion that the Rudd government has invested in securing our water supplies for the future will go a long way to doing that. Ultimately, more may need to be done.

The critical issues, however, are the multinational takeover of the milk industries in this country and the subsidies provided to overseas dairy producers by their governments, which we are regrettably unable to match at the moment. The Minister for Trade, Simon Crean, is working through the Doha Round to create a much more level playing field for our dairy farmers. If that can be achieved it will hopefully go a long way to giving them some additional support. No-one would deny we are going through the worst global recession since the Great Depression. That too has contributed to the downward trend in milk prices. What can be done is being done by the government, and I support the measures that are already in place.