Local, Independant and Effective

Cathy reiterates need for action on Agriculture during Amendment debate

Posted February 26, 2014

 

Hansard transcript, February 26, 2014

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (11:00):  I rise to speak on the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment (Dairy Produce) Bill 2014.

My speech is in three parts: I would like to introduce my interest in the dairy industry; I would like to talk about a case study from Indi; and I would like to make a call to action to our colleagues on the other side of the House.

The dairy industry is an essential part of both the economy and the culture of my electorate.

 

A prosperous and vibrant agriculture and food sector, encompassing production, processing, distribution and consumption, is essential to the future of Indi and of Australia.

Agriculture and food production is central to the past, the present and the future of Indi, and dairy is an essential part of our food-manufacturing future.

My region of Victoria is one of Australia's most productive dairy regions.

Farms are smaller, but they carry more cows and produce more milk than the national average.

The high level of productivity is due to our wonderful climate, our reliable water, and our proximity to fodder- and grain-growing regions—plus the enterprise of our farming communities. During the election campaign,

I committed to the following: I would lobby for new investment in the innovative food and agriculture sector in Indi, including in the dairy industry; I would fight to increase funding for research and development; and I would support local organisations that help deliver sustainable and adaptive agricultural businesses.

I will work with industry to improve the industry and agriculture and food sectors, and I will lobby for ongoing skill development and training for agriculture.

I will work specifically with the dairy industry to identify and remove restrictions on their businesses—and it is on this topic that I address my comments today.

The aim of this amendment is very specific. It is to increase the maximum level of the Australian Animal Health Council levy on dairy produce from 0.058 to 0.145 cents per kilogram of milk fat, and from 0.13850 to 0.34625 cents per kilogram of protein. These levies are collected by the Commonwealth for payment to Animal Health Australia.

As the minister said in his second reading speech, while this is a significant increase in the cap, it is a non-controversial decision and it is being done at the request of the peak representative body, Australian Dairy Farmers Limited.

This levy will enable the dairy industry to achieve in all the areas I believe are essential for the ongoing growth and success of the dairy industry in my electorate.

The dairy produce levy enables the dairy industries to strengthen the industry and to respond quickly to issues around animal health.

As many members of parliament—and those that have spoken on this bill—know, Australia exports 50 per cent of its dairy produce overseas to a variety of markets, including those that are emerging and those that are attempting to grow their dairy industries.

This levy will strengthen the industry to make it more competitive in this highly competitive overseas market.

The export potential in our region is incredible, with Asia's demand for dairy products increasing.

This amendment will enable the dairy industry to supply sufficient product to meet this demand.

With this brief background, I would like to talk about a case study and an example of a dairy success story in my electorate.

I will begin with the Mitta Valley and the community-based project Our Valley, Our Future.

I will talk then to the industry development arm, the Alpine Valleys Dairy Pathways Project.

The Mitta Valley is located in Towong Shire and includes the beautiful towns of Mitta Mitta, Eskdale and Dartmouth, and the Tallandoon community.

The significant rural land which surrounds these townships and the unique balance of farming land, natural assets and wonderful community are strong parts of the Mitta Valley identity.

As the name suggests, the area is based around the Mitta Mitta river, which makes its journey from the Dartmouth Dam through the valley to the Murray River.

The valley is also close to Albury-Wodonga and to the large township of Tallangatta.

While many people travel into the larger centres, we are fortunate that a variety of businesses and services operate locally, including primary schools in Mitta Mitta and Eskdale, hotels, general stores, churches, post offices and a small supermarket. It is a thriving community.

While the population has been growing smaller—in 2009 there were 591 people living in the valley; in 2011 this had decreased to 568—there is an enormous strength of vitality.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishery are the largest industries, and employ something like 34 per cent of the workforce.

Most of the farms within the Mitta Valley are dairy farms, although beef farming is still a significant contributor.

The latest figures show that milk production in the valley is recovering strongly post-drought, but that it has not yet recovered to the record levels of 2001 and 2002.

Over the last 10 years, the number of dairy farms has actually reduced by 35 per cent, but the production by suppliers has increased significantly. Annual average milk production per dairy farmer in the valley is now upwards of 1.3 million litres per year.

The valley has been working hard to strengthen its community and its key industries. The Our Valley, Our Future: Mitta Valley Community Strengthening Project is a collaboration between the Gardiner Dairy Foundation, Towong Shire Council, the Mitta Valley Advancement Forum and the Alpine Valleys Dairy Pathways Project.

It is a community-driven project that will have significant positive impacts on the future growth and wellbeing of the Mitta Valley communities. The project commenced in July 2012 and will end in December 2015.

Its objectives are many, but perhaps some of the most important, from my perspective, are: to achieve a shared vision of the Mitta Valley as a prosperous and vibrant community; to empower and equip community members to execute current and future strategic plans that build upon our natural assets and economic potential; to identify and provide the means for the community to achieve economic sustainability and future growth; and, to enhance the collective strength and experience of community members, to build greater teamwork and to promote cross-functional relationships that will increase capacity for long-term sustainability.

This project has led by a steering committee made up of representatives from key stakeholders, and it is doing very good work.

The initial community consultation process led to the development of the Our Valley, Our Future plan, which was launched in November 2013.

The plan identifies the community's future aspirations and vision, identifies specific issues that are inhibiting growth and identifies potential solutions to achieve future economic growth and strong social cohesion. I offer my warm congratulations to the full team on a great job: well done.

The Alpine Valleys Dairy Pathways project is a sister to this community based project.

I regard it as the production arm.

Its aim is to both increase the number of dairy farmers and to double milk production in the next 10 to 15 years.

The aim of the Alpine Valleys Dairy Pathways project is to make a significant contribution to local jobs and wealth creation in the Alpine Valleys. It is working with farmers and communities in the valleys to create a future for dairy that young people and their families will want to be part of.

It has specific aims.

It aims to increase economic value for Alpine Valleys by growing milk production.

It aims to move away from farm based farming. It aims—and my colleagues from the government side might be interested in this comment—to move away from family based farming to a new model that can be the showcase for a sustainable dairy industry in Australia. It aims to lift average farm performance to the level of the current top 25 per cent of performers—to move performance from the average to the top.

It aims to improve pathways in and out of the industry for famers and the next generation.

It aims to implement a workforce strategy to ensure the industry attracts and retains the people it needs. And it intends to develop a strong culture in the Alpine Valleys that really values and supports the dairy industry.

Why is this so important to me?

If you will indulge me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will give a few key reasons.

At a personal level, I am the daughter of dairy farmers. I grew up in the valleys of north-east Victoria, and in the 1950s all of my community and my friends were in dairy farming. I have fond memories of working with my dad in the dairy, getting the generator going, moving the dairy cans so that the factory truck could pick them up—all before refrigeration—and, along with our neighbours, ensuring that our cream went on the railway line to Wangaratta.

One of the wonderful aspects of growing up in a diary community in the 1950s was the introduction to the concept of a farmers cooperative.

I am very proud to still be associated with the thriving cooperative movement in north-east Victoria, one of the stars being the Murray Goulburn Co-operative.

Growing up I had a great interest in women in agriculture.

I was part of the initial Women in Dairy Project.

At this stage, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of my colleague in this House Nola Merino as a leader in this area.

The MILC group in Western Australia led Australia in bringing women together to take a leadership role. She was a key leader then, and what a leader she has been in this place. Thank you, Nola, for the wonderful contribution you have made to us.

At the end of the 1990s in Australia, we experienced an upheaval in the dairy industry with the impact of deregulation, in particular on the states of Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia.

I worked with families and communities to bring together women and communities to manage this transition.

I am very proud to say that I still keep in touch with most of those dairy industry women and their families and with those organisations. The Women in Dairy Project, which we established, was instrumental in helping families make the transition between a regulated and a deregulated industry.

It has led the way in Australia for many other women in agriculture groups: women in horticulture, women in sugar, Women in Wool and Partners in Grains. All, with the support of Australian Women in Agriculture, continue to make a big impact on Australian agricultural communities.

In summary, I am pleased to support this amendment but, like many of my colleagues in this place, particularly on the government side, I also put on the record a strong call for action.

As government, we have an obligation to set in place a policy operating environment that supports, enables and encourages the future of agricultural production and food manufacturing in Australia.

As a government, as a parliament and as representatives of our people, we need to support, encourage and grow agricultural research, development and extension in Australia.

RD&E is vitally important for our future. I say to my colleagues—to those opposite in particular—that it is not enough to complain, to blame and to describe the problem.

It is time to use the combined knowledge, skills, experience and commitment that we have heard demonstrated over the last two days in talking about this bill.

My call to the government benches is: put your words into practice. We need a strategic approach. We need clear budgets and time lines.

We need a vision for the future of agricultural production, agricultural manufacturing and agricultural communities in Australia, and I look forward to working with you to implement that.