Second Reading – Primary Industries Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

Ms BRITNELL: Being the representative of the region with the highest farm gate output in Victoria, it gives me great pleasure to speak on this —

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms BRITNELL— It’s absolutely proven on Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. Let me prove it to you soon.

It gives me great pleasure to speak on this bill, which makes a number of amendments to acts regulating the agriculture, fisheries, meat processing, fresh food and hunting industries. I am going to spend my time focusing mostly on the changes to the Meat Industry Act 1993 simply because that is what I have had the most correspondence about from my constituents. The changes to that particular act will see Victoria become the first state to legalise mobile abattoirs, and the changes that will follow will allow for mobile abattoirs to become licensed meat processing facilities. This is what has been causing concern within the industry and is what has had the industry make contact with me.

In my electorate we have Midfield Meats, a company that exports product right across the globe and is one of the region’s largest employers. They have some genuine concerns about these amendments, and I understand the Australian Meat Industry Council, AMIC, of which Midfield is a member also has raised many of these concerns with the minister and also the shadow minister. It is important to know that AMIC is not opposed to the longstanding practice of on-farm meat processing, where a family may kill a beast or a sheep or other animals for their own consumption. This has been going on for a long time, and it is important for the farming community to be able to continue that, as we do on our farm. This is already provided for under the current legislation, but these amendments seem to be opening up that practice for retail sales through farmers markets and other such events, and it is that that is concerning the industry, which has jumped through many, many hoops to be able to have an industry that is incredibly responsible, has a robust process around making sure animal welfare issues are managed responsibly and environmental issues are managed responsibly, and that the reputation we have as a clean green producing country of very high quality food maintains an intact reputation.

The council’s concerns with these amendments were wideranging and stretched from the biosecurity problems that may occur, including requirements for wash-down procedures between locations and the disposal of animal waste products from the sorter process. It is this concern that there will be a breakdown in the cold chain as well, going to farmers markets. There is also concern around the ability of mobile abattoirs to comply with environmental regulations, food safety concerns and reputational risks, as I said, to the whole industry if a mobile facility is found to be doing the wrong thing.

Back before I was a member of Parliament I was very involved with the dairy industry in particular and agriculture generally in making sure that we worked very, very hard to ensure that we had those robust processes in place. I was chair of the policy advisory committee for the markets trade and value chain for Australian Dairy Farmers and vice-president of the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria arm of the Victorian Farmers Federation/National Farmer Federation. What I was doing in those roles often was talking about the risks to our reputation and how we ensure that robust process, and you may be familiar with bodies like Dairy Food Safety Victoria, and many of the commodities have similar bodies that make sure these processes are maintained as robust.

I have worked for many, many years with Mike Taylor, the current chair of Dairy Food Safety Victoria, and Helen Dornom from Dairy Australia, who represents the dairy industry as well on that body. We have worked very hard, and the reason is we do want to keep that image of being clean and green so very strong. Our markets overseas are worth an enormous amount to us, and we cannot have any breakdowns, so we do not want that risk with mobile abattoirs when we have not got the regulation actually nailed yet. We have got a piece of legislation that has not got guidelines by which we can identify whether these mobile abattoirs will have to jump through the same hoops as the abattoirs have to jump through. As the member for Murray Plains said, we do not want any mischievous activities from animal activists that destroy that reputation, and I think there is quite a risk of that unless this is done very, very well.

There is a massive demand for high-quality and safe product, and this is partly the reason that Great South Coast has the number one farm gate output in Victoria and is number two in Australia. This very day we have the front page of my local newspaper talking about how we produce a farm gate value of close to $2.2 billion in farm output from my region. Farms, food processers and manufacturing plants provide 60 per cent of the region’s income and one in five jobs. They are extraordinary figures, and the newly unveiled plan, which is in fact being launched today — the Great South Coast Food and Fibre Council has launched the food and fibre plan — demonstrates what an agricultural powerhouse the region is, to quote Tony Ford, the CEO, in today’s paper. This is front-page news written by journalist Rachael Houlihan, a local girl who understands the value of agriculture in our region. It is front-page because we have got to keep our agriculturalists, who work very, very hard, supported. We do not want risk. Risk is something we need to mitigate, and as an industry we take it very responsibly. In this legislation I hope to see that reflected.

I worry that we just do not understand how we can help our farmers properly, and one of the ways we can do that is to make sure we look after our product to plate transport links. We all know that south-west Victoria has the worst roads, and we have got to put a lot more money in. This government does not understand that product is not getting to market. Right now we have got the product sitting on the wharf because we have got militant unions that are breaking the law. How are we going to respect the hardworking people — not only the farmers but the volunteers — when we have the unions stopping product going off to where it needs to go to before Christmas. We have got the Country Fire Authority issue, where farmers who volunteer their time and others are getting —

Honourable members interjecting.

Mrs BRITNELL — Absolutely, the union is running this state. This is not being run by you; it is being run by the unions. Look at the situation where you just do not understand what volunteers do. We have got this nurdles crisis in South-West Coast, where the beaches are being littered with plastic, and rather than supporting the volunteers we get the minister not saying a word. I have not heard the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change saying, ‘Thank you, volunteers, for cleaning up the beach. How can I help you?’. Instead today she was giving money — or so I hear — through Wannon Water perhaps. It is a great organisation; I have no problem with supporting Wannon Water, but what about the community organisations who are working hard to coordinate the beach clean-up? Where is the appreciation for those volunteer groups to work very, very hard, and the schools that have gone out and helped? Somebody is coordinating that. People are doing the hard work, the grunt work, and I am afraid the minister has missed the opportunity to respect and understand the value of that.

So roads are a massive issue, and until we start to recognise that product is not going to get to Melbourne while it is on roads like that in an efficient way, the cost is going to come back onto farmers. It is really not hard. My husband and I had been running a dairy farm for 17 years prior to my coming here, and we have spent a lot of money on our roads internally on the farm. So you soon get to know how to do it well, and you can invest a lot of money on a product like gravels and base, but unless you maintain your roads — and this is what we are seeing in south-west Victoria; there is not enough maintenance. The drainage is poor and the culverts are blocked. We should be seeing more and more graders on the roads to clear away the sides of the roads, because we are going to have —

Ms Thomas — We’ve tripled the budget.

Ms BRITNELL — Well, if you have tripled the budget, we are only seeing you repair the same road over and over again because you do not how to build a road and keep a road maintained, and while you do not understand that water will undermine any track and destroy it, all the money you put into it is just thrown away. You are absolutely right that the inability to manage a budget has just been absolutely obvious since the day I came into this place. Poor, poor fiscal management.

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms BRITNELL — Yes, I am touchy today because I am pretty cross seeing the way the wharves are destroying farmers products. We work damn hard, and the products are just sitting there before Christmas and will spoil.

These are perishable products like meat and dairy, so I reckon they are fairly touchy issues. I represent a region where agriculture is very significant, so I think I have got good reason to be cross.

We have got an opportunity to protect, nurture, embrace and grow our region, but we will not do that while we have got a government that will not act now, that will not recognise the importance of regional Victoria and stop treating people outside the metropolitan boundary with such contempt.