Dairy farmers call on opposition to back their cause 

FEDERAL opposition agriculture spokesman John Cobb is being urged to meet disenchanted south-west dairy farmers.

Wannon MP Dan Tehan has invited Mr Cobb to attend next month’s Sungold Field Days at Allansford and address a dairy farmer forum.

A spokesman said Mr Cobb was “very aware” of the financial difficulties dairy farmers faced from the high Australian dollar’s impact on exports, the supermarket milk price wars and the impact of the carbon tax. 

Mr Cobb was among many criticised for not doing enough to help battling dairy farmers by speakers at Monday night’s dairy crisis meeting at Noorat called by the breakaway Farmer Power group.

South-west dairy consultant Mike Hamblin said Mr Cobb was virtually unknown in the south-west. Mr Hamblin said a proactive federal opposition was needed to get the federal government to pay more attention to dairy farmers’ plight.

The spokesman for Mr Cobb said he had been active in campaigning for dairy farmers for the past two years but his efforts had not gained media attention. 

In 2011, Mr Cobb called for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate the supermarket milk price war because of concerns milk was being sold below the cost of production. The ACCC later found that Coles had not breached the Competition and Consumer Act and the major impact of the reduction in milk prices was a cut in the supermarkets’ profit margins on house brand milk.

Mr Tehan, who attended the crisis meeting in Noorat along with state member for South West Coast Denis Napthine, said he had invited Mr Cobb to the south-west prior to Monday’s meeting.

He issued the invitation after meeting in December with Mr Hamblin and others in the south-west dairy industry who were concerned about the financial stress farmers were under. 

Mr Tehan said he wanted Mr Cobb to hear the concerns first-hand. The MP said he wanted to work with the Farmer Power group to identify its concerns that could be addressed by the federal government.

Among the federal issues he expected to be raised were the impact of the carbon tax on dairy farmers, workplace laws preventing farmers from hiring people for less than three hours and whether the supermarket milk price wars should be reviewed further.

Mr Tehan also said the big federal government deficits in recent years had kept interest rates high and put upward pressure on the Australian dollar, which has dampened export demand for Australian dairy products.

A further issue that had been floated was to reinstate non-commercial loss legislation that allowed businesses to transfer losses in one enterprise to another that was profitable.

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