An independent Dairy and Fresh Food Commissioner will address Upper Hunter farmers’ concerns in Parliament and help strengthen an industry devastated by fires, drought and floods, NSW Labor says.
Opposition Leader Jodi McKay and Labor candidate for the Upper Hunter vowed to establish the commissioner to champion the concerns of farmers and formulate policy for their specific issues if elected in the May 22 Upper Hunter by-election.
As a statutory role, the commissioner would be formed through, and accountable to, the parliament.
“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.
Jeff Drayton, the Labor candidate for the Upper Hunter said dairy farmers in the area have been left to fend for themselves after the worst drought in the State’s history.
“The Upper Hunter pumps billions into the NSW economy and all our dairy farmers have gotten in return is a part-time bureaucrat. The National Party promised to appoint a full-time, independent NSW Dairy and Fresh Food Commissioner but that’s not what they delivered,” Mr Drayton said.
“The dairy industry is reeling from the impact of a devastating drought and unprecedented fires. In their time of greatest need, The National Party has deserted farmers. The farmers had nowhere to go and didn’t know who to talk to. ,” he said.
“The farmers have done it tough. They had no one to go to sort any issues out whether it was water issues or truth in labeling. Right through the drought, they’ve had little to no help so far.
“The commissioner needs to be independent, to go to government on behalf of farmers and advocate for their issues. Farmers have been wanting this for a couple of years at least.
“We want to see the truth in labeling. Is almond milk really milk? What are the ingredients? People think they’re getting milk and they’re not,” he said.
“I’m pleased NSW Labor has committed to delivering a true advocate for the dairy industry. Industry and farmers should not have to fend for themselves. They need urgent guidance and support. They’re being short-changed by the Nationals’ watered down, part-time NSW Fresh Milk and dairy Advocate,” Ms McKay said.
Graham Forbes, Dairy farmer of Dairy Connect said the commissioner could address the vulnerability of food security issues such as storage of milk as well as scrutinise alternative milk labels.
“We really want this totally independent person to advocate for the industry, with no political ties. For example, let’s get clarity in labelling. Some of the nut milk is an inferior imitation to milk. If you look at the label, it’s mostly water, crushed nuts, and all sorts of different additives,” he said.
“It’s different for us, milk is different to grain, you can store grain in silos for a while. We have to think about the freshness of milk and storage needs on a daily basis,” Mr Forbes said.
Mr Forbes said the dairy farming industry has been practically decimated with only 500 dairy farms left in NSW compared to over 2000 farms around 20 years ago.
“We’ve lost a lot of farms in recent years. There was a very large dairy farm in Aberdeen with 1000 head of cattle shut down. It was leased from the mine but there was a change of ownership and the leaseholder was not able to come to a satisfactory agreement with them.”
“There’s a lot of vulnerability in the industry. We really need help and for Government policy to protect this industry.”
In the first year, the Commissioner will develop:
• An effective mediation and arbitration process for NSW farmers, in consultation with local industry and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), in conjunction with the mandatory code for dairy);
• A truth in labelling policy for fresh food and dairy; and
• A model for a national standard to deliver consistency in testing, sampling and the calibration of equipment used in fresh milk production to ensure a fair farm price.
The Commissioner will work with dairy farmers to review:
• Best practice business models
• Contracts and plans for long-term sustainability; and
• Competition and succession planning.
They will also investigate ways to provide better access to the Farm Innovation Fund and develop a long-term research and development strategy for the industry.
For more information on where candidates stand: Voting 101: Upper Hunter by-election.