Code war goes on

Shepparton News - Country News - - FRONT PAGE - By Alana Chris­tensen

The dairy in­dus­try’s in­ter­nal de­bate about a po­ten­tial manda­tory code of con­duct con­tin­ues to drag on, with Fed­eral Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter David Lit­tleproud declar­ing he is sick of the de­lays.

The dis­cus­sion has been con­tin­u­ing for months in the wake of the Aus­tralian Com­pe­ti­tion and Con­sumer Com­mis­sion’s April re­port into the dairy in­dus­try, which rec­om­mended a manda­tory code be put in place to cor­rect the power im­bal­ance be­tween pro­ces­sors and dairy farm­ers.

Pro­ces­sors have ve­he­mently op­posed the manda­tory code, stat­ing more work should be done to strengthen the ex­ist­ing vol­un­tary code in­stead and ar­gu­ing it has not been given enough time to do the job since be­ing im­ple­mented on June 30 last year.

Al­though he pre­vi­ously stated his per­sonal sup­port for a manda­tory code, Mr Lit­tleproud said he was look­ing for the in­dus­try to tell him what it wanted to do.

‘‘I asked the dairy sec­tor to come to a united po­si­tion on a re­sponse to the re­port and a manda­tory code of con­duct for the dairy in­dus­try. This has not yet hap­pened,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m jack of it.’’ Milk pro­ces­sor and man­u­fac­turer rep­re­sen­ta­tive body Aus­tralian Dairy Prod­ucts Fed­er­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Peter Stahle ac­knowl­edged the 2016 milk price cri­sis had bro­ken trust in the in­dus­try, but said the ‘‘blunt in­stru­ment’’ that was a manda­tory code was not the an­swer.

‘‘We’re ask­ing to spare us the cost. (A strength­ened vol­un­tary code) is cheaper and more ef­fi­cient,’’ he said.

Dr Stahle said the Aus­tralian Dairy In­dus­try Coun­cil — com­posed of the ADPF and Aus­tralian Dairy Farm­ers — had put for­ward a stronger ver­sion of the cur­rent code of con­duct and he be­lieved the pro­posed ver­sion ‘‘had teeth’’ and would sat­isfy con­cerns re­gard­ing penal­ties and re­solv­ing dis­putes.

‘‘We’ve been hear­ing sup­port for that from the most un­likely cor­ners,’’ he said.

The pro­posal has the po­ten­tial to gain ap­proval from dairy rep­re­sen­ta­tives in­clud­ing the UDV, which has pre­vi­ously de­clared con­cerns re­gard­ing the cur­rent code’s lack of ar­bi­tra­tion and the cost and time of im­ple­ment­ing a manda­tory code.

‘‘We have al­ways said ev­ery op­tion is on the ta­ble,’’ UDV pres­i­dent Adam Jenk­ins said.

‘‘Some pro­ces­sors have been bad cit­i­zens and need to clean up their act . . . We want to get rid of claw­backs and make trans­par­ent pric­ing,’’ he said.

‘‘We want to make sure the rec­om­men­da­tion is ac­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial to the in­dus­try.’’

For dairy farm­ers, such as Mal­colm Holm who milks 550 cows at Fin­ley, the an­swer is sim­ple — what­ever the code ends up be­ing, it must de­liver for both dairy farm­ers and pro­ces­sors.

‘‘The de­bate’s been hi­jacked by manda­tory and vol­un­tary,’’ Mr Holm said.

‘‘The in­dus­try has had a vol­un­tary code in place that has been a bit of a tooth­less tiger, with no mech­a­nism hold­ing pro­ces­sors ac­count­able,’’ he said.

‘‘With the cur­rent code we have three pro­ces­sors that aren’t signed up. Given not all pro­ces­sors are signed up, how ef­fec­tive is it?

‘‘If we can’t do (a vol­un­tary code with all pro­ces­sors signed up), then we need a manda­tory code.’’

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