Legal and Social Issues Committee

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (17:03): It actually has been a very entertaining debate today. I have noticed that the government crossbenchers have been sitting on the fence and they have had a foot either side.

Georgie Crozier: Splinters

Melina BATH: And I think potentially, as Ms Crozier just said, they have splinters from sitting on the fence. But apparently now they have gone back to their original conversation with the Greens and will be supporting the Greens on this motion. We have been very clear. I know you are surprised at that, Dr Bach, but apparently now they are supporting this motion for a referral. It is motion 242 in Dr Mansfield’s name. We would have liked to have seen and would have fully supported motion 267 standing in Dr Ratnam’s name. That is a fulsome and wholesome and deep dive into the cost-of-living issues and those affected individuals and families doing it very tough. We would have supported that.

Let me talk about my interest. It has been a wide ranging debate, so I will not cover back over the very good contributions of my Liberal colleagues, but as a National I would like to talk about the country, the regions. First of all, the Greens are very good at putting out, as we have heard, social media posts, but indeed their website talks about the profiteering supermarkets of Coles and Woolworths and the evilness of those.

I did a bit of a Google search, and I have also been to towns in my electorate. I have looked at Omeo, and I have been to the supermarket in Omeo. Omeo, funnily enough, does not have a large supermarket. It does not have a Coles or a Woolworths, it has a local family-owned FoodWorks. Indeed Orbost, again a beautiful town that I know very well, has a FoodWorks and an IGA. Also, the median income of people in Orbost is just under $800 per week. They have two supermarkets, not part of that big duopoly – those big evil dudes, according to the Greens – and an average income of $800 per week. Let us go to the good people in Brunswick. I think it was actually Brunswick East that I looked up. The median weekly income in Brunswick households is $2100, and they have three supermarkets. They have Woolworths, one of those duopolies. They also have Cheaper Buy Miles and a local IGA. Now, I put that on record for when the Greens start to look at options.

In this motion 242 from Dr Mansfield we certainly agree with part (1), because it mimics part (1) of the other motion, the other referral to the Legal and Social Issues Committee about the rising cost pressures facing Victoria, their physical and mental health impacts and economic stress. We want to see a deep dive into those. But the second part, ‘options available to lower the cost of food’, of course is code for price caps on essential items. We have seen again on their website talk about how all around the world governments are taking a range of actions, such as putting price caps on essentials. Now, if you are putting price caps on essentials, you are also going to punish those people that live in rural and regional Victoria, not only because of the fact that it depends on the supermarket – and these supermarkets operate on very thin margins with locally owned, family-based businesses, and they are employing local people – but because you are often in the region where primary producers are making, growing, producing and trying to sell the product that forms part of that essential food item.

Let us just look at just one factor in terms of that energy supply and food supply chain. If you are looking at, for example, dairying, there have been rising input costs in dairying over the last year. I have contacted a local dairy farmer who said that their monthly electricity bill at the same time last year was $2800 a month and this year was up to $4000 for that month. So if you are going to put a cap on essential services and you are going to put a cap on essential food, it will be on milk and, I am assuming, the ingredients that go into our daily lives, our daily food sources. You are going to put a cap on farmers’ profits, yet their input costs are going up and up and up.

We also know that in relation to the Victorian Farmers Federation and investing in regional Victoria in their report in 2022 the total annual transport costs in the ag industry was $5.8 billion a year, with supply chain costs often accounting for the single largest cost in agricultural production. And what have we got here? We have got the Labor government refusing to fund maintenance on roads to the extent it should be. They are cutting costs on maintenance of roads, and we see fuel prices and wear and tear on getting that product from farm gate to market. Also we see the Essential Services Commission talking about the increase in electricity prices.

So this Greens motion that has come up is short-sighted. We need to go to motion 267, which has a deep dive into the real issues. We will certainly not be supporting this. We note that the government has consequently taken the splinters from whence they have come and jumped over to support this, but the Nationals will not be supporting this motion.

Council divided on motion: