Dairy pawn

Image from http://enos.deviantart.com/art/Cow-Chess-1353853 by enos of Deviant Art

These days, I feel a little like a chess piece; more pawn than queen.

The Australian federal government has rushed into a free trade agreement with Japan that does next-to-nothing to help Aussie dairy break through tariff barriers, even though Japan is hardly known for a growing dairy industry of its own that deserves protection. I don’t know why we were overlooked but a Sydney Morning Herald story quotes Warren Truss as citing “compromises”.

It’s been an interesting few days for dairy. Coincidentally, the ACCC forced supermarket superpower, Coles, to confess that it was lying when it claimed the $1 milk had not hurt dairy farmers.

At the same time, the media is littered with references to milk as “white gold” and so on, while our co-op, Murray Goulburn, contemplates a partial sell-off to raise capital.

And the milk maid? Yes, I’ve almost recovered financially from last year now but not emotionally.

A Kiwi who’s now dairy farming here in Victoria tells me that one of the differences he’s noticed is that there’s just not the “buzz” around our farmers in a good year that you get in NZ.

Why? First, we’re more battle-weary and risk averse after a decade of drought knocked us around. Second, we’re rightly a little more cynical. In NZ, dairying gets a lot of encouragement from a government that understands dairy’s huge economic impact on the entire nation. The sector accounts for about 3% of NZ’s GDP. Have a look at this economic statement:

“Rebounding dairy production drove a 1.4 percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP) for the September 2013 quarter — the biggest quarterly increase since December 2009, Statistics NZ (SNZ) said.”
The New Zealand Herald, 19 December 2013

Here in Australia, the dairy sector contributes $13 billion to our economy but that’s considered small fry, accounting for less than 1% of our GDP, which totalled $1451.1 billion in 2011–12.

If we are to realise our potential, we need a government that helps dairy grow rather than considering it as a tradeable concession. All eyes are now on the FTA negotiations with China.

9 thoughts on “Dairy pawn

    • The nicest thing we can call it is a Trade Liberalisation Agreement. It is hard not to conclude that the squeaky wheel got the oil and the Aussie dairy wheel was running along quietly. I am sure it is not as simple as that, but the optics are clear enough. There is now enormous pressure on the Chinese FTA to deliver for Aussie dairy.


  1. I think this government will trade just about anything to get a few $$’s. Mr. Rabbit is offering China greater access to purchase our land and business’s. to prove ‘Australia is Open for Business’ and in the hope of better trade concessions. Our local abattoir Tabro (Lance Creek & Moe) has just been purchased by a Chinese company. I hope they will still process livestock for the domestic market (as well as for export) and will sell meat back to us at a reasonable price ? I don’t mind ‘Australia being open for business’ but I do object to ‘Australia being up for Sale’ !!


  2. Great Post Marian
    Without getting too political, the current government still doesn’t appear to comprehend that they are in charge. The so-called FTA’s look like little more than a ‘well we got a deal and you didn’t’ political exercise, with little regard for the true national interest. Give it a year and maybe they’ll understand what an opportunity they missed.

    Speaking to people in China, the whole ‘Team Australia’ thing is as cringe-worthy there as it is here. It shows such an unsophisticated and trivial approach that many Chinese who know Australia well are very confused. We moved away from events that featured giant Koalas and Kangaroos in the 90’s. In recent years, Australia has been selling itself as a sophisticated producer of fine wines, foods, fashion, etc to the growing middle class – I could go on but it’s pretty disappointing to say the least.

    My colleagues in NZ say the same as you – dairy is red hot. But for other ag enterprises it is a very mixed blessing. Property prices have inflated to levels that lock out other commodities (especially sheep). Properties have been bought up solely as feed paddocks for dairy enterprises, so you don’t need people, staff, etc. Damage and pollution to rivers and waterways is becoming a significant issue. It’s great they are making money now but there are some concerns about what happens if (when) export markets flatten out or decline…


  3. The fact that people are starting to question this government’s motives is a start int the right direction. Then we need to question whether the processors that claim to be on our side actually are.
    The fact that only a few weeks ago in federal parliament that a motion to help secure sustainable returns to dairy farmers was voted against by the major parties and only gained the support of Bob Katter who put the motion and Clive Palmer and Andrew Wilkie is a fair view of how the political parties truly view us.
    As to relying on Barnaby Joyce to come to our rescue early responses from him clearly show that he is just a red herring sent to do the LNP bidding to keep us quiet.


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