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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 817

Mr McCORMACK (RiverinaParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance) (17:49): I rise to speak on this important motion. As I do, I would like to answer some of the claims put forward by the member for Hunter, the shadow agriculture minister, who is a good man; I know he has good intent. When he took over the difficult role of agriculture minister, from Senator Ludwig, he did his best to correspond with me as the member for Riverina. The member for Hunter would know what an important food bowl the Riverina is. In fact it is one of Australia's one of the most important food bowls in Australia—if not the most important food bowl in Australia. I do acknowledge that I am biased in saying that.

I invited the member for Hunter to come to the Riverina. I know in good faith he would have come, but then we went into caretaker mode and we had an election and the government changed, thankfully. I say 'thankfully' because when the manmade drought that the previous government, under Labor, enforced upon Australia—and certainly upon the Riverina irrigators—was put forward, it certainly left my people in a very difficult situation. And it certainly was not any fault of the member for Hunter because he did not have the agriculture portfolio back then.

He talked about droughts. I know that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture made a very important tour of the electorates of Farrer and Parkes in New South Wales, and Maranoa in Queensland, which have been very badly affected by drought going on 18 months now. In fact, in one part of Parkes—the member there, Mark Coulton, told me—the last time it rained, it came down in an absolute deluge overnight, inches upon inches of rain, but they have not seen any since. It is a dust bowl. Or it was, until the Prime Minister arrived. But that is not to say that the drought is over, not by a long stretch. Just because it rains for a day or a week—even if it drizzled on and off for a month—it does not mean the drought is over. These people are hurting, as the member for Hunter quite rightly pointed out. I welcomed the latest farm finance package when it was announced last year, but it did not go far enough and it was very difficult to access for those farmers who were doing it so tough.

The member for Hunter talked about dairy farmers. I would like to quote from a dairy farmer in my electorate. Neil Jolliffe and his wife Simone have a farm at Euberta. It is a generational dairy farm in the Riverina electorate near Wagga Wagga. Back in July 2012, when the price of milk came down to 40c a litre—that is the price that the farmers get at the farm gate—the Jolliffes were very shocked. Simone said:

“A drop doesn’t come as a surprise - we would have been happy with a stable milk price or even a 5 per cent drop—

which she described as:

… more understandable …

She went on:

“Morale is low and from the people who were asking questions and commenting—

at the meeting they attended—

you could hear the emotion in their voices.

“There’s not enough for the older guys to keep going.”

Neil is by no means an older farmer. He is in fact younger than me. But he is a good farmer. He wants to get on with the job, and he wants to get on with the job—not with a handout but with a hand up.

He and so many other farmers in this country, whether they are dairy, wheat, rice or whatever else—and they grow everything in the Riverina, bar, maybe, mangos, pineapples and bananas—need a hand up and good government policy. They are getting it from this side. The new agriculture minister is putting a white paper out and calling for submissions, and I know that there is going to be a forum at Griffith, in the heart of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. I welcome people making submissions to that meeting so that their feelings can be known on this important subject.

Australia has one of the most productive and sustainable dairy industries in the world. The amendments in this bill—that is, the original amendments—are aimed at supporting the industry's ongoing productivity. Dairying is a vital industry to many regional communities and to the nation as a whole. Australia's dairy industry is worth $13 billion a year in production, manufacturing and exports, with a farm gate value of $4 billion annually. We exported $2.27 billion worth of dairy products in 2012-13. Dairy is our third largest agricultural commodity behind beef and wheat. I am proud to say that the Riverina produces all three. Australian dairy exports account for 10 per cent of the world's entire dairy trade. That is a lot—10 per cent.

Mr Hartsuyker: It is a lot.

Mr McCORMACK: The member for Cowper fully understands how important it is. Our 6,700 dairy farmers produce 9½ billion litres of milk every year. The industry employs over 43,000 people directly and a further 100,000 indirectly in associated services. That is from Dairy Australia's website under 'Dairy at a Glance' 2012-13. It is critical that Australia's dairy industry remains at the forefront of technology and innovation through investment in appropriate research and development. R&D is something that our government, this side of the House, really recognises, particularly in the agricultural space. It is something that was certainly ignored by Senator Ludwig and others in the previous government. R&D funding will ensure that our dairy industry remains profitable, competitive and sustainable over the longer term.

We heard the member for Hunter talk about climate change, and he quoted Chris Tyrrell. We appreciate that there are difficulties with unseasonable weather. We also appreciate the fact that Chris Tyrrell, a fifth generation winemaker, would receive so much benefit if Labor just got on board with us and repealed the carbon tax. I am sure that Mr Tyrrell and other winemakers would appreciate the boost.

Mr Hartsuyker: Money in their pocket.

Mr McCORMACK: And the money in their pocket. The boost to what are in many cases electricity driven industries would really help them.

In my own electorate, Riverina Fresh manufactures roughly 22 billion litres worth of fresh and processed dairy products, including milk, yoghurt, cream cheese, thickened cream and other boutique products. We actually had them at a parliamentary secretary's breakfast this morning. My colleagues were very appreciative and commented on the wonderful products out of the Riverina, particularly the milk. The company sources milk from 21 local dairy farmers.

This bill amends the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Act 1999 so that Australia's world-class dairy industry can continue to fulfil its obligations in relation to animal health and welfare through membership of Animal Health Australia as well as via other initiatives. It is important to really stress that they are world-class because I think sometimes we forget. Farmers have been maligned. They were certainly maligned during the six years of Labor. But they are the best people in their industry, in their roles, working the land. I say that as the proud son of generations—I do not know how many generations—of farmers in Australia and elsewhere. Our farmers are the very best in the world.

Levies such as those made possible by these amendments enable industry bodies to pool their resources in a more effective way to provide a range of essential services on behalf of dairy producers, manufacturers and exporters. This amendment increases the maximum rate of the Australian Animal Health Council levy payable by dairy producers from 0.058 to 0.145 of a cent per kilogram of milk fat and from 0.13850 to 0.34625 of a cent per kilogram of protein. Those might not sound like big numbers, but they certainly mean a lot to the industry.

Mr Hartsuyker: It all adds up.

Mr McCORMACK: It all adds up. The Australian Animal Health Council levy is currently set at the maximum rate. The rate cap increase has been requested by Australian Dairy Farmers Ltd as the current maximum rate has been in place for the past 15 years. As outlined by the agriculture minister in his second reading speech, the increase in the cap is significant, but it is important to note that this bill does not increase the actual rates currently paid by industry. The process for determining actual levy rates has not changed. It remains incumbent on the relevant industry body—in this case, Australian Dairy Farmers Ltd—to consult with members and seek their support via ballot before putting the case to government for a rate increase. This process is consistent with our commitment to competent and consultative government—'consultative' being a word we did not hear in the last six years. That word is really important.

Levies raised for the Australian Animal Health Council remain by far the smallest of the four different levies provided for under the act, even after taking into account the proposed increase in the maximum levy rate. The services funded by this levy are recognised as being essential to the very survival of the dairy industry. If we do not have a healthy dairy herd, then we will not have a dairy industry in this country. It is as simple as that, and I know the member for Fraser would agree with me on that point. Australian dairy cows operate in quite different conditions to their American and Canadian sisters, often walking longer distances and experiencing greater variability in weather conditions.

Member levies fund Australian Dairy Farmers Ltd and Animal Health Australia. Through levies and direct government funding, these two bodies promote and support the industry through myriad ways along the entire production value chain, which makes dairy farming and manufacturing in Australia as profitable and sustainable as possible. We have to make sure that it is sustainable. We have to make sure that it is there for the future. A particular focus of their work is on animal health and welfare, on disease monitoring and prevention, and, importantly, on emergency disease management. Some of the work funded by this levy includes: coordination of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, Australian biosecurity planning and implementation, and emergency animal disease preparedness. It is critical that Australia continues to pursue the quality and excellence which our industry is renowned for and which is one of our natural strengths.

Opportunities presented in the recently agreed Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement mean Australian farmers will have improved access to a major foreign market. Under this agreement, tariffs of 36 per cent on cheese and 89 per cent on butter will be eliminated over the next 13 to 20 years. I commend the Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, for his work in this regard. Duty-free quotas on cheese, butter and infant formula will also be expanded, conferring further benefits for our exporters. They are Australian farmers, world's best-practice farmers, being benefited by the good work of Mr Robb. I again commend the trade minister for his hard work and his ongoing diligence in pursuing this historic agreement that will deliver so much for our local industry over the years to come.

Looking beyond Korea, Australia has even more opportunities presented by growing demand from China, India and other growing Asian economies for high-quality dairy products from, I say it again, Australia's world's best-practice farmers. Australia is well positioned to meet this growing demand. I well recall the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard talking about how we needed to feed the burgeoning population in the Asian century, and she was right. I agreed with her on every point. She made that wonderful landmark Melbourne speech where she talked up Australia as a food bowl. Unfortunately, we did not see the policies flowing on from that. Enabling our industry to maintain and protect the health of our herd ensures that Australian dairy farming will continue to be around for a long, long time, which will ultimately deliver benefits for everybody. We need it to continue into the future.

May I also take this opportunity to thank our dairy farmers, not only in my own electorate of Riverina but right across the country. They do a remarkable job producing some of the best, if not the best, dairy in the world, and they do it with little government assistance. Each of them has in their own way contributed to the development of one of the most enviable dairy industries in the world.

I commend the bill to the House. I further add that Australian farmers are not as heavily subsidised as their international competitors. They are at the moment being slugged with a carbon tax, unlike many of their international competitors. The member for Hunter in his speech talked about some of the practices of the coalition being back in the 19th century and called on us to get into the 21st century. I just wish some of the previous Labor government's practices had been in the 19th century when it came to irrigation thinking. I refer to one of the great pioneers of the Riverina—in fact, one of the great pioneers of Australian farming—Sir Samuel McCaughey, of whom there is a wonderful bronze statue now situated in a special park in a town called Yanco in my electorate, which is very much the heartland of the Riverina. It is halfway between Mt Kosciuszko and Hillston, which is about the breadth of my electorate. Sir Samuel pioneered those irrigation channels which gave life to what was described by the early explorers as an arid wasteland. He brought a veritable garden of Eden through his waterways, his channels and his vision for the Riverina. He brought hope, he brought life, he brought economies—

Mr Frydenberg: Hope, reward and opportunity!

Mr McCORMACK: Hope, reward and opportunity—certainly, because it was not there before. It was just an arid wasteland. But you can drive through Griffith, Leeton, Narrandera, Hillston and all those wonderful areas in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area or the Coleambally Irrigation Area and, whilst they were not helped by Labor, they certainly will be helped by us. We have stepped into that space by capping water buyback. The Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, is putting forward a white paper. Whereas under the previous government there was a man-made drought, we are getting on with the job of helping farmers, world's best-practice farmers; we are getting on with the job of helping agriculture; and we are getting on with helping those communities which rely so heavily on the agriculture industry. We all like to eat, and we need to do our very best to help regional Australia in this regard.