This is the blog post I hesitated to write. Yes, we need foreign investment, absolutely yes, but an article about a particular Chinese investor’s plans written by Sue Neales makes my stomach churn.
Ningbo Dairy Group runs 20,000 cows on 30 farms in China. It is buying up Australian dairy farms and plans to fly 100,000 litres of fresh milk to China every day but there are problems, say Ningbo. Sue Neales writes:
“The downside of Australian dairying to the Chinese newcomers is the low milk price paid by Australian processors to farmers, high labour costs, excessive red tape, a slowness to innovate and the lack of good young workers.”
The most disturbing elements of Sue Neales’ story were:
- Housing thousands of cows indoors
- Increasing the average cow’s production by 50%
- Bringing some of Ningbo’s 2000 Chinese employees “…to Australia to milk cows and help lift farm production levels to Chinese standards”.
I was astonished to read how openly Ningbo will exploit loopholes in our IR system to replace Australia’s “expensive” farm workers with Chinese employees at a fraction of the cost. Will the government act or is this simply the collateral damage of being “open for business”?
“With labour so expensive — three times more than in China — and milk cheaper, it makes profitable farming very hard; we see the only way is to process the milk ourselves, export it to China and to bring some of our workers here.”
– Ningbo Dairy Group vice-president, Harry Wang
We are not used to factory farming in Australian dairying but this takes us a giant leap towards it. The losers will be Australia’s workers, milk drinkers and, most of all, our cows. New Zealand has the Overseas Investment Office to protect its interests from unsavoury investors. Maybe it’s time Australia followed suit.