In election campaigns past, the litmus test of whether a politician is in touch with the people is whether they know the price of milk.
It’s a classic ‘gotcha’ question from journalists and a politician would be ill-prepared if they fronted an interview or debate without knowing the cost of milk, bread or petrol.
It’s fair to say that every politician in Australia knows what the price of milk is right now – and the plight of our dairy farmers took centre stage in this week’s campaigning.
Image via Channel 10.
On Wednesday, Deputy PM and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce announced a $500 million relief program, including a low interest loans scheme. Labor supports the concessional loan proposal, but farmers holding a national protest were critical.
Farmers say it should be illegal for dairy processing companies to ‘clawback’, or retrospectively change the price they pay producers for milk solids, which has resulted in the perverse scenario where some farmers owe money to the processors. They are also calling for the introduction of a 50 cent levy per litre.
There’s a whole range of issues impacting on the price of milk. There’s a global over-supply - and despite a free trade agreement lauded by the Government as a win for Aussie exporters, it seemingly hasn't been of benefit to dairy farmers who have been locked out of selling their milk products on China’s most popular shopping website (with the exception of baby formula).
Then, of course, the Coles and Woolies dollar milk war isn't helping either. Rather than just increasing the price of their store-branded milk, Coles are going to put the same milk in a different carton, but it’s going to cost 20 cents more, with all profits going to farmers.
In what Waleed Aly called the "greatest call to arms I have ever made", he pleaded with us to buy Australian dairy. Post continues after video.
Australians support the principle of a fair days pay for a fair days work, and it’s been heartening to see shelves empty of branded milk at the supermarket. With the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announcing an investigation into milk-pricing, this issue won’t be one that goes away.
We have been told that a way to help out is to eat more cheese. I’m certainly doing my bit, with my maternity leave achievement of eating half a block of cheese for lunch last week. The milk issue has made me reflect more broadly on ethical supply chains. I love bargain hunting, especially a baby-related bargain, but when a onesie costs four bucks, a worker somewhere isn't getting a fair day’s pay.
Other election news worth noting is that Labor confirmed this week that the $4.5 billion School Kid’s Bonus won’t be making a come back if they are elected. The Coalition scrapped the bonus, which was introduced under the Gillard Government, helping families with expenses such as uniforms and laptops. If you are receiving the bonus, the last one will be paid in July.
There’s a disturbing pattern emerging in this election campaign where a government minister says something outrageous regarding asylum seekers, and then their colleagues back away from it. It feels like a tactic to keep the issue in the media - it’s followed by some back-peddling and then it's repeated. This week it was Barnaby Joyce’s turn when he linked the suspension of live exports to the number of boats attempting the hazardous journey from Indonesia to Australia.
Image via ABC.
"Might I remind you that when we closed down the live animal export industry, it was around about the same time that we started seeing a lot of people arriving in boats in Australia,” Joyce stated during a televised debate.
The implication from the Deputy PM was that the Indonesian Government was frustrated with Australia’s changed position on live exports and allowed boats to depart from their shores in response - an extraordinary claim. The ABC has reported that the Indonesian Foreign Ministry are seeking a clarification of the comments before they respond.
There was also news this week of the retirement of Australia’s first female Indigenous parliamentarian, Nova Peris.
Nova Peris has made an important contribution. She’s been a strong voice for women and indigenous Australians. Politics is brutal, and Nova Peris always seemed to rise above the pettiness and personal attacks.
Thursday was National Sorry Day, and she made a moving speech about her contribution, her family and her aspirations for Aboriginal people. "Aboriginal people have no inherited wealth, they have inherited pain, but we have a vision.” Hear, hear.
On that note, I’ll leave it there for this week's election campaign cheat sheet.
Are we nearly there yet? Not even close.