Small farmers urged to vote in Dairy Levy Poll but fears are that few will bother

Marian Macdonald
By Marian Macdonald
Updated March 31 2022 - 8:56pm, first published March 28 2022 - 3:30am
NOT FAIR: Dayboro dairy farmer Joe Bradley (centre) with Agriculture Minister Senator Bridget McKenzie and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Even before the troubled Dairy Levy Poll closes on Thursday, its outcome is under question.

Farmers are not only concerned by the lack of choice the voting options present, but the perceived impotence of small to medium-sized producers.

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The poll, which closes on March 31, only offers dairy farmers four choices: no change to the levy rate or increases of 15, 20 or 25 per cent.

Votes are based on production rather than on a one-vote, one-farm system, raising concerns that a handful of large farms could determine the result.

Despite direct questions, Dairy Australia would not divulge how many farms could control 50pc of the voting entitlements, but it's likely to be relatively few.

Research from 2015 stated just 13pc of Australian dairy farms milked more than 35pc of cows and DA acknowledged in a recent report there was "an emerging trend of large farm operations milking more than 700 cows".

Small farm fury

Joe Bradley milks 200 cows at Dayboro near Brisbane. He said he'd heard that 50pc of the vote is controlled by less than 20pc of farmers, which damaged his confidence in the poll.

"Some of the big guys will get 2 million votes and the little guys will get their 3000 votes," he said.

"It is absolute bullshit."

Like other industry insiders who did not want to go on record, Mr Bradley said he understood Dairy Australia had been canvassing large producers.

"If they get the big vote, it doesn't matter how the rest of Australia votes, which is wrong," he said.

"Until the government or ADF (Australian Dairy Farmers) or someone changes pulls them in the line and gets back to one-vote, one-farm no matter how big or small you are, Dairy Australia will never get its act together."

Large farm disappointment

In contrast, south-west Victorian dairy farmer Bernie Free milks 900 cows, so will have a far greater say in the levy poll outcome but still prefers a one-farm, one-vote system.

"A lot of farmers don't bother voting, because they'll tell you, 'Well, I'm only a little fish, why should I bother voting? It's a waste of time'," Mr Free said.

"You have to agree with them on that because I milk 900 cows and get the equivalent of four-and-a-half votes for every vote a 200-cow farm gets. How's that fair? We supposedly live in a democracy."

It's something that UDV president Paul Mumford last month suggested Agriculture Minister David Littleproud might take into account when the results of the poll came in.

"I disagree somewhat that only the big corporates are going to get this over the line because I think there's a circuit breaker in there with the minister and that's the participation rate," Mr Mumford said.

"I can't speak for the minister but he will look at a very broad spectrum to understand what is right for the dairy industry going forward.

"I am sure he would put into his thought process, 'Well, I can't just pick the top 20 farmers that are voting for a 25pc increase'.

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"He would have to go back and think, 'Well, where's the grassroots membership and where is the general consensus of all of industry coming from?'."

The dairy levy poll legislation is unclear about how the federal Agriculture Minister should respond to the results of the vote.

It does, however, say that Dairy Australia must make a "recommendation" to the Minister that reflects the poll.

Australian Dairy Farmers has already announced it would like a formal review of the dairy poll process, a call supported by EastAUSmilk and Dairy Connect chief executive Shaughan Morgan.

More information is available on dairypoll.com.au.

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Marian Macdonald

Marian Macdonald

National rural property writer

Writing for farmers in the Stock & Land, The Land, Queensland Country Life, Stock Journal and FarmWeekly, farming in Gippsland.

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