The peak lobby group representing Australian dairy farmers is calling for the creation of a Federal Dairy Commissioner to represent producers in Canberra.
Dairy Connect CEO Shaughn Morgan said it had become increasingly apparent that dairy producers required strengthened external support in their increasingly complex dealings with government and stakeholders.
The dairy industry is seeking resolutions to many of the issues confronting it including the ongoing impact of the drought, increasing energy prices, high fodder costs, unfair milk supply agreements and the implementation of the Mandatory Code.
"A Federal Dairy Commissioner would provide a conduit to relevant Ministers and the Federal Parliament on issues that continue to be raised by the dairy industry on a regular and on-going basis," he said.
"Importantly, the role would coordinate the differing priorities of the States and to liaise with State dairy counterparts.
"In NSW, for example, that would mean working closely with the about to be appointed NSW Fresh Milk and Dairy Advocate, following the commitment by the NSW Government and Opposition in the lead up to the March 2019 election.
"The Dairy Commissioner could, for instance, present an annual 'State of the Australian Dairy Industry' in which information was provided to the Parliament on the current position of the dairy industry in Australia.
"This could include fresh data on exports, milk production and imports such as cheese."
Mr Morgan said the commissioner could be supported by a small secretariat within the Federal Department of Agriculture.
"Alternatively, a revamped 'Milk Marketing Board' could be established," he said.
"It is not being suggested at this time that such a Board would have regulatory powers, but rather would be a point of contact for producers with issues such as unfair milk supply agreements.
"The Federal Dairy Commissioner's role would be different to that of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
"Where the ACCC would be providing oversight and compliance with a Mandatory Code, a Federal Dairy Commissioner would be taking a broader approach to supporting the dairy value chain."
Mr Morgan said the NSW Parliamentary Report into the Sustainability of the NSW Dairy Industry, released last year found the commissioner could:
- Provide arbitration and dispute resolution support for producers in negotiations with dairy processors
- Provide advice to producers wishing to engage in collective bargaining where appropriate
- Help producers to understand and negotiate milk supply agreements
- Conduct annual reviews of the dairy industry, including an assessment of farmgate milk prices compared with the costs of production
- Report on market challenges identified by producers
Dairy Connect would support the Commissioner being given time to prepare and report on mechanisms to implement to restructure the dairy industry.
"Dairy Connect supports investigating the viability of a possible 'dairy floor price' or other mechanism to address market failure in the Australian industry," Mr Morgan said.
"This would ensure a fair farm-gate price above the cost of production and thus guarantee a 'living wage' for dairy producers and their families."
"Dairy Connect has established a committee to consider options and to ensure a submission is provided to the appropriate body once the inquiry is established and a call for submissions is made."