Manda­tory code ques­tioned

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

‘‘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.

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