Dairy farmers vent to consumer watchdog
SOUTHERN Downs dairy farmers have pushed for greater transparency from major milk producers at an inquiry into the industry being held across Australia.
More than 100 dairy farmers in the region turned out to vent their concerns in public at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) dairy industry inquiry at the Toowoomba Golf Club this month.
The inquiry will examine competition between milk processors, contracting and pricing practices, retail pricing, and transparency.
Queensland Dairy Farmers Organisation vice-president Ross McInnes said a bigger-than-expected crowd provided feedback to the first of eight public consultations across Australia.
"It was very positive to see so many farmers on the Darling Downs, including from Warwick, willing to have their say and be part of the discussion," Mr McInnes said.
"The key regional issue being made is that our farms are smaller and have different cost structures, margins and obligations to suppliers to the large dairies in Victoria and other states where perhaps some farmers can afford to produce milk at $1 a litre," Mr McInnes said.
"Most dairy farmer associations have put forward submissions to the ACCC to determine the size of the different markets and for inflation to be taken into account with milk pricing."
The ACCC is expected to make its report to Treasurer Scott Morrison before November 1 this year.
Key in motivating Southern Downs farmers was the devastating impact that $1/litre milk in supermarkets has had on the Queensland industry, which has seen more than 180 farmers leave the industry since 2011.
A Warwick dairy farmer said the inquiry should have been held a couple of years ago.
"When you look at recent figures - almost 200 leaving the industry in five years - you do wonder whether the inquiry has come too late." the Freestone farmer said.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the commission would be given compulsory information gathering powers - the investigation is set to take up to a year.
"This is not looking for a breach of the act, it is looking to see if the market is functioning as it should, in a competitive and transparent way," Mr Sims said.
"This is a very serious inquiry, there have been a lot of issues raised, we need to get to the bottom of this."
The ACCC can make recommendations to government at the end of its work; it can also trigger further investigation into breaches of the act.