Dairy package wins Labor support but industry criticism – June 2016

Filed under: Australian Politics, Elections, Agriculture,

The Coalition Government has announced a support package for Australian dairy farmers who have had their incomes retrospectively cut by dairy processors Murray-Goulburn and Fonterra.

Because the Government is in caretaker mode during the election campaign, it had to obtain Opposition support for the package.

Opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said Labor would not stand in the way of any support for farmers. “We will do nothing to delay action,” he said in a letter to the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce..

But he criticised Mr Joyce for not outlining more detail, describing the proposed measures as vague and couched in qualified terms.

The package came under attack from sections of the dairy industry and others who said it did nothing to address the kedy issue – low milk prices.

Mr Joyce said the Coalition would deliver immediate assistance to dairy farmers in hardship “to help them manage through these difficult times and return to profitability”.

The key elements of the support package are: $555 million in concessional loans; $20 million to fast track the upgrade of the Macalister Irrigation District; $2 million to establish a commodity milk price index; $900,000 for an additional nine Rural Financial Counsellors in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales; $900,000 for Dairy Australia’s ‘Tactics for Tight Times’ program; fast tracking Farm Household Allowance applications with 18 more Department of Human Services employees processing claims; appointment of a Department of Human Services Dairy Industry Liaison Officer; and redirection of two Department of Human Services Mobile Service Centres to dairy regions

The recovery loans would be for terms of 10 years, Mr Joyce said, and would be funded by expanding the drought concessional loan scheme to include dairy-specific criteria.

Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge said: “We’ve ramped up the number of staff processing Farm Household Allowance claims. An extra 18 people have been brought in to process claims and to work directly with farming families, with a special focus on people in financial hardship.

“Where a farmer is facing real hardship and we have received the full details, a decision can be made almost immediately. If there is any difficulty obtaining the information we need to assess a claim, Farm Household Case Officers can talk to the farmer’s accountant or financial adviser to help get the information needed.

“Our one-stop-shop Mobile Service Centres are now travelling through the hard-hit dairy areas of regional Victoria and South Australia. The Service Centres provide direct access to the full range of Government services and are staffed with people who can answer farmers’ questions.

“Farmers can submit claims for Farm Household Allowance and other income support at the Mobile Service Centre, or by mail, online or at any Centrelink or DHS Service Centre.

“I encourage any farmer with questions to contact the Farmer Assistance Hotline on 132 316, which is running on extended hours from 8am to 8pm each week day,” Mr Tudge said.

Dairy farmers welcomed federal government assistance but say the crux of the issue - low milk prices - is yet to be addressed.

Independent senators Ricky Muir and John Madigan told a Melbourne rally in support of dairy farmers the support package did not go far enough. 'What I'm concerned (about) is we're replacing a debt with a debt,' Senator Muir said.

Senator Madigan said farmers needed a decent price for their milk. 'It's not a handout that you want, it's a fair price for what you produce,' he told cheering supporters.

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