Lambie’s dairy demands just milking political outcomes

Australian Dairy Farmers President David Basham says his members are not asking for a return to past days of highly-regulated markets.ANYONE hoping for improved standards of political representation in Canberra would feel somewhat deflated but maybe not shocked after reading Tasmanian Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie’s proposed resolution to the current dairy crisis.
Nanjing Night Net

Senator Lambie profited from mining billionaire Clive Palmer’s cheque book to be elected to the Senate for the Palmer United Party at the last federal election but quit that team in a fit of pique after not getting her way, to establish a self-named political outfit.

Today, hot on the trail of this year’s election, with a more restrained advertising budget than the PUP’s bonanza in 2013, she issued a conspiracy riddled media statement attacking the government’s response to the dairy crisis while pouring scorn on Barnaby Joyce’s approach, like it was a political hobby.

Senator Lambie said if her party held the balance of power in the Senate after the July 2 election “we’ll do whatever it takes” to ensure a national dairy levy of 50c per litre is established and “our dairy families are saved”.

However, the simplistic solution Senator Lambie proposes for the dairy sector isn’t one that’s supported by most participants who live with the practical reality of its every-day challenges or a government that’s looked at the details, beyond superficial reasoning.

Senator Lambie’s fix merely proposes to reinvent the past by returning to industry regulation where government controlled markets and commodity levies merely empower external stakeholders to run political interference at will, in commercial operations.

In other words, she’d like milk producers to drive forward while gazing into their rear-view mirrors with their hands off the wheel, to postfan messages on the Communist Party web page, as they accelerate blindly towards a horror-smash, when another cliff-face inevitably arrives.

It seems her position – that’s ignorant of history and lacking any hint of rigorous economic analysis – demands dairy farmers effectively become government employed workers beholden to every minister’s statement, regardless of their political colours.

That type of scenario would merely exacerbate existing anxieties caused by fluctuating weather patterns and the pricing volatility of international markets.

But of course if Barnaby Joyce had an endless bucket of taxpayer money and the exact opposite supply of political conscience, Senator Lambie’s wish could well be granted.

Responding to Senator Lambie’s media statement, national representative body Australian Dairy Farmers President David Basham called for a balanced approach saying dairy farmers across all regions were not asking for a return to past days of a highly-regulated market or for consumers to be “punished with a tax as proposed by some on the fringe of our industry”.

“We operate in a global market place – we accept this – and work to adapt our practices to accommodate its volatility,” he said.

“But the farmer must not always have to bear the risk and financial fall-out of this volatility – we want fairness to prevail.”

Mr Basham pointed a finger squarely at the milk processors saying they were the ones that must address the unfairness of their actions.

“ADF is doing everything possible right now to make sure dairy farmers are never put in this position again,” they said.

“This includes working in particular with processors and the ACCC, ASIC and the federal government to address unfair contracts, improve supply chain transparency and better balance the risk between retailer, processor and supplier.

“The assistance measures recently announced by State and federal governments are broadly positive and reflect the immediate needs of the most affected dairy farmers.

“It is vital that this support is made available to farmers across all dairying regions now.

“ADF continues to push for greater detail regarding the eligibility criteria which has not been released to date.”

For his part, Mr Joyce recently met and listened to dairy farmers hit by the price cuts, as did Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon who strongly urged the banks to step up, where they could, to relieve immediate pressures.

Shortly afterwards, the major banks detailed their stream of direct business support measures for milk producers who are dealing with debt pressures caused by the unexpected price cuts.

Mr Joyce also seems to have utilised some of the agricultural, commercial expertise available within the Coalition’s ranks by including a $2 million commitment to increase milk pricing transparency, in the dairy support package unveiled last week that was largely underpinned by concessional loans.

Liberal MP Angus Taylor wants to see a milk pricing index introduced into the Australian market, to improve transparency measures and market signals to help farmers make better on-farm decisions, like the one used in NZ which he helped implement.

“The New Zealanders spent a lot of time working on what’s effectively a price index that allows farmers to understand how skim milk powder, whole milk powder, cheese and butter prices translate back to a price for milk, on a regular basis,” he said.

At last week’s regional leaders’ debate, Mr Joyce also poured instant cold water on Greens leader Richard Di Natale’s support for introducing a floor price on milk, saying it would cause over-supply and market collapse to create a crisis all of its own.

The previous week during talks with dairy farmers and industry members hurt by the pricing crisis, Mr Joyce said not one person asked him for a 50c milk levy and they’d also said “please” don’t re-regulate the dairy industry.

He praised Coles for supporting farmers with a new branded milk product selling for an extra 20 cent per litre and urged other retailers to move on from $1 per litre milk.

In other media comments, Mr Joyce has sought to broaden the public’s understanding of the dairy crisis by stressing the industry’s long- term outlook remains strong, despite a current over-supply of milk on the global stage that’s hurting local prices.

“I don’t want to start sending messages that we have a systemic problem and a complete change in culture around the consumption of dairy products – we don’t,” he said.

However, Senator Lambie’s approach in firing errant political bullets at high profile political targets seems to be of little help to anyone apart from seeking to boost her political aspirations and hopes of re-election.

A closer look at the media release also shows who she may be competing against for those votes and underlying intent for supposedly sticking up for dairy farmers.

In accusing Mr Joyce and the Nationals of betraying farmers, she points to the “Chinese coal mine” established “in the middle of some of Australia’s best agricultural and cropping land in the Liverpool Plains”.

Why the Tasmanian Senator chose not to call it the rightly titled Shenhua Watermark coal mine, that’s no longer located in Mr Joyce’s NSW based New England electorate and started in 2008 after the former NSW Labor government granted an exploration licence for $300 million, is for others to decide.

Senator’s Lambie’s media release accusation that Victorian Dairy Producer and acting CEO of National Dairy Products Darryl Cardona was bullied into silence over the dairy issue by someone in Mr Joyce’s office, was also dismissed as a complete fabrication.

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