Get Involved in the Quest for Fair Competition

By BRIAN TESSMANN, QDO President

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce’s call for farmers and small businesses who have experienced anti-competitive behaviour to speak out is a message we all need to hear if the we want fair and viable industry. Minister Joyce’s took this extraordinary step as he is clearly aware of the importance around the Harper Review recommendation to amend section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act which relates to the misuse of market power.

While there appears to be an obvious need for an ‘effects test’ to be reinstated, powerful players from the big end of town have put pressure on both Labor and Liberal parliamentarians to kill off any proposed changes to section. In response to this pressure treasurer Scott Morrison has released a discussion paper including varying options to amending section 46, including no change at all.

Submissions are currently being sought on the discussion paper until the 12th of February. While the dairy industry is crying out for changes in the market rules there are significant and often more decisive examples in other sectors of both agriculture and other types of small business. If there are to be changes groups such as National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) need to start partnering with small business and provide a united narrative for this change.

Farmers getting involved across a range of current Ag issues is also essential. This includes the proposed changes to the tick line regarding the Tick Protected Zone and alterations to Tick management and other biosecurity issues such as BJD. The QDO wants to see maximum protection afforded to dairy farmers on both these issues and are working to see the maximum amount of land and number of many farms remain in the tick free zone.

Principally two things are needed in the face of new legislation for a piece of land in the protected zone to be taken into the tick free zone. The first is a demonstrable absence of cattle ticks in the area concerned and second it must havea suitable double fenced line as its boundary. It is beyond the scope of QDO to work this out alone so farmers along the disputed line must get involved.

In the same way dairy farmers need to stay informed and get involved in the changes to BJD management. The state government the department of Agriculture, under pressure from some other states and industry sectors, appear hell bent on removing current protections and leaving dairy farmers to their own devices in limiting spread of BJD.

It is not just farmers who must unite and get active and involved in providing information on instances of abuse of market power. The whole small business sector need to speak now or it forever will have to hold its peace. There is a lot of money lobbying ability and pressure coming from those who have over the past decade or so enjoyed using there market power to get their own way and make suppliers do what they want them to do. If any of these injustices are to change then we all need to unit across the whole range of farmers and small businesses. Without a united approach it will be too easy for the federal government to ignore the injustice farmers and small business suffer by simply bowing to the big end of town. 

If we loose this opportunity to get a fairer domestic market place it will be our own doing. Collectively farmers and small business right across the nation need to carry fair more political weight than a hand full of large corporate stand over merchants. Now is the time, coming up to the next federal election, to make the Australian small business voice heard well and truly in the halls of Canberra and to ring in the ear of all politicians.