A minimum farm gate milk price would be one way to support Australia's dairy farmers, Labor has said, but the idea was recently rejected in parliament.
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Kristy McBain, seen chatting to farmer Phil Ryan, is contesting for the Eden-Monaro against Cathy Griff. Pictures: Supplied

Last week, Labor’s candidate for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain and Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources Joel Fitzgibbon were in the Bega Valley where they called for the federal government to pressure the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to install a minimum farm gate milk price.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the dairy industry had been in “massive decline for a number of years” and “revenues of farm gate prices have been falling”.

Ms McBain lashed the decision by Coalition members last month to prevent discussion over a House of Representatives motion that called for the reintroduction of a minimum farm gate milk price, saying “this government voted down farm milk gate prices”.

She added most of the dairy farmers in the Bega Valley supplied milk for cheese production, not fresh milk, and a minimum price for cheese would be up to commercial providers, but she pressured the federal government to investigate new approaches.

Ms McBain said the Eden-Monaro’s farmers had been hit hard by drought, bushfire and COVID-19, and while there were some great subsidies in place for drought relief she believed work needed to be done to assist the chance for farms to innovate, such as by improving mobile blackspots.

“Unfortunately we are in a position of trying to hold the government to account as they have power to regulate and deregulate,” she said.

“Everything needs to be made easier for small business at this time.”

The Greens candidate for Eden-Monaro Cathy Griff said her party would support a minimum price on milk, but in order to combat the drought into the future the government needed to take immediate action on climate change and ensure as much as possible could be done to reduce the use of coal and fossil fuels.

“Also, some dairy farmers here don’t have the time to seek the help they need,” she said.

She said one point that had come out of the bushfire recovery process was that people needed to be approached individually for help, to assist them in applying for grants.

On Tuesday, the Liberals’ candidate for Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs did not directly answer whether or not she would support a minimum price for milk.

But she said the Morrison Government had invested millions in supporting the dairy industry, such as the $10million for energy efficient equipment, more than $8million for the ACCC Agriculture Unit including establishing a Dairy Specialist, and a $1.5million to Dairy Australia and Australian Dairy Farmers to help increase price transparency.

“It has also brought in a mandatory Dairy Code of Conduct to provide farmers with more information and strengthen their bargaining power,” she said.

“Under the mandatory code prices have now been made public for the first time. We need to monitor the impact and respond quickly, particularly where dairy farmers have limited opportunity to sell their milk to other suppliers.”

Dr Kotvojs said her family were dairy farmers until she was about five, but had to leave dairy when it became unviable for them to continue.

“I know from my family’s experience how hard it is when you have to sell your cattle and leave the industry. It’s not just a job, it’s your life,” she said.

“Our farmers have been going through a difficult period, with drought, floods, bushfires and now COVID. It has been great to see the Morrison Government come through with $100million in emergency support, and $75,000 grants for essentials like fodder and water, and helping to rebuild fencing or hire vital equipment.

“If elected, I will work with local dairy industry to build on this investment and develop a pro-active strategy for better water and fodder storage.”

Aurora Dairies, one of the largest milk producers in the country, has added Gray Wigg Gault’s Clydebank Aggregation in Victoria’s Gippsland region to its expanding portfolio for around $20 million.

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