No dairy code until mid-2020, hearing told

By Country News

A mandatory code of conduct for the dairy industry is not expected to be in place before July 2020, Senate Estimates has heard.

Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources deputy secretary Cindy Briscoe told Senate Estimates last Tuesday that advice had recently been provided to the government about the next steps for the code.

‘‘The consultations we have had with producers in the sector over the last couple of months indicate that, should a mandatory code eventuate through the usual government decision-making process, the earliest it is likely to come into effect would be July 1, 2020,’’ AGVET Chemicals, Fisheries and Forestry Division acting first assistant secretary Nick Blong told estimates.

‘‘That is subject to several government decisions, of course.’’

The proposed mandatory code of conduct would apply to 5800 dairy farms across the country and an estimated 87 dairy processing businesses, and put a number of measures in place including requiring all processors to announce their milk price by a set date, implementing a dispute resolution process and banning retrospective price step-downs.

A mandatory code of conduct encompassing all processors estimated the annual average cost to the industry at more than $900000 while the estimated average cost of taking a case to dispute resolution was $2500 per case. Preparation costs for each party could rise to $7875.

Federal Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has hit out at the government, accusing it of being ‘‘stuck in go-slow mode’’ and continuing to delay the mandatory dairy code of conduct.

‘‘Dairy farmers are struggling now and cannot afford to keep waiting for meaningful government action,’’ Mr Fitzgibbon said.

‘‘It’s been almost a year since the ACCC’s report into the performance of the dairy industry recommended a mandatory code of conduct be established.

‘‘The reality is dairy farmers are hurting now. Many farming family businesses are already at breaking point.

‘‘Whilst the code won’t fix all the challenges faced by the dairy industry, properly designed it can address the significant bargaining power imbalance between our dairy farmers and processors and will create a much-needed base level of industry practice.’’