A new report authored by the Dairy Deregulation Support Advisory Group, a body established to advise the Queensland government on the impact of the dairy industry deregulation implemented in July 2000, has found that 280 farmers in the state left the dairy sector after the changes, and that more assistance is needed to support those remaining.

While the open market generated by deregulation has enabled consumers to witness a drop in supermarket milk prices by around 13 cents, overall the policy has led to an increase in the number of family breakdowns and social cohesion in towns throughout Queensland, the report found.

In addition to the leaving of 280 producers, which cost the industry about 600 jobs, Group chairman Bob Bygott explained that poor seasonal conditions and the fact milk prices plummeted by 23% had led to a “very turbulent” first year for deregulation.

So far, Queensland producers have received A$220m aid through the federal government’s industry restructuring package, and an additional A$80m under a supplementary package. They have also had access to financial counsellors and employment and business advice. In the report, however, Bygott says: “The group considers that additional support is required.”

The report recommends that federal funding arrangements be made more flexible and that Centrelink be given discretion over whether to offer restructuring payments as income when farmers seek social security. It also said that the Queensland government should back a bid for farmers to collectively bargain over milk prices.

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Responding to the report in State Parliament, Primary Industry Minister Henry Palaszczuk pledged to consider the advisory group’s recommendations carefully.