The NSW dairy industry will shrink further and farmers' issues will continue to be ignored unless an independent dairy and fresh food commissioner is established to advocate for them, NSW Labor says.
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New South Wales Labor has committed to establishing a dairy and fresh food commissioner to provide an independent voice for the industry.(Supplied)

Key points:
NSW Labor says the dairy industry is shrinking and “that has to stop”
A new commissioner would advocate for dairy farmers and highlight issues facing the industry in parliament
Farmers say they need a strong champion to ensure their concerns are heard and acted on

State Opposition Leader Jodi McKay has vowed to establish the commissioner role to provide an independent voice for the industry if Labor wins the next election.

The move would ensure farmers were supported in government, she said.

“We have to be there supporting our dairy farmers, making sure the issues they raise are being addressed by government,” Ms McKay said.

“We have seen the dairy industry shrink in New South Wales over recent years and that has to stop.”

The commissioner would be a statutory role formed through, and accountable to, the parliament.

“[We want to] make sure that it’s in legislation and it is an independent role that lands on the side of the dairy farmer,” Ms McKay said.

“Its role is to be there to support the many issues that the dairy industry has not been able to get traction on in government.”

Ms McKay said the dairy commissioner set up by the Coalition Government was not strong enough.

“The National Party indicated that they would establish some sort of commissioner role, but what we have is a part-time desk jockey,” she said.

“What we want to do is make this an advocate and a champion for the dairy industry.”

A big job ahead

Shadow Minister for Primary Industries Jenny Aitchison said under the proposal, the commissioner would be expected to meet several goals in their first 12 months.

“We want them to be tasked with providing an effective mechanism for arbitration in conjunction with the ACCC [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] and the mandatory code so that work actually progresses,” she said.

“We also want to get a truth-in-labelling policy [created] because that’s an issue that not just dairy farmers, but a lot of areas in fresh food need.”

The commissioner would also be expected to develop a model uniform standard to deliver consistency in testing, sampling and the calibration of equipment used in fresh milk to ensure a fair farm price, she said.

“We know that the quality of the milk is such a big factor in milk pricing, and it needs to have proper calibration done,” Ms Aitchison said.

‘We are vulnerable’

Dairy Connect Farmers Group president Graham Forbes welcomed Ms McKay’s promise, and said a dairy and fresh food commissioner would provide vital support for farmers calling for change.

“Being producers of a fresh commodity that needs to be processed every day, we are in a vulnerable position with the processes, and they’re determined now by a lot of multinationals,” Mr Forbes said.

“We come from a very weak bargaining point … so it’s very important that we have someone who can advocate to government on behalf of dairy farmers and fresh food producers.”

Upper Hunter Labor MP Jeff Drayton said the shrinking industry needed a commissioner to ensure the future of the dairy industry.

“We’ve seen dairy farmer after dairy farmer make the decision to get out of the industry because it’s all too hard, they’re just not getting heard,” Mr Drayton said.

“And that’ll be the role of this commissioner … not just to listen to what issues our farmers have but to act on those issues and fix them up, so we don’t see the continuation of the demise of the dairy industry.”

Victorian scientists in Australia will be working on methods to reduce the environmental footprint of the Australian dairy cow and to create a more profitable and sustainable dairy sector.

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