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Democrats demand democracy in agri-politics, starting with dairy.

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Senator John Cherry Australian Democrats Agriculture Spokesperson

April 1, 2003 MEDIA RELEASE 03/202

Democrats demand democracy in agri-politics, starting with dairy The Australian Democrats have called for changes to the voting systems for the determination of compulsory levies on farmers and how public money is spent, arguing that voting systems based on the size of a farm’s production are undemocratic.

Democrats’ Agriculture spokesperson Senator John Cherry last week won Senate support for an amendment to the Bill establishing a new private company to replace the Australian Dairy Corporation, requiring its voting system to be approved by the Senate.

“The dairy industry body has been put on notice, that its proposal to tie voting rights to the size of milk production is not acceptable to the Senate, and a more democratic system will need to be found,” Senator Cherry said.

“Since the property qualification was done away with last century, voting rights for public authorities have been based on the equality of all voters. It will be hard to convince the Democrats that the compulsory levy for dairy farmers should be any different.

“The proposed Dairy Australia will advise the Minister on the size of the levy after holding a ballot of members, and its board will determine how $30 million of public money will be spent.

“It is not good enough that the levy and the board will be determined in an election where the voting power of farmers is decided by the size of their production.

“This would allow the 25% of large farmers who make up more than half of production to dominate the board. It would also perpetuate the dominance of Victorian farmers, who would have 63% of the voting strength based on current production.

“It is now up to industry to come up with a more democratic model, knowing that the Senate will disallow an undemocratic one,” he said.

Senator Cherry said the Government’s argument that the dairy model was based on precedents in the wool and beef industries was not strong, as both industry bodies were troubled.

“Last year, because of the production-based voting system, the Board of Wool Innovation, despite enjoying the support of over 60% of growers, was dumped in a ballot in favour of a board supported by large woolgrowers, led by former Liberal Minister Ian McLachlan.

“And, the Senate Rural Affairs Committee has also made strong recommendations about democratic shortcomings in the electoral process for Meat and Livestock Australia, calling for more electoral accountability of directors.

“When bodies are dealing with public money, they must be run on democratic and accountable principles. Dairy farmers, woolgrowers and beef producers all need to have a proper, democratic say in how their levies are collected and spent,” Senator Cherry concluded.

Media contact: Pam Hose 0408 752 750 or 07 3252 9129