Dairy Poll Advocacy Mess

By Hari Yellina
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Photo by Jakob Cotton on Unsplash

As separate groups go to fight over the mandated levies farmers pay to Dairy Australia, cracks in the dairy advocacy bodies have flared out in public, and Minister David Littleproud may end up bearing the brunt of the backlash. Farmers can vote for no change in the levy rate, 15, 20, or 25% hikes in a referendum that concludes on March 31. The Australian Dairy Farmers board said last week that it hoped there would be no rise at all, in contravention of its own national policy council, which had voted to suggest farmers support a 20 percent increase.

While the board “noted” the national policy council’s position, ADF president Rick Gladigau remarked that “there is a wide range of viewpoints among our state and federation members, with disparities across states and even areas within states.” The move was described as “unprecedented” by insiders. While the ADF board is not required to follow the view of the national policy council, it is expected. The ADF National Policy Council’s decision to compel a vote on the matter before some states, particularly the dominant Victoria, had reached their own conclusions made waves as well.

While the president of the NSW Farmers Dairy Committee, Colin Thompson, said that his state had voted overwhelmingly in favour of the 20 percent rise, the situation was far less apparent south of the border. The policy council of the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria met just days after the national policy council agreed to approve a 20 percent rise and resolved merely to encourage farmers to make their own decisions after conducting their own due diligence. The squabbles might affect federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud as well.

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Instead of a one vote, one farm system, votes are based on production. While UDV president Paul Mumford believes that the method favouring major producers may discourage smaller farms from voting, he also believes that Mr Littleproud has the power to overturn the outcome. Mr Mumford stated, “The Minister of Agriculture has the final say.” He stated that the Minister was looking for a clear signal of farmer support and that he would consider the popularity of the various options as well as the outcome based on eligible ballots.

“I can’t speak for the minister, but he’ll consider a wide range of factors to determine what’s best for the dairy industry in the future.” And I’m sure he’d think to himself, “Well, I can’t just pick the top 20 farmers who are voting for a 25% rise.” “He’d have to go back and consider, ‘Well, where’s the grassroots membership, and where’s the broad consensus of the entire industry?'” When the vote alternatives became a source of concern in September, Mr Littleproud said he would be willing to explore modifications to the voting procedure if they were backed by industry. “Levy settings remain for industry to decide, and the industry is able to and welcome to submit a proposal to government to change the levy process,” he said.

The Australian Dairy Farmers has called for a review of the process after the vote and both Mr Mumford and Mr Thomson said there needed to be changes.


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