Speech: Dairy Cattle Export Charge Bill

Speech: Dairy Cattle Export Charge Bill Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (18:32): I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this dairy amendment legislation, the Primary Industries (Customs) Charges Amendment (Dairy Cattle Export Charge) Bill 2020, today. I really want to thank Joel Fitzgibbon, the Shadow Minister for Agriculture. Joel has been a real advocate in helping dairy farmers. I have many, many dairy farmers in my electorate. Joel has come to my electorate over the last couple of years and he has really taken the time to engage with farmers. I know that farmers have appreciated that as well.

I have the highest concentration of dairy cattle in New South Wales in my electorate. It's a very important statistic, but it's certainly no surprise to me. I was lucky to grow up on a dairy farm, and three of my children work on that dairy farm today. That dairy farm, like many dairy farms in my area, has been there for quite some time.

I think it's important that we go back and look at a little bit of the history, to look at the architecture that was there and what has changed, so that we can look at what we need to do for the future. Back in 1901, I'm very, very proud to say, my great-great-grandfather was the founding chairperson of the Nowra Dairy Cooperative. That was about local farmers banding together to work out how they could get their milk and their produce to market—for example, via a flying fox over the Shoalhaven River. That was certainly one of the stories that my grandfather told me, and I think that they, like many dairy farmers, loved to travel around the local farms on their roads and have a chat with other farmers. I think that's what our local farmers did particularly well. It's certainly a legacy that is still proudly there today.

We also had, obviously, a lot of cooperatives up and down the coast. Again, these are people that were dairy farmers but they also did a lot of other good things in the community. They probably helped set up many of our community halls that we still see today like my famous Pyree Literary Institute where I know many local farmers met. They discussed how they were going to improve their farms—what they could do. They also discussed local community infrastructure and they certainly discussed local politics, I believe, but they had a real kinship with their local community and with their local schools.

I think it's really important to remember where we've come from, where we are today and where we want to be in the future. I don't want to be a part of a country that has fewer and fewer dairy farmers. We've got the largest fresh milk market in New South Wales in my area. It is a major supplier of local jobs and local spending not just for dairy farms in direct jobs but also in indirect jobs. We're looking at jobs, for example, like fixing trucks and tractors right through to equipment and electricians. There are so many indirect jobs that support our local dairy farmers, and it's absolutely important that we support them.

Obviously, on the New South Wales South Coast we have been absolutely hit, I think, with every disaster that we possibly could have over the last year. We started off with the drought, and that drought was particularly horrific for our local dairy farmers. Even though we are on a river plain, it was just horrific. We had so many dairy cattle that were sold right across the board. It was a very difficult time. But what our dairy farmers do is quite amazing. They are some of the smartest people I know. They have adapted and done every possible thing they could to cut their costs, improve their herd and look after their herd. When I see them I see very progressive people. So I want to take my hat off and thank our local dairy farmers.

As I said, they've been through drought, and I think when I first came to this place we were still in that drought. Then, of course, over the recent summer we've had the horrific bushfires which covered around 80 per cent of my electorate, so they were very, very significant. We've had many, many dairy farmers who literally were fighting off the fires, particularly around the Milton-Ulladulla area, the Nowra area and further south. And for them it was absolutely terrible to be fighting those fires not just once, not just twice but, in some cases, four times. So they've gone from drought and obviously those very dry conditions, fuelling the bushfires.

We had the fires, and then—would you believe it?—we had floods. We had not just one flood but three floods. It's a surreal thing to go from bushfire to flood. Not so long ago I was walking through an area that had been impacted by the fires and it had also been hit by the flood. And you wouldn't wish it on any area. Then recently, in the last couple of weeks, we had another major flood which particularly hit areas right across the electorate again, from Kiama in the north to Nowra along the Shoalhaven River, around the Ulladulla area to Moruya and the Deua. Along the Shoalhaven River we have many dairy farms, and that is the largest flood that we have seen in 30 years. So our farmers have been doing it really, really tough.

And, of course, we've got COVID-19 on top of that. I know all our dairy farmers, when I go and see them, have their COVID signs up to socially distance and do all of that as well. When you take into account the combined effects of drought, bushfires, floods and COVID, they really have had it tough—our dairy farmers and all of our farmers. I think what it's shown is that through those times dairy farmers have had to fight their normal battles but then also other battles—for example, how to get the milk out, how to get the produce out, how to get the fuel tanker in and all those types of things. It's been particularly hard on dairy farmers. When I spoke to one dairy farmer in my region, they said it's very hard, obviously, on their outdoor workers. In many cases, these are areas that people were evacuated from, so to get workers there to be able to milk the cows and things was certainly quite difficult. It's also very hard on the dairy cattle themselves. They get quite stressed. Just going around now looking at the area, which is still quite boggy, you can see calves trying to get out of that to an area a bit higher. But I'm hoping that things are improving there.

I just wanted to mention that since I've been in the parliament one thing that I've found is that you've just got  to keep advocating and advocating, and sometimes you don't realise why you should have to do that. But when I came here the farmers in my area, which was in severe drought, couldn't even access drought loans. So that was something that I advocated for so that they could access those drought loans, which seems quite ironic now that we've gone through the bushfires and the floods. Nevertheless, it's an important thing that farmers should be able to get the support they need when they need it.

The other thing, obviously—and Joel spoke about this earlier—is a fairer farmgate milk price. As Joel said,  the architecture is there. Farming has changed. I believe farmers now are quite progressive. As I said, they're implementing solar and lots of things to reduce their energy costs. They're doing absolutely everything they can to survive. That benefits, obviously, the farm, the workers in direct jobs and indirect jobs, and the entire community. I think we do still need to look at a fairer farmgate milk price. That's important to my community and my farmers.

Another thing that I advocated for was extending eligibility for the Special Disaster Loans. What happened with this was that, during the drought, some farmers had to go and work off farm to supplement their income, but, when the bushfires came through raging, a lot of them weren't eligible for the Special Disaster Loans because they'd had too much off-farm income, which is kind of ironic because they needed that grant to rebuild the farm infrastructure that had been destroyed by bushfire. I have raised that so many times, and I'm really pleased that the government has finally extended eligibility for the Special Disaster Loans. It means so much to people in my community.

Another thing that I advocated quite strongly for in this parliament and to the National Bushfire Recovery Agency was case managers to help people in our bushfire impacted areas. I've gone out and talked with many famers. These are farmers, in some cases, that were too traumatised to actually leave their farm, or, when they did leave their farm they went for a short time but they couldn't handle it all and went back. They were completely surrounded by the blackened trees from the fires. So I'm really glad that the government has put in case managers. Not so long ago, I was really happy to go to the official opening of the Eurobodalla Bushfire Recovery Support Service in Moruya, which will have nine case managers on hand dealing with around 500 clients impacted by bushfire. They handle all sorts of inquiries, so I really want to thank them. The Eurobodalla council has played a really important part in that as well. I think it goes to the core: we need to advocate for our farmers, and we need to make sure that they're getting the support they need.

I just want to touch on a couple of things. Barnaby raised the issue around cows and methane and polluters, so I couldn't let that go. I am proud to say that in my area, which has the highest concentration of dairy cows, we have a $5 million project to turn manure into electricity at Australia's first biogas plant, so I think that's pretty good. I think that's something that is positive. I think it also signals the fact that we have a lot of farmers there who want to do that. They want to move to renewable energy and they want to reduce emissions. So I don't accept what Barnaby said. It's not that hard. We can and should be moving to zero net emissions by 2050 and we should be doing everything we can to do that. Our farmers are implementing many practices. We have a Regional Effluent Management System in the Shoalhaven, which we have had for a very long time, that recycles water. A very successful Shoalhaven City Council project that has just been expanded. So there are certainly things that we can do. During the recent floods, in the Tallowa Dam we lost—would you believe—20 years of water. It went over the dam because of the flood. That is not on. We had a lot of water, obviously, but we need to learn how to capture more of that water.

Moving forward, we absolutely need a plan for the dairy industry. I sit on the House of Representatives Agriculture and Water Resources Committee and I listen to the excellent submissions from people from all different types of agriculture. I'm aghast that we don't have a national plan. We absolutely do need one. I think we need to look more at the impacts of drought, bushfire and flood. We certainly do have a changing climate, and I think you've only got to look at the New South Wales South Coast to see that. We absolutely need to do more about disaster preparedness as part of a plan to address drought, bushfires, floods and any sort of virus,  as well. We need to attack that.

We also really need to listen to our dairy farmers. They're great advocates themselves, but we need to make sure that we're listening to them. Also, there is the issue of attracting more young people into the agriculture industry. In my local area, we have a great local Young Dairy Network, but they only receive $20,000 a year and it covers a really big area. We should be investing more in our young people. We have a really promising area on the New South Wales South Coast for the fresh milk market, for dairying and for lots of different agriculture. It's very promising. We just need the government to get on board with a plan to support our local farmers.