Leader of the Australian Labour Party, Kim Beazley, has promised to help those milk producers hardest hit by the deregulation of the dairy industry. He called for a summit meeting of stakeholders to discuss the direct assistance farmers need yesterday.

Too much money is being wasted, he said, referring to the A$45m spent on community projects rather than going to the farmers directly affected by operating in a market where the price of milk has generally fallen. He added to an audience of dairy farmers near Grafton, NSW, that the prime minister had consistently ignored Labour Party warnings that reform would be uneven, and as a consequence many farmers are “now bleeding as a result of the Howard Government’s mishandling of milk market deregulation.”

Beazley admitted that the milk industry reforms had become a major issue for the Coalition government, who stand to loose several seats together with the support of dairy farmers in Queensland and NSW.

He commented that the ALP is not interested in reversing deregulation, introduced last July but in order the ease the pace of the reform however “a rigorously enforced public interest test” will be instituted before further decisions are made.