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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 844

Mr GRAY (Brand) (19:51): I rise to speak in favour of both the amendment and the bill, the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment (Dairy Produce) Bill 2014. I also rise to say thank you to the dairy farmers of Western Australia, the farmers in Hervey, the Margaret River, Denmark and Northcliffe through the south-west of Western Australia—farmers who work hard in difficult circumstances both on the land and in the marketplace. In many cases, these are families who for generations have worked for a living in a tough and difficult environment.

The dairy farming industry in Western Australia is relatively small. We produce less than four per cent of the national dairy product of our country—less than 340 million litres per year. We are a small producer and a relatively small market. According to Dairy Australia, Western Australia, with its nearly 340 million litres of milk in 2012-13, is not simply the smallest state producer but also a state where production has been declining over the last decade—from around 400 million litres a decade ago to nearly 340 million litres in the last financial year.

Western Australia has no real infrastructure for the large-scale export of powders to Asia and its primary product is drinking milk for our domestic market. About 20 per cent of Western Australia's milk is exported. We have a number of large producers within our small dairy economy. Harvey Fresh is the biggest dairy exporter in Western Australia, with about 20 to 30 per cent of its 120 million litres shipped to Asia via the port of Fremantle. A large proportion of Harvey's milk supplies under its private label contract gets sold through Coles and then again through Woolworths.

We are a small dairy producer. But, having said that, the dairy industry is an important part of the agricultural sector in Western Australia. That is why this bill is important. The Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment (Dairy Produce) Bill 2014 will amend the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Act 1999 to enable the dairy industry to continue to meet its obligations in relation to animal health and welfare and its membership of Animal Health Australia. The amendments increase the maximum rates—that is, the caps—of the Australian Animal Health Council levies on dairy products from 0.058 to 0.145 of a cent per kilogram of milk fat and from 0.1385 to 0.34625 of a cent per kilogram of protein. The current operative levies are equivalent to the current cap rates.

The bill will not increase the operative rate paid by industry members—and this is important. It does not impose a financial burden on dairy farmers—and that is important. Any increase to the operative rate requires a case to be put forward by industry, demonstrating widespread industry consultation and strong industry support. The bill will allow Australian Dairy Farmers Limited to meet its requirements as a signatory to the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement and meet any obligations in the event of an emergency response, including any costs that it may incur.

The farming sector of Western Australia is an important part of our economy. The past year has been a good year in general for broadacre cropping in Western Australia. We see a crop this year that will top 14 million tonnes—close to a record—and we will see, once again, the wheat bins of Western Australia producing the bulk of our export wheat crop. That is what we do in Western Australia: we export. We help drive the wealth of our nation through exports, not just of minerals—which everyone hears about—but, importantly, also through exports of our primary products.

I would like to note the visit to Western Australia just two weeks ago by shadow minister Joel Fitzgibbon. The shadow minister met with farming industry representatives and sought to inform himself, as the shadow minister, of the shape that our industry is in. When he had finished that visit he concluded that, in general, our broadacre cropping sets, as we know, some of the world's highest standards for dry country farming. The visit also allowed the shadow minister to see the terrific work done by CBH and our export oriented farming infrastructure and families.

It allowed him to reaffirm Labor's commitment to Western Australia farmers and allowed him to reaffirm Labor's commitment to farming activities. This is important for my electorate. Although my electorate does not produce any dairying herds or any milk, we do a lot of live animal exports. We do a lot of cattle exports but, in particular, out of my electorate, we do a lot of live sheep exports. That is important for the rural economy of Western Australia and important for jobs in my electorate. I hope that in coming months we will see a further live animal export market open—hopefully, in Iran. I know a lot of work has been done by the Western Australia Farmers Federation.

A government member: Hear, hear!

Mr GRAY: I hear the member opposite cheering in favour of the proposition of opening that market in Iran. It is important. It is one that successive governments have worked hard to achieve. It is one that is good for best practices in live animal exports and, importantly, it is a market that will add even more vigour to the Western Australian farming sector and animal production in Western Australia.

The history of grain growing in Western Australia is quite extraordinary. In many ways, the settlement pattern of Western Australia followed the attempts to open Western Australia up to farming. From the days in the 1840s of farmers literally dying in famine through to a state that now hosts Australia's export grain crop has been a tough journey. It is a journey that has been led by science and innovation. It is a journey that defines the very settlement pattern and the nature of Western Australia. Let me explain the science. Western Australian soils are ancient and dry and, as a consequence, they are also weak soils. So it really was not until science identified the lack of trace elements, and then discovered that could be rectified by a relatively simple application of trace elements, that we were able, in the early part of the last century, to begin opening the grain belt of Western Australia.

My family on my wife's side settled at Doodlakine in the 1930s and opened a small farm, which still operates. And, as my father-in-law, former senator Peter Walsh, is fond of saying, the grain belt in Western Australia is so reliable that only in one year since 1934 have they not covered the costs of their crop. That is not to say the work is easy; it is not; it is tough. But the application of the internal combustion engine, which grew at almost the same time as the growth in the Western Australian grain belt, allowed heavy mechanisation, heavy capital application to a science based agricultural initiative that produced great wealth from the broadacre cropping in Western Australia.

Following those initiatives, we had a terrific piece of innovative work done by an academic from the University of Western Australia, the member for Perth's father-in-law, Henry Schapper. The work that Henry did on farm management, the work that Mr Schapper did in driving good business practices on farms, allowed the development of a farming culture in Western Australia which became, and still is, in many ways the envy of our nation.

At the same time that it grew terrific wheat crops, our wheat belt also made a fantastic contribution to the politics of our nation, not only producing the outstanding work of John Hyde—one of the more remarkable free market economists to enter this parliament—but also Peter Walsh and, in later years, Brendan Grylls, whose association with the farming industries out of Merredin. Also, I should say, that the current Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, also hails from the great and productive Western Australian wheat belt—or rather his wife does.

Dairy farmers, wheat farmers, pig farmers—farmers of Western Australia—work hard to produce a livelihood for themselves and to produce a bounty from the land which sees us develop sustainable industries that nurture one of our great natural strengths.

We know in this place that Australia's farmers follow world's best practice. We know that in some areas where dairy is much stronger than in Western Australia—in Tasmania for instance—not only does dairy itself drive its own businesses but the ancillary businesses, through other food production, are big employers and substantial wealth generators.

The dairy industry will be greatly pleased with the passage of this bill. The dairy industry will be greatly pleased with the attention they have received from this parliament. And the dairy industry around our nation will be made better for the thoughtful contribution that our parliament has made by supporting this bill.

I began by saying that I thank the dairy farmers of Western Australia for the work that they do. In fact, I thank all farmers. The life of a farmer is not an easy one. Every single one of my family members are farmers, principally broadacre croppers in the wheat belt of Western Australia. It is a life that they enjoy and it is a life that has provided their families with a great sense of purpose. It provides my family with a great sense of being Western Australian and a great sense of connection to the soil, to the dirt and to the great agricultural provinces of Western Australia.

It was with great enjoyment on the weekend just passed that my wife and I spent both Saturday and Sunday in the grape growing districts in the southern part of Western Australia near Northcliffe and Pemberton, where my son, in pursuit of his next scouting badge, had to complete an agricultural task. He did that by measuring the sugar levels in the current wine crop of my sister and brother-in-law. He proudly pronounced that the sugar levels in this year's crop were exactly what is required. So the harvest of that grape crop will occur on Tuesday night.

The farming sector of Western Australia has so many skills, so much to give and so much that it does give, to our nation and to our state. To simply say 'thank you' seems wholly inadequate. We are indebted to it for the life, the definition; and the great wealth it brings to our state is simply an understatement.

As I close I say again to every single farmer in Western Australia: thank you for what you do. Thank you for doing it every hour of every day of every week of the year. I wish all the farmers of Western Australia all the best for the coming season.