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Wednesday, 13 November 1985
Page: 2067

Senator BLACK —Has the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry seen reports in the Brisbane newspapers yesterday of a 4c a litre rise in the price of milk in south-east Queensland? Is the Minister aware that the Queensland Consumer Association has blamed the price rise on the inefficiency of the Queensland Milk Board and has called for an inquiry into Queensland's industries' price fixing structure? Could these price increases have been avoided and the Consumer Association's concerns allayed if the Federal Government's dairy industry reform package had not been rejected by the Senate?

Senator WALSH —Yes, I have seen reports about the very large increases in milk prices in Queensland-indeed, an increase of 5c a litre for a 600 millilitre bottle. Even measured against the very high general level of prices in Queensland, I think that is an increase of something like 7 per cent in one hit. Price rises of a slightly lower percentage have been applied for milk in other containers. I am also aware that the Queensland Consumers Association has blamed the inefficiency of the Milk Board for those rises. Prices for fresh milk are under the control of State governments and in Queensland the Minister for Primary Industries sets prices on the advice of the Queensland Milk Board. The Federal Government's proposed dairy marketing arrangements, which were torpedoed in the Senate, were directed at encouraging the sourcing of milk from the most economically efficient location. In other words, the Government had proposed to allow free enterprise to flourish in the milk supply industry. That attempt was torpedoed in the Senate. The Queensland Government, which preaches free enterprise, in fact practices regimentation of both economic and social matters. If the Federal Government's legislation had not been torpedoed in the Senate and market forces had been allowed to operate, it would not be possible for any State milk authority unreasonably to increase milk prices, or indeed to increase milk prices above the level which would have induced a different source of supply, possibly from another State.

Had the Federal Government not been prevented by the Senate from implementing that legislation, the Queensland Minister and the Queensland Milk Board would have had to take that into account. That is, they would have had to take into account whether, if they used their monopoly pricing powers and their highly regulated and regimented legislative powers, this would be likely to push the price of milk to the point where supply from some alternative source would be considered or would be likely to be called for.

It is most disappointing to the Government that the dairy marketing arrangements which it had proposed were rejected. It is yet again a sad reflection on the Liberal Party which knows better. As always, when pressure is applied it caves in and allows its policies to be dictated by its coalition rump of the National Party.