‘That all you got?’: Gloves come off in milk levy war as Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud again blasts Coles and Aldi

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said farmers wanted fair trade, not aid.
Camera IconFederal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said farmers wanted fair trade, not aid. Credit: Countryman

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has launched a second angry tirade at supermarket giants Coles and Aldi, asking whether responses to his recent criticism over a milk levy are “the best they’ve got”.

He also described the reaction from Coles as ‘BS’.

Mr Littleproud on Sunday called out Coles for its “half-baked” milk levy policy, claiming the money would not go back to those drought-stricken farmers who supplied the milk because Coles does not know which individual farmers supply it milk.

The Minister also criticised big German retailer Aldi, which sells very cheap milk, for not participating in any kind of dairy reform or levy action, calling it a “one finger salute to Australian dairy farmers”.

“For Coles to pretend I wasn’t aware of their most recent ‘system’ to get the milk (levy) to farmers is BS,” he said.

“I couldn’t give a rats if Coles wants to criticise me for calling out their media stunt — they make millions of dollars a year from farmers and if I have to go to the media to call out their slippery corporate behaviour then bad luck.

“Obviously, Coles’ first lazy idea was to just give money to the National Farmers Federation and hope they’d sort it out, which didn’t happen.

“I’m well aware their recent announcement includes a Coles ‘independent’ person who will look at the grant applications from farmers, but Coles is still forcing farmers to apply for grants which farmers will see as welfare, and Coles has no way of knowing which farmers supply it what milk because Coles deals with a processor, not individual farmers.”

Mr Littleproud said farmers wanted fair trade, not aid.

“If I were Coles, or Aldi for that matter, I wouldn’t be baiting farmers to go to the media by telling everyone how great I am to farmers,” he said.

“That has already backfired today when a dairy farmer on ABC Radio National detailed how he had to wait months to be paid for his milk.

“Dairy farmers are telling me a mandatory code of conduct for processors and farmers is a good thing, but the supermarkets need oversight too. That makes sense to me.”

Coles, which is only applying the levy to its 3-litre variety milk, hit back at the comments yesterday.

“It is disappointing that the Minister has chosen to criticise Coles — which has already committed over $12 million for drought relief — before becoming familiar with the facts,” a spokesman said.

Coles said it had appointed PwC as an independent auditor to oversee the application administration process and verify funds have been allocated to the farmers as promised.

Woolworths is only applying the levy to its own brand $1 litre milk and Aldi has refused to consider a levy.

Aldi said yesterday it was working directly with suppliers to ease pressure on farmers by accepting price increases.

“Without a transparent, auditable and equitable process for funds collection and distribution, we believe that it would be irresponsible of Aldi to tax consumers on the purchase of milk,” the company said.

“Our firm preference is to support government-led industry reform, not short-term levies that could artificially alter market dynamics and have limited impact for those in most need.”

Mr Littleproud said consumers had the power to make change with their wallets by buying branded milk, preferably from an independent, and putting a fairer return back in farmers’ pockets.

The original idea floated by the Queensland Diary Organisation was to apply a 10¢-a-litre levy to all brands of milk, with the revenue paid directly to the farmers by the processors.

WAFarmers has supported a proper levy that would go back to all farmers.

Dairy section president Michael Partridge said while WA was not in drought, the huge demand for hay from the Eastern States had pushed up prices across the country.

Mr Partridge said many WA dairy farmers have experienced an unusually late start which has hit pasture production, forcing farmers to buy more hay and grain than under normal seasonal conditions.

“With prices for both up by more than 20 per cent this year, the combined impact on farm viability is huge as it equates to 5¢ a litre,” Mr Partridge said.

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