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Transcript of interview with Warwick Long: ABC Goulburn Murray: 14 July 2009: dairy; drought and trade.

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Tony Burke - interviewed by Warwick Long, ABC Goulburn Murray

14 July 2009

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke Interview with Warwick Long, ABC Goulburn Murray


SUBJECTS: Dairy, drought and trade

WARWICK LONG: But first, it may be green, but plenty are lining up to tell the Federal Agriculture Minister it's still a drought as he toured the Victorian Dairy Industry. Dairy farming was in the political spotlight yesterday, as politicians went to farms and had a look. Whilst there were no major announcements, Federal Agriculture Minister, Tony Burke took a day to meet with farmers and to all processing facilities. He says the day was busy.

TONY BURKE: Today has been a day where we met at a dairy farm which I thought it was important. Geoff(*) and Natalie [indistinct] place. First of all we had a very large meeting around the table where a whole lot of dairy farmers from the region came just to sit and talk and give me a sense of what they're facing at the coal face, and then following on from that we had a meeting with some of the processors.

WARWICK LONG: So what are dairy farmers telling you? And what do they want from you?

TONY BURKE: Well essentially what they're facing at the moment is a hurdle that will be very difficult for them in the coming months. Yes, we don't know where world prices will go and we don't know where the rainfall will go. And, obviously they're two issues which the Australian Government can't control. But, depending on how they go, there's a whole series of challenges which go into water policy, which go into different entitlements that are managed at a state level, that go all the way down to council zoning issues, which will have a massive effect on the livelihood of dairy farmers if world prices continue on their downward path, and if the rains that we all hope for in the coming months don't continue.

WARWICK LONG: Can you do anything to help, or your government do anything to help dairy farmers at the moment?

TONY BURKE: A number of the people around the table are already on significant EC assistance and benefiting from the range of services the Government provides. There are number of people around the table who have worked with me overseas in trying to build up international markets, particularly in the Middle East, where there's a significant growth in dairy consumption and, you know, if we can open up those markets, that creates a great export opportunity for Australia where dairy demand's increasing, we want to make sure that it's our products that they're eating and drinking. So, the issues of improving demand and promoting the Australian produce have been very important and obviously people were wanting in the course of the conversation today to work out what sort of assistance, you know, additional to that, that we've done so far might be available and what sort of policy settings they wanted raised. Those issues that some of them have with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, where there's some issues of consistency with New Zealand they're wanting the Government to look at. So, you go to a whole range of issues

there and obviously in an irrigation area, people are very conscious of water policy at both a state and a federal level.

WARWICK LONG: The Liberal member for Murray is calling for low or no interest loans for dairy farmers. Is that a feasible option?

TONY BURKE: Well a number of people around the table effectively are already having them. And I'll - the Member for Murray, even though we're on opposite sides of politics, has been very constructive in this debate and she's been engaged with me and my office as the dairy prices internationally fell. But a number of people around the table were already receiving low interest loans through the form of interest rate subsidies because they're in EC declared areas, exceptional circumstances areas, where the bulk of their interest payments are being paid through a system jointly funded by the State and the Federal Government. So there's some of that sort of work already being done to establish a new loan system additional to the interest rate subsidy is something that's probably difficult to put in place, but I'll certainly - I don't at all begrudge the Member for Murray putting issues like that on the table.

WARWICK LONG: I suppose - are you worried though if current world situations and prices stay the same, a lot of dairy farmers are going to leave the industry, probably particularly in irrigation areas such as these?

TONY BURKE: This is an argument that I had - well at least fairly strongly exchanged views, however you want to put it - with the American Minister last week, where the United States have made the problem worse in terms of the global dairy price by continuing their dairy subsidies. And [indistinct] when they do something like that, they're not actually solving farmers' hardship, they're simply exporting it from their farmers to our farmers. And it's a game that the more countries that play it, the slower the dairy prices internationally will be to recover. So, there's, you know, the international prices have taken a very real hit. It's been one of the commodities that's gone down sharply during the global recession. There had started to be some recovery in that price already though, so there was room for some optimism. The American decision has put new pressure downwards on that. But certainly the trend long-term, no-one seems to doubt it's going to be for dairy prices to move back up towards where they've been historically. Exactly how quickly we get into those trends is something that, in part, we've got to hope that there aren't too many other countries who decide to follow the sort of irresponsible actions the United States just take.

WARWICK LONG: That's Federal Agriculture Minister, Tony Burke. You're on the Rural Report on ABC Victoria where it is 16 minutes to seven. And what do you think about the Federal Agriculture Minister, Tony Burke visiting dairy farms, and what should, or could government do to help dairy farmers? I'd like to hear from you, 1300977222 is the number.