Turnbull on Friday acknowledged a dramatic reduction in milk prices was having “a very harsh impact” on dairy farmers.
Because the government is in caretaker mode ahead of the July election, it is in talks with the Opposition “about making more assistance available to dairy farmers”, the prime minister told reporters in Launceston.
Victorian dairy farmers will be given additional counselling rather than cash under a $1.5 million state government assistance package announced earlier on Friday. Earlier in the week, the South Australian Government promised $60,000 for counselling for dairy farmers.
Victoria says the cash will go towards additional counselling services, Lifeline funding, mental health first aid training and community wellbeing workshops.
“We’re putting farmers and their families first by providing them with the support they need to look after themselves and each other,” Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement.
Independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon wants an emergency temporary levy on milk and stronger protections for dairy farmers after the savage milk price cuts.
Dairy co-operative Murray Goulburn has slashed what it pays farmers for milk solids from $5.60 a kilogram to between $4.75 and $5 a kilogram because of a slump in global prices.
Competitor Fonterra has followed suit.
Xenophon is also calling for stronger protections for dairy farmers against “abuses of market power”, an inquiry into the industry and for the commonwealth to use local milk powder in foreign aid.
“They (dairy farmers) deserve to make a decent living and a fair return on their investment. Right now many of them feel as though they’re feudal serfs,” he said on Friday.
“If we don’t act now the dairy industry with its 6000 farmers will shrink to a level from which it may never recover.”
Armed with a cow & bag of yoghurt @Nick_Xenophon calls for urgent action to support dairy industry. @TenNewsADELpic.twitter.com/DXNpcBPuft
— Kate Somers (@kate_a_somers) May 20, 2016
But the prime minister on Friday insisted long-term prospects for the industry were good.
“Long-term demand for milk products globally is very strong,” Turnbull said.
“There are some particular circumstances that occurred that gave rise to this dramatic drop in price … and we will ensure that the dairy farmers are given all the support we can give them to get through this very difficult patch.”
ANZ on Friday announced its own assistance package for customers who are dairy farmers.
The bank will suspend repayments on loans – including credit cards – for up to three months; adjust lending limits; and waive certain fees.
Regional business banking manager Christine Linden said while many customers were doing it tough today “the macro fundamentals in the medium and longer-term of the industry remain strong”.
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