Mandatory code questioned
‘‘No mandatory code, full stop.’’ That was the message from one dairy farmer as a consultation about a mandatory code of conduct for the dairy industry was held in Shepparton last week.
It was a sentiment echoed by many in the room, with a majority of farmers in attendance saying they do not support the measure.
A 40-strong crowd, including about 20 dairy farmers, attended the consultation, run by the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, yet many remained bemused and frustrated about the timing of the consultations, the small number of meetings being held in Victoria and the absence of a draft code to make comment on.
A key recommendation of an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into the dairy industry, a mandatory code of conduct has received support from Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
But many dairy farmers say it cannot, and should not, go ahead.
A mandatory code of conduct would seek to address a number of issues including cooling-off periods when entering and terminating contracts, implementing a dispute resolution process, prohibiting retrospective step-downs and limiting exclusive supply clauses between processors and farmers.
Cobram East dairy farmer Paul Mundy was among those who voiced concerns at the meeting.
‘‘It seems absurd that this discussion has gotten his far,’’ Mr Mundy said.
Some farmers said it did not matter whether the mandatory code of conduct allowed farmers to walk away from their contract when a step-down occurred, as no other processor would take their milk in a downturn.
Katunga dairy farmer Bridget Goulding said she was disappointed at the amount of time spent on rectifying the effects of the 2016 milk price crash.
‘‘All this expense because two dairy companies couldn’t get it together,’’ she said.
‘‘Just pay us a fair amount . . . you don’t need a damn thing if you pay farmers fairly.’’
While the department said the introduction of a mandatory code was yet to be agreed to, it did little to calm the crowd.
If recommended, a mandatory code of conduct would need to be endorsed by Federal Cabinet and passed through parliament, with any future changes to a mandatory code needing to also be passed through parliament.
Many in the room expressed concerns that changes could take ‘‘years’’, yet the costs and potential consequences of a mandatory code were still unknown.
Following ACCC reviews into a number of issues — including petrol prices, telecommunications and energy prices — Katunga dairy farmer Daryl Hoey was pessimistic about the prospects of success.
‘‘Why would I have any confidence in them to handle this?’’ Mr Hoey said.
It took more than four months for industry to agree to support a mandatory code, with processors, the Australian Dairy Products Federation and the UDV among those voicing concerns.
A draft outline of the code is expected to be released in late December or early January.
Pessimistic . . . Katunga dairy farmer Daryl Hoey was among 20 dairy farmers to attend a meeting about a mandatory code of conduct in Shepparton last Tuesday.