‘Unscrupulous’ dairy buyers ‘destroying families, regions’
GYMPIE Region's dairy industry is all but finished, after eight years of crisis brought about by unethical supermarket and milk processor conduct, politicians and farmers claimed yesterday.
Mary Valley farmer John Cochrane said only 28 dairy farms remain from Cooroy to Sexton and from Goomboorian to Imbil and Mooloo.
And another one of those was due to close any day, he said.
North Queensland federal MP Bob Katter backed proposed floor-price legislation being put forward by Pauline Hanson and LNP senator Susan McDonald demanded a public explanation.
She called for supermarket giants and processors to attend a public hearing in Canberra to explain their unethical treatment of farmers.
She accused them of lacking "moral backbone" and warned the federal government was finalising a Dairy Code of Conduct to protect farmers from "unscrupulous supply agreements that lock farmers into selling milk for less than it costs to produce."
She said she had written to the supermarkets this week asking them to pre-empt the Code of Conduct move by lifting their ethical standards, ending discount milk sales and paying farmers a fair price.
"These supermarkets constantly advertise how virtuous they are by sourcing ethical coffee, dolphin-safe tuna and RSPCA-approved chickens.
"But farmers and the Australian public deserve to know what ethical standards are being applied when Queensland's dairy industry is being pushed to the wall by shameful buying practices," she said.
"If Coles, Woolworths and the processors refuse to appear at the public hearing, they will send a strong message that they don't care about farmers, they're happy for Queensland's dairy industry to sink and they're happy for people to lose easy access to local fresh milk."
Sen McDonald said she was recently made aware that negotiations between processor Latalis and southern Queensland farmers' co-operative Premium Milk had broken down because the processor refused to offer a price above the cost of production.
"Eight years of milk price wars has allowed supermarkets and processors to engage in disgraceful conduct that is hurting farmers, their families and the regions they live in," she said.
Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation president Brian Tessman welcomed the political effort now being brought to bear.
"Retailers have a commercial and ethical responsibility to their suppliers and customers to ensure fresh milk can be produced in Australia for years to come," he said.
"Sen McDonald clearly has been speaking to farmers and has a good handle on the state of the Queensland industry and we thank her for pushig ahead with this issue," he said.