Regretfully I stand in the parliament to highlight the desperate plight of a group of Australians who live in our midst. These Australians currently work for between $4 and $7 an hour. They are subjected to Mafia-like commercial bullying. They are a group of Australians for whom the financial pressure is becoming so great that suicide is often spoken about openly now as a way out. I talk of no other group than our Australian dairy farmers.
In my area, our dairy farmers are doing it extremely tough as a result of the retail competition involved with $1- a-litre milk. As evidence of how tough the industry is doing it: in the year 2000 there were no fewer than 1,545 dairy farmers in my state, and today there are approximately 540. One thousand dairy production farms have gone, under our noses, and what have we done to try and sustain the industry? By the end of the year, another 40 will be gone. We cannot sit idly by and watch this industry chew the flesh off its own bones so that we are able to procure milk for $1. This is wrong. As Australians we are generous by nature and we cannot sit idly by and watch this industry self-implode.
I would like to acknowledge the work of Brian Tessman and Ross McGuiness from the Queensland Dairyfarmers' Organisation. Their frustration is overwhelming. The CEO up there, Adrian Peake, does a great job. I will work with that industry to make sure that we strengthen the negotiation teams that go to the processors and negotiate a better deal for our farmers. There are strategies that we can put in place now to get a better deal and a better price at the farm gate. If we stay on the same trajectory that we are on now, with those numbers that I just gave you, it will not be too long before as a nation we will be subjected to drinking UHT milk. That is not a bad thing from a retailer's perspective, because if they are selling UHT there are no refrigeration costs and no rotation costs. In some countries in Europe—France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium—95 per cent of their milk consumption is UHT.
Please, Australians, wake up! Help me help my dairy industry. It is a cruel hoax and ruse that we are engaged in at the moment and it is destroying families and commercial enterprises, and it needs to stop today.