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Minister Truss responds to Labor's feeble dairy statement.

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AFFA01/22WT 14 February 2001


Labor’s attempt to address the issues facing Australia’s dairy farmers provides no real substance or practical assistance, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Warren Truss, said today.

"I can find no new policy ideas in Labor’s statement that have not been previously considered and rejected by industry itself. Labor is merely offering another talkfest," Mr Truss said.

Mr Truss said the industry conducted extensive consultation with Governments and producers for three years before farmers voted to proceed with deregulation.

"The simple fact is, the Commonwealth Government did not deregulate the dairy industry. Deregulation occurred because of commercial pressures from the major dairying States and State Government responses," he said.

"The Commonwealth recognised that deregulation would bring hardship to some, and provided the industry with a very substantial assistance package — $1.78 billion dollars will flow to dairy farmers to help them cope with the impact of deregulation.

"The State Governments were also asked to help by providing compensation for the loss of value of State quotas but, except for Western Australia, refused the industry’s pleas.

"If Kim Beazley was serious about helping Australia’s dairy farmers, he would approach his Labor colleagues in the Queensland and NSW State Governments and insist they compensate farmers for the loss of value of their milk quotas as a result of deregulation.

"Labor’s plan to strip $20 million from the Dairy Regional Assistance Program (DRAP) to finance training programs would take vital assistance away from communities struggling to recover from deregulation.

"The Government already provides assistance for training and re-skilling farmers — it’s done under FarmBis — and already some 5,900 dairy farmers have been provided assistance under this program. In the last Budget, the Government committed a further $167.5 million to this program over four years.

"Does this mean the Labor plans to abolish FarmBis, or is it going to deny access to dairy farmers?

"DRAP provides an opportunity for community groups and commercial organisations to develop proposals which will help dairy regions to become more skilled, productive and profitable, and is aimed at creating new employment in communities that were highly dependent on the local market milk industry.

"Labor claims that there has been no detailed analysis of the impact of deregulation region-by-region, but I draw Kim Beazley’s attention to pages 29-32 of the ABARE report into the impact of deregulation which should help him become more familiar with the impact on farmers on regional basis.

"Labor’s plan to give extra resources to the Dairy Adjustment Authority (DAA) would be wasteful and bureaucratic. The DAA was given extra resources last year and will soon begin downsizing as its task nears completion.

"More than 97 per cent of farmers eligible for payments have received Notices of Decision, and 74 per cent have received their first payments. Only a small number of claims remain to be processed.

"Proposed changes by Labor to the Dairy Structural Adjustment Payments (DSAP) were rejected by the industry itself when the scheme was designed.

"In addition, many producers may be waiting for the price impact to settle, and for the peak period of the milking season to pass, before taking their decision.

"The Dairy Exit Package is a safety measure to assist those who want to leave farming; however, most farmers who choose to leave will not access this program as they have the option of exiting with a higher DSAP entitlement.

"Many farmers and dairy industry groups are aware the State Labor governments of NSW and Queensland have the capacity to assist the dairy industry but have done nothing.

"It was the States that introduced the quota system, the States who administered quotas and the States that brought in deregulation. Now the quotas have been drastically devalued without compensation.

"I believe dairy farmers have the right to ask the Labor Opposition precisely what its policy is to help them, since all it is planning to do is set up committees and fiddle at the edges of the existing program."

Minister's office: Yvonne Best (02) 6277 7520 or 0418 415 772

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Last updated 15 February 2001

URL: Commonwealth of Australia 2000