Milk Price Dispute Drags On

By Brian Tessmann, QDO President

The ongoing milk price dispute between Parmalat and the collective bargaining group that represents the majority of their Queensland dairy farmers, Premium Milk, continues to cause considerable financial and emotional distress to affected dairy farmers. Since the beginning of the year just under half of all Queensland dairy farmers have technically been without a contract despite still supplying Parmalat.

This uncertainty has been compounded with the absence of the three-cent per litre incentive in last year’s contract which is no longer being paid. While reports suggest refunds will be paid once the price determination is settled, many suppliers in their current state are really hurting. Like many farmers, I believed once the old contracts ended without agreement on December 31 last year that the arbitration process would then be initiated, progressed and finalised within a few months. Currently we are approaching the five-month mark without a contract resolution in sight and consequently no three-cent incentive refunds.

While Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation (QDO) strongly holds the belief that any decrease in farm gate price is not warranted, QDO is legally prohibited from directly participating in price negotiations. Around deregulation in 2000, QDO and its then president Pat Rowley, were instrumental in achieving Government approval to establish the limited present day collective bargaining arrangement which resulted in the establishment of Premium Milk.

Clearly more needs to be done to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our collective bargaining groups. This should and will hopefully be addressed in the Australian Competition Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) ongoing review of the dairy industry. A vibrant and robust collective bargaining system is in both our farmers and the broader Queensland dairy industries immediate and long term interests.

Judging from the volume of calls to QDO alone, it is vital for Parmalat suppliers that this current process is brought to a fair, prompt and just conclusion. This will give Queensland dairy farmers the certainty and stability they need to continue supplying high quality and reliable fresh milk to our consumers.