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Wednesday, 28 February 2001
Page: 24642

Mr O'CONNOR (2:50 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and goes to his regional development responsibilities. Minister, do you recall the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry telling dairy farmers in a press release on 30 June last year that dairy farmers can expect their first adjustment payments in late October? Are you aware that, according to the Dairy Adjustment Authority, as of yesterday, four months after your own deadline, nearly a quarter of eligible dairy farmers have not been paid their entitlements? Can you confirm that polocrosse players in Beaudesert in Queensland got $220,000 of dairy levy money for a new field back in January, while nearly two months later 23 per cent of eligible dairy farmers have not got a cent from the dairy package? Deputy Prime Minister, when are these dairy farmers going to get their money?

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question and the first thing that I would say is that the issue of dairy deregulation is not one that I or anyone on this side of the House take lightly. There are several points that I will take the opportunity to establish. The first is that this is not a result per se of competition policy or of some ideological pursuit of a position by the government. It is very important that that be established. The second point that I would want to make is that the reality is that, ever since the so-called `Kerin plan' days, it has been known that sooner or later Victorians in particular—

Mr SPEAKER —The member for McMillan is warned!

Mr ANDERSON —would want to exercise their right under the Constitution to trade freely in other parts of the country. Indeed, the first milk out of Victoria—three tanker loads of it—reached the Sydney market in the mid-1980s. In those circumstances, it was evident that a very real challenge was going to confront the dairy industry—one that was not taken up and addressed by the ALP, even though, towards the end of their time in government, it was very obvious that planning would have to be done. Shortly after the change of government, dairy industry leadership in this country came to me and indicated that there were some big challenges coming up and that they wanted to work with the government to help them through those challenges. We set out to do just that. We put in place a $1.8 billion package to help the industry through what we knew would be, and what is proving in some parts of the country to be, a very difficult exercise—not one that we make light of at all.

There is another point I would like to make on this, though. People seem to want to decry what the Commonwealth has done, and your question, by its very nature, implies that somehow we have not been sympathetic to the industry or tried to help. The fact is that we have put in place the biggest structural adjustment package—

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The question specifically related to the quarter of dairy farmers who have not received their recompense whilst at the same time others are getting substantial sums of money in the regional adjustment package.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition has made his point of order and will resume his seat. As the Leader of the Opposition is aware, it is my practice to note questions. The question included quite a lengthy preamble about the dairy farmers' adjustment payments and about where the money had been spent. The Deputy Prime Minister's answer is entirely relevant and I recognise him.

Mr ANDERSON —I want to come to a very important point here, because it is so typical of the rhetoric we hear from those opposite when they cry their crocodile tears over what is happening in rural and regional Australia. What have ALP governments across this country done for the dairy industry?

Government members—Nothing!

Mr ANDERSON —Nothing! There was just one state government that did anything whatsoever to help the dairy industry, and it was the Western Australian coalition. The Labor government in Victoria—nothing! The Labor Party in New South Wales—nothing! The Labor Party in Queensland—nothing! When the Leader of the Opposition in this House—

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Chifley!

Mr ANDERSON —this new-found champion of rural and regional Australia—went out there in the boondoggle bus—

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for Chifley!

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Chifley will excuse himself from the House under the provisions of 304A. He had been warned and chose then to defy the chair.

The member for Chifley then left the chamber.

Mr ANDERSON —out there on the boondoggle bus on roads that we built, that they did not want built—he did not leave the Pacific Highway; he did not go and have a look at the local roads—was asked about dairy deregulation, what did he do? He made a lot of nice comforting noises which amounted to nothing more than waffle. Just talk! If you want them to believe out there that you actually have some sort of way forward, you will have to do a lot more than just talk.

The issue raised about the timeliness has been of concern. I know that the minister is seeking to do all that he can to facilitate the implementation of the only assistance package in town, put together in full consultation with the industry—not matched by any Labor administration in the country—

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Corio is warned!

Mr ANDERSON —You do not have a leg to stand on on this. Your words are absolutely hollow. They are trite and they are hollow. We are working with the industry. I am talking to Warren Truss, to the leadership of the industry and to the Prime Minister about how we take forward their concerns. Again I note, though, there has not been one whit of cooperation or hint of help or even of understanding from a single Labor government in this country.