Dairy code of conduct divides

By Alana Christensen

Northern Victorian dairy farmers who attended a meeting in Shepparton have shared their message loud and clear, saying they cannot support a mandatory code of conduct for the industry.

That was the key take-away from the public consultation in Shepparton yesterday, with the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources testing the regional appetite for such a measure.

A key recommendation of an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into the dairy industry, a mandatory code of conduct is supported by Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.

But many dairy farmers said it could not, and should not, go ahead.

The ACCC inquiry was done after Murray Goulburn and Fonterra implemented retroactive price stepdowns in April 2016.

A mandatory code of conduct would seek to address a number of issues, including cooling off periods when entering and terminating contracts, implementing a dispute resolution process, prohibiting retroactive stepdowns and limiting exclusive supply clauses between processors and farmers.

If recommended, a mandatory code of conduct would need to be endorsed by federal cabinet and passed through Federal Parliament.

And any changes would also need to pass through parliament, leaving many concerned changes could take years, all when the current costs and potential consequences were unknown.

Cobram East dairy farmer Paul Mundy said the answer was clear.

‘‘No mandatory code, full stop,’’ he said.

The dairy industry has a voluntary code of conduct in place, which some of the 40-strong crowd believe should be reviewed before moving to a mandatory code.

‘‘Let’s iron out all the problems with the voluntary code and then move forward with a mandatory code, if it works out,’’ Katunga farmer Bridget Goulding said.

Following ACCC review into a number of issues, including petrol prices, telecommunications and energy prices, Katunga dairy farmer Daryl Hoey was pessimistic about the prospects of success.

‘‘Why would I have any confidence in them to handle this?’’ Mr Hoey said.

A draft version of the mandatory code of conduct is expected to be released for consultation late next month or early January.