The Coalition Government announced today that it will provide support for Australian dairy farmers who have had their incomes retrospectively cut by dairy processors Murray-Goulburn and Fonterra.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce said the Coalition will deliver immediate assistance to dairy farmers in hardship to help them manage through these difficult times and return to profitability.
“I was pleased to meet dairy farmers in Victoria last week and the Coalition wants to send a clear message that the Coalition stands shoulder to shoulder with them,” Mr Joyce said.
The key elements of the support package are:
- $555 million in Dairy Recovery Concessional Loans
- $20 million to fast track the upgrade of the Macalister Irrigation District
- $2 million to establish a commodity milk price index
- $900,000 for an additional 9 Rural Financial Counsellors in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales
- $900,000 for Dairy Australia’s ‘Tactics for Tight Times’ programme
- Fast tracking Farm Household Allowance applications with 18 more Department of Human Services employees processing claims
- Appointment of a Department of Human Services Dairy Industry Liaison Officer
- Redirection of two Department of Human Services Mobile Service Centres to dairy regions
“The Coalition will be making immediately available $55 million in Dairy Recovery Concessional Loans for Murray-Goulburn and Fonterra suppliers this year, as well as access to $500 million in concessional loans over 2016-17 and 2017-18 years. The recovery loans will be for terms of 10 years,” Mr Joyce said.
The concessional loans will be funded by expanding the drought concessional loan scheme to include dairy-specific criteria.
Mr Joyce said the Coalition was allocating $900,000 to Rural Financial Counselling Services in dairy production areas to ensure farmers receive the farm business financial advice needed, as well as $900,000 to Dairy Australia to continue rolling out one-to-one business advisory support via the Tactics for Tight Times programme.
Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge said the Coalition is taking immediate action to ensure eligible dairy farmers have fast-tracked access to the support they need to get through the tough times.
“We’ve ramped up the number of staff processing Farm Household Allowance claims. An extra 18 people have been brought in to process claims and to work directly with farming families on their individual cases, with a special focus on people in financial hardship,” Mr Tudge said.
“Where a farmer is facing real hardship and we have received the full details, a decision can be made almost immediately. If there is any difficulty obtaining the information we need to assess a claim, Farm Household Case Officers can talk to the farmer’s accountant or financial adviser to help get the information needed.
“Our one-stop-shop Mobile Service Centres are now travelling through the hard-hit dairy areas of regional Victoria and South Australia. The Service Centres provide direct access to the full range of Government services and are staffed with people who can answer farmers’ questions. Farmers can submit claims for Farm Household Allowance and other income support at the Mobile Service Centre, or by mail, online or at any Centrelink or DHS Service Centre.”
Mr Tudge said the Coalition will appoint a dedicated Dairy Industry Liaison Officer who will work on the ground with dairy farmers and local communities to coordinate support and services.
“I encourage any farmer with questions to contact the Farmer Assistance Hotline on 132 316, which is running on extended hours from 8am to 8pm each week day,” Mr Tudge said.
Mr Joyce said the Coalition is delivering these assistance measures now as an immediate response under the Caretaker Conventions, not waiting until after the election on 2 July.
“In a sign of our strong confidence in the future of the Australian dairy industry, a re-elected Coalition Government will commit $20 million to build the upgrade of the Macalister Irrigation System in Gippsland,” Mr Joyce said.
“The Macalister project will upgrade the 1920s and 1950s era Southern-Tinamba area irrigation network delivering almost 10 gigalitres in water savings which can be put back into growing the region’s agricultural production.”
Mr Joyce said to help ensure the domestic dairy industry does not in future find itself in a situation where dairy processors unexpectedly reduce farm gate milk prices late in the season, a re-elected Coalition Government will work with the dairy industry to establish a commodity milk price index.
“The index would introduce greater transparency and market signals in domestic and global milk prices. The Coalition will consult with the industry on the design of the index that would provide dairy farmers with valuable information for use in supply negotiations with processors and to assist in following international price trends,” Mr Joyce said.
“The Coalition values the contribution our dairy farmers make to their regional communities and the nation as a whole and we are proud to support them throughout good times and bad.”
Comments from Peter Walsh, Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Minister for Agriculture:
“This is a good first step for the State Government to support our dairy farmers and their families.
“The next step will be to provide relief that eases the cash flow crunch for our dairy businesses.
“Farmers have raised with me this week the possibility of municipal rates relief, waivers for water charges and easily accessed low interest finance which would help ease some of the financial pressure dairy businesses are under.
“The Liberal-Nationals Coalition stands side by side with our dairy farmers and we will support all Federal and State initiatives that offer relief from this current crisis.”
National’s candidate for Ballarat, Paul Tatchell today welcomed a visit to the Ballarat Saleyards by Senator Bridget McKenzie, a key instigator of the recent Inquiry on the red meat processing sector.
Mr. Tatchell said the purpose of Senator McKenzie’s visit to the saleyards in Ballarat (Thursday) is to talk with local operators about some of the local problems.
The Interim Report into competition in the red meat processing sector by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee was released earlier this month in Canberra.
The purpose of the inquiry was to shine a light on the red meat processing sector in response to meat processors’ boycott of the Barnawartha Saleyards on 17 February 2015.
Senator McKenzie said when nine meat processors all decided not to turn up to the Barnawartha saleyards; it was a watershed moment for producers, prompting me to initiate this Senate inquiry following an outcry from local farmers.
Mr. Tatchell said Ballarat is the biggest sheep yard in Victoria and a Cattle yard, about the same capacity as Barnawartha.
“The site for the proposed new Ballarat Saleyards is totally at odds with Nationals policy in creating economic investment in Victoria’s largest Rural City; The Ballarat saleyards has been the catalyst for economic growth in precinct, and itis inconceivable to put at risk established businesses ran by hard working country people. The saleyards is the iconic heart of Ballarat’s rural history providing a solid foundation for regional investment.
The suggested site in Miners Rest defies the synergies that promote organic growth in commercial terms, and puts unnecessary pressure on the family orientated community of Miners Rest. This is not a case of going backwards to move forwards, it’s about developing opportunities on a proven foundation.” When I came to this district 35 years ago, the saleyards stood idle waiting for the stock to come, look at the precinct now, a thriving commercial precinct with capacity for future development and jobs”
“Senator McKenzie was on the Red Meat Inquiry Committee and her visit enables concerns around this project to be highlighted,” he said.
Local saleyard advocates, the Ballarat Region Saleyards Action Group, welcomed Senator McKenzie’s visit.
Spokesperson Mick Madden said “we are extremely concerned with the manner in which the Ballarat saleyards project has been managed”.
“Ballarat Council has given away a publicly owned business that is generating $1 million in profit per annum, for a single dollar”.
“This arrangement with RIPL threatens the future of stock sales in this region. The new saleyards will be run purely for profit and with excessive fee increases which will be ultimately passed onto the consumer”.
“We are grateful that Senator McKenzie and Paul Tatchell have taken an interest in this issue” said Mr. Madden.
Senator McKenzie said the evidence provided to the committee clearly demonstrated that producer concerns about a lack of transparency and unequal bargaining power with the big meat processors were justified and that continuing to put up with such treatment was simply untenable.
“It had a huge impact on local producers, who were at the mercy of the buyers’ wishes and who saw $50 to $100 taken off every grown beast sold on the day.”
“Throughout this inquiry we heard a lot about abuse of market power. We have heard a lot about producers not wanting to come forward and give evidence because they are afraid of retribution from other players within the supply chain. Confidential submissions received by the committee have included shocking allegations of bullying and intimidation,” Senator McKenzie said.
The ACCC recently announced market study into the cattle and beef industry in Australia which will examine competition, efficiency, transparency and trading issues in the beef and cattle supply chain.
Leader of The Nationals and Coalition Shadow Minister for Water Peter Walsh has welcomed the passing of amendments to the Commonwealth Water Act.
“On behalf of Victorian irrigators who called for these amendments, I extend our thanks to Barnaby Joyce for getting this important Bill dealt with before the Federal election,” Mr Walsh said.
“The Amendment gives the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder much greater flexibility for spending the proceeds gained from water sales.
“Under the old law, if the CEWH sold water to the temporary market, it had to use the proceeds of that sale to purchase water back at a future date.
“That restrictive condition is gone now, and the CEWH will be able to make smarter use of these funds. For example, it could invest in engineering works like the systems we have in Gunbower Forest or Hattah Lakes that deliver positive environmental outcomes while using water much more efficiently.
“This alteration was a key part of the submission I made to the Senate’s Basin Plan enquiry last year. Minister Joyce committed to us that he would fix it before the election and he has delivered on the promise.
“The Water Act amendment is a good first step to ensuring better outcomes for irrigators but The Nationals will continue the fight for a fairer Basin Plan that protects our irrigators, rural industries and communities.”
The Andrews Government has again failed to properly fund the protection of Victorian riverbanks.
Before the last election, the Coalition committed to a $45 million program for fencing Crown Land river frontages.
Today Lisa Neville has re-announced $10 million already listed in the 2015/16 Budget (BP3, p56). There is no funding for riparian land care in the forward estimates.
The Budget also confirms (p5) there is still $105 million unspent in the government’s Environmental Contribution Levy (ECL) Fund.
Comments from Shadow Minister for Water Peter Walsh:
“The launch of this Action Plan was the ideal time for Daniel Andrews to make a serious funding commitment from the ECL Fund to help protect our riparian reserves.”
“Farmers will also want Daniel Andrews to guarantee that the Crown Land fencing program will remain voluntary.”
The Andrews Labor Government’s plan to reverse the north-south pipeline and turn on the desal plant is more than a thought bubble, with a business case underway.
Premier Daniel Andrews and Water Minister Lisa Neville have both recently talked-up the potential of reversing of the north-south pipeline to send water from Melbourne to the north of the state.
Under Labor’s plan, water taken from the Melbourne system would be replaced with desalinated water, which costs around $5000 per megalitre to produce.
When questioned in Parliament this week, Lisa Neville refused to say how much reversing the pipeline would cost or who would pay for the water if it did go ahead, but said a business case was being undertaken.
Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Water Minister Peter Walsh said the plan was nothing more than a cruel hoax on northern Victorian irrigators who were already struggling to afford up to $300 per megalitre on the temporary water market.
“It would be ridiculous to ask irrigators to pay $5000 per megalitre for water when they are already struggling with the current price,” Mr Walsh said.
“The average dairy farm would be paying around $4.5 million a year for water at that pricetag.
“Labor’s plan is nothing more than a cruel hoax and a desperate attempt to justify turning on the desal plant.”
The cost of desal water:
· The standby cost of the desal plant in 2015/16 is $620 million, with no water produced.
· To produce 150GL of water, the capacity of the plant, would cost an additional $117 million.
· The total cost of $737 million divided by 150GL (150,000ML) is $4913 per ML.
The Andrews Labor Government’s drought support package is a starting point, but should go further to support farmers and small businesses that are under severe financial strain.
Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Peter Walsh, said for many farmers in the southern Mallee and Wimmera this was the second or third year of failed crops.
Mr Walsh said the Andrews Labor Government should provide greater support to businesses, including discounts to municipal rates and fixed water charges.
“The government’s package is a first step, but it does not include any business support for farms and small businesses affected by drought, and some of the programs are re-announcements,” Mr Walsh said.
“It is not just farmers who struggle in a drought, local businesses are also impacted by the lack of spending in the town.
“In the last drought, farmers were offered discounts on their municipal rates and fixed water charges and it would be beneficial if Daniel Andrews included similar rate relief programs in this support package.”
Mr Walsh said there was around $20 million left from the Wimmera-Mallee Pipeline, which was completed under budget, which could be used to fund water projects in drought-affected areas.
“These water projects need to get started immediately so they benefit drought-affected farmers as soon as possible,” Mr Walsh said.
The Liberal-Nationals Coalition continues to support a buy-back of commercial netting licences for Port Phillip Bay, including Corio Bay.
The Coalition committed to the policy during the lead up to the November 2014 election.
The Coalition’s initiative was then adopted by the Victorian Labor Party.
Today the Andrews Labor Government introduced the Fisheries Amendment Bill 2015 which will legislate the buy-back of commercial licences and phase out netting in Port Phillip Bay by 2022.
Comments from Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh:
“Both myself and Matthew Guy have met with recreational fishing and commercial fishing representatives and stakeholders in recent weeks and we’ve made it clear that we remain committed to the policy we took to the last election.
“In the coming weeks we will examine the legislation presented by the Government to ensure that it provides fair compensation to the licences holders and that the phase-out mechanisms are appropriate.
“Our pre-election policy aspired to make Port Phillip Bay and Corio Bay recreational fishing meccas for locals and visitors alike, and ending commercial netting was a key part of the plan.”
Nationals Candidate for Polwarth David O’Brien will fight for a $4 million Farmer’s Defender’s Office to defend the right to farm.
When in government, Mr O’Brien was instrumental in pushing for a Farmer’s Defenders Office, which became Coalition policy.
“My Farmers Defenders Office would give farmers free legal assistance when dealing with issues around the right to farm,” Mr O’Brien said.
"It is intended to assist farmers in Polwarth in fights against non farming uses such as CSG.
“The FDO would also set up partnerships with rural and regional law firms, and will be a first point-of-contact for farmers.
“Farmers don’t always have the money or the legal know how to defend their interests. Further, farmers are often involved in cases which have widespread implications across the nation - cases against competing uses including CSG; or against activists or property developers who move into farming land.
“Farming is the backbone of our rural economies and we need to protect it to protect the jobs of the future.
“To ensure viable farms and food security, we must stop farms being threatened by urban encroachment, unlawful conduct by activists and competing commercial interests including CSG,” Mr O’Brien said.
Rokewood farmer Kylie Walton said farmers had been crying out for a service like this for years.
"Farmers don't have the money and resources that big mining companies and big property developers do to fight legal battles – we don't have in-house lawyers," Ms Walton said.
"Finally, this is an idea which may even the playing field a little."
"We need to protect our right to farm, our land and our water for our children."
The Victoria Liberal-Nationals Coalition has urged the Andrews Labor Government to finalise a concessional loans package and consider offering municipal rates rebates and other practical support to Victoria’s drought affected farm communities.
Comments from Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh:
“On behalf of our struggling farmers, we strongly urge the Andrews Government to finalise negotiations and accept the Commonwealth’s latest offer of concessional loans funding.
“We also urge the Andrews Government to offer practical relief to households, such as municipal rates rebates. This measure helped struggling farm families during the last drought and would be welcomed by those who are already facing cash flow pressure.
“The hardship is spreading, and we aren’t even into summer yet. Farmers know this is going to get worse before it gets better.
“Droughts take an awful emotional toll, but our regional communities can be reassured and ready for the tough months ahead if they know there is a comprehensive package of support ready to go.
“Farm businesses are the backbone of our country communities, so when drought strikes it reaches far beyond the farm gate. By supporting farmers, we are supporting everyone who lives and works in regional Victoria.
“Federal Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce will be here in the next couple weeks and I am keen for the Minister to see first-hand the severity of conditions in Victoria.”