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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9554

Mr FORREST (7:56 PM) —I congratulate the member for Murray for bringing this discussion to the attention of the House. It has been quite a useful exchange. Between her electorate and mine we jointly represent the great bulk of the dairy industry of the irrigated region of the Murray Valley. I speak today about an industry very exposed and vulnerable, an industry that is a wonderful regional employer across north-western Victoria.

Dairy is the largest export industry in Victoria. It employs 10,000 people, and last year more than 2.8 billion Victorian dairy products were exported to markets in Asia, Europe and the Americas. That is why it is galling for my constituents to watch this federal government, in league with the state government of Victoria, allow their precious water to be stolen and sent to Melbourne. ‘Stolen’ is a strong word, but it is the truth. It is not moral and there is no limit to the avarice of the Victorian government. Only last week they announced that they want 12,000 megalitres of the water savings from the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline, despite the fact that there are legally constructed agreements between the government of Victoria and the federal government that all the water savings from the $350 million investment by the Commonwealth would go to the environment and stressed rivers, which certainly includes the Goulburn and the Murray.

Dairy farmers are facing the multiple whammy of drought, a surge in production costs caused by the drought, uncertainty about how they are going to be treated in the Rudd government’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, foreign market manipulation and market domination in the retail sector. I note the comments of the member for Lyons and I accept his longstanding association with the dairy industry in Tasmania. But what he overlooked in his comments on the impacts of deregulation and Victorian dairy farmers’ participation in and desire for that outcome is that an unprecedented crisis arrived after the massive reductions in water allocations right along the Murray Valley and the Goulburn River system. These are unprecedented times. What was once the securest water supply system anywhere in the world has now been reduced to its parlous state. On top of that, greedy, avaricious governments want the politically expedient solution to the water supply problems of Melbourne, a big metropolitan city that is not even trying to reuse its sewage water or harvest its drainage water.

The dairy industry in Australia does have a future. It is optimistic about that, but it is asking for help in its current calamity. It is going to take years to rebuild the dairy industry, particularly in Victoria. We will lose dairy husbandry expertise. We will lose a large slab of the genetic base of dairy herds, which other countries are now taking advantage of. It is an industry fast losing its capacity to survive and it desperately needs help. You just cannot turn a cow’s udder on and off like a tap. You need the breeding stock and long-term planning. Cows have to be milked every morning and evening and they have to be fed. If those things cannot happen they have to be sold.

I note the member for Makin’s comments. He would defend the investments that have occurred in the motor vehicle industry; it is a very strong industry in his electorate. We are not criticising those investment decisions. We are saying that the dairy industry deserves similar consideration. The massive cash injections that have occurred in some sectors of the economy amount to $160,000 to save every job. When the member for Makin talks about the number of dairy farmers, he forgets the huge numbers of jobs—up to 30,000 right across Australia—in the processing sector. Those are the jobs that are at risk, and we are asking for the government to give strong consideration to supporting them. It can support them by making sure it invests in the dairy industry to save the farmers’ herds.

The response to the auto industry investment has been huge. There has been massive investment in the financial sector through bank guarantees, which have reduced competition in the market. The government has made the decision to invest there. We are asking that it recognise the massive significance of the dairy industry across Australia to the GDP and stand by our dairy farmers in the electorates of Mallee and Murray. I support this resolution and am grateful that there has been an opportunity to bring the concerns of my constituents to the attention of the House.