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10 September 2019

Second Reading Debate: Primary Industries Legislation Amendment Bill 2019

I rise today to speak on the Primary Industries Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, which is a bill that I spoke on in 2017. It has been said by the speakers before me that it is very much like deja vu. For me, this reflects that the government talk the talk but do not actually believe what they are sprouting. We have got a bill here that will assist businesses, will protect the environment, will protect our industries’ reputations—all sorts of things that will help the state, will help farmers and will help protect the environment. I am not surprised, because it has happened a lot, that I am able to stand here and say it is 2019, nearly two years on and we are talking about the same thing. It should have been well and truly passed by now, but it does tell me that the priorities of this government are not about what they purport to be.

This is an omnibus bill. The parts I will talk about are probably more the changes to the Dairy Act 2000, the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 and the Meat Industry Act 1993. I will start with dairy. The dairy act will actually take the camel milk industry, which is a new industry to Australia, and put it under the responsibility of Dairy Food Safety Victoria. Previously it was left languishing under the responsibility of local government. For local government, in these areas where businesses want to start up and need to be licensed, which is very important part of running a dairy business because of the implications of food safety and what we need to make sure we protect as a dairy industry because we have got a great reputation internationally and we want to make sure that remains, it is really good that this is being brought under the Dairy Food Safety Victoria umbrella, just like goats’ milk, sheep’s milk and all milk that comes from mammals. That is what milk is; milk is not a plant-based product, which some people claim, because that sends mixed messages to the consumer about the nutrition and value of the product.

This, for me, is a time to really share with our Parliament the importance of our local primary industries. As a producer of dairy for some 20 years and having been very involved in the industry to work to ensure that we had good legislation that protected our industry, I was very involved in making sure the reputation of milk was protected. I have a great understanding of the importance of agriculture, and it does concern me that this particular government do not really embrace and optimise the opportunities before them. We could do so much more for the producers, but we hinder them rather than help them. Just an example of that was a report that was released not that long ago—a few weeks ago—about the cost of transport in this state and how much that is hampering the ability of export products to be competitive. What is happening is that our roads are falling apart, so consequently that puts an increased pressure on transport businesses. They are doing kingpins within 18 months, which would normally have taken five years to damage, or they are destroying the undercarriage of the trucks. Businesses are telling me that their costs of maintenance on their trucks are going up by 40 per cent, and of course that gets passed on to the producer when the producer is trying to supply an international market competitively. It really does do a huge amount of damage. I think the government could do a lot more.

I also want to talk about the Catchment and Land Protection Act or CALP act and what will be the result of this. Supposedly the changes will give more powers to the department to be able to ensure that people comply with weed management and the control of noxious weeds and pests. This is a real issue. When we heard the Member for Murray Plains speak earlier, he talked about the explosion in deer numbers. It is not only in deer, but certainly we are seeing them.

I was on the motorbike a little while ago, probably two or three years actually because I have rarely gotten to do much milking in the last three years, and was getting the cows up in the morning and sure enough there was a deer running through the paddock.

It was not something that I had ever seen before, but the point I am making is they are certainly coming down throughout Victoria, right down to the coast from the high country, where I suppose they began. We are also seeing rabbits, a real explosion in rabbits despite all the good work that a lot of people do in the environment space. Without being able to have the department really impose some sort of penalty on those who are not abiding by the law, we are just not seeing any management at all.

We are seeing Paterson’s curse down our way. This is something that 10 or 15 years ago was right through South Australia in the northern areas, but you just did not see Patterson’s curse down our way at all. You do now. Unless we do something—make a concerted effort—we are actually destroying the biodiversity of our area by destroying the roadsides which we say we need to protect to look after our native grasses, but we are not. It is all talk. We are not really putting our money where our mouth is. I hope this does give the imprimatur to the department to actually do something, but they cannot do it without government support.

They have got the imprimatur; I understand they want to do it, but they do not have the resources and that is what we have seen in this budget again. The amount of money put towards being able to have property inspections has been cut. It is all good having laws, but you have to support them with money as well.

I also said I wanted to talk about the abattoirs. We have a large abattoir in our area, which is one of the biggest employers. I spoke with these guys when we had this bill before the house two years ago, and they were quite concerned about making sure that the regulations did not have any unintended consequences—again, compromising the reputation of our producers. It does not matter even if you are not exporting, which this company is, but one incident in Australia ruins our reputation.

That is why it is so important that we actually work very hard with our laws and with players like Dairy Food Safety Victoria to ensure we do protect the product so that we can ensure right through the supply chain that there are no compromises.

I think that the abattoirs have concerns, but I am pretty confident that everyone’s intention is right and the people who are now operating in New South Wales will come to Victoria. It is good for the whole state if we grow industries and grow jobs. Primary industry is a very, very important industry. We are seeing our fishing families down in Gippsland losing their ability to actually fish, and we have got to remember that you just cannot keep compromising food production and expect that we are embracing farmers, because at the end of the day if you do not actually provide the opportunity for farmers to thrive, they will walk away.

Who will look after the landscape then? The member for Macedon implied, when she was referring to a chap who was an organic farmer—and I have great respect for all styles of farming—that one style of farming is better than the other, but you cannot say that. All farmers have to and do, I believe, prioritise the environment.

We have all been working for years as farmers for the benefit of our future generations, and it is often our children and grandchildren that we are thinking of.

So clearly you get up in the morning and you think about the best way to operate in the environment.

Prior to coming here I was chairman of a research board for the dairy industry, and we spent an enormous amount of the levies that came in on research that made sure the waterways were managed well and that the soils were managed well. We were constantly investing in research so that we could leave the land that we are responsible for—for the short time we are—in the hands of the future generations better than we left it.

It is time to really embrace farming and agriculture. We could actually import everything. We could survive quite easily without the industries, but I am not sure you would have the landscape cared for the way we do now.

You would have blackberries, you would have vermin, you would have foxes, you would have rabbits, you would have wild boar—you would have an amazing onslaught of challenges for the environment. So let us look after our best environmentalists, the farmers.

Let us make sure we do put regulations in place so that they can work with the landscape and the environment. Let us make sure that everyone has to take responsibility for weed management. And if you do not, you have to be penalised. That is just a basic way of controlling the weeds that we have got and that we need to work with. I back the reasoned amendment proposed by the lead speaker.

My son is actually a hunter, and he goes up into the high country and shoots deer.