Tuesday, 11 October 2022

Shadow Minister for Resources and for Northern Australia, Senator Susan McDonald, has heralded a bright new era for dairy farmers and hailed the previous Coalition Government’s Dairy Code of Conduct after the latest prosecution of a processor by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Senator McDonald – who stood with farmers and a live dairy cow in Brisbane in 2019 as part of a protest calling for processors to be more transparent and fair in their dealings with suppliers – said last month’s prosecution of Lactalis was proof the Coalition’s Code worked.

“In 2019, Lactalis presented me with complex formulas and calculations to demonstrate that they were in fact paying reasonable prices, but thanks to my accounting background I could analyse the data and see it was not true,” she said.

“The last straw was them trying to threaten and punish farmers for speaking to me by threatening to terminate milk contracts.

“I am so proud of the work so many people have done to establish the Dairy Code and allow farmers more certainty and a more positive outlook,” she said.

“Before the code was established in 2019, processors could unilaterally terminate supply agreements for trivial reasons, including if a farmer publicly complained about a contract.

“This was a direct attack on any farmer who tried to be a whistleblower on unfair contracts, and in particular those who spoke to me or other MPs.

“You can imagine the stress for a farmer if they were suddenly told their milk would not be picked up tomorrow, particularly in Queensland which has limited processors.

“The previous situation allowed for poor animal welfare outcomes, poor financial outcomes and a waste of fresh food.”

Senator McDonald said she spent much of her first 12 months as a Senator in 2019 meeting dairy farmers right across Queensland and heard shocking tales of bullying and intimidation by processors.

“Farmers told me about how they were receiving prices less than the cost of production as well as threats to terminate their contracts, so I pushed hard – both privately and publicly – through the dairy Senate Inquiry and by writing directly to the ACCC asking them to investigate the matter,” she said.

“Farmers often have the least power in relationships between processors and supermarkets, and it is important that government provides an avenue for these dealings to be transparent and fair.

“It is great to see that $1 a litre milk has been abandoned by national supermarket chains, reducing downward pressure on prices somewhat, but I would note that despite milk prices increasing by at least 50c a litre retail, dairy farmers have only received up to 10c a litre of that increase at a time of higher costs for fuel, power and general supplies.”