Dairy farmers back Tanarra bid for Lion dairy business

He said no competition issues would arise from a successful Tanarra bid, especially in regard to milk prices paid to farmers. But he said the co-operative had ongoing concerns about the prospect of further consolidation in the Australian dairy industry, which is something that would occur if an existing dairy player such as Bega or Saputo won the battle for the Lion dairy business.

The Lion business includes long established, big-selling brands such as Dairy Farmers, Big M, Pura, Daily Juice and Berri. Lion is owned by the giant Japanese brewer and food company Kirin.

The Dairy Farmers Milk Co-operative is a farmer-owned and farmer operated co-operative that supplies milk to Lion, with Mr Kebbell describing the co-operative as a “key partner” of Lion dairy and drinks.

The co-operative has over 300 members from more than 250 dairy farms in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. Each year it supplies more than 230 million litres of milk to Lion.

The Australian Financial Review reported on Friday that Saputo had been knocked out of the race for the Lion business, and that Bega was ahead in the auction race.


In August Bega chairman Barry Irvin told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that Bega could be interested in buying the Lion division.

“Of course we’re interested in dairy consolidation and we’re interested in good dairy companies,” he said.

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Local News - Victoria

No cash for Murray Basin Rail project ‘just appalling’, farmers say

“It’s pretty disappointing really for Victorian farmers,” Victorian Farmers Federation grains group president Ashley Fraser said.

“I’m horrified to think we are going into 2021 without any direction on funding for this project. It’s just appalling.”

Transporting grain on rail is far more efficient than trucks, with Mr Fraser estimating that a freight train can carry 3000 tonnes compared with a B-Double truck carrying about 42 tonnes. Rail is more than $20 cheaper a tonne than a truck, he said.

The Andrews government expects to finish the project by late 2023 – far later than the December 2018 completion date outlined in the project’s 2015 business case.

The Victorian Auditor-General exposed the project’s serious lags in meeting scope, time, cost and quality benchmarks in an audit earlier this year. The project has received $240 million from the federal government and $199 from the state.

A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the federal government would not budge from its $240 investment, but wanted to “progress a solution” on the project.

Grain farmers had expected the Morrison government to tip in more cash.

Grain farmers had expected the Morrison government to tip in more cash.Credit:Pat Scala

“As we’ve said before, the Australian government has contributed more than $240 million to Murray Basin Freight Rail and stakeholders and the community deserve visibility of the revised business case and input into a transparent solution.

“We understand how important this project is and look forward to working with Victoria, industry and other stakeholders to progress a solution.”

There were very few surprises in Tuesday night’s federal budget transport-wise, with the federal government having already announced it would spend $1.1 billion for “shovel-ready” Victorian road and rail projects on Monday.

New elements however, included $2 billion in road safety money with Victoria to receive the lion’s share of the ready-to-go road safety upgrades – a move welcomed by the RACV.

“RACV supports the $2 billion road safety investment – provided to state governments on a use it or lose it basis – which will drive urgently needed investment in small scale road safety projects, particularly in regional areas,” said RACV general manager public policy Bryce Prosser.

The federal government also plans to bring forward $605 million for stages two and three of the South Geelong to Waurn Ponds rail upgrade and has pledged $5 million to preserve land for a future Outer Metropolitan Ring Road.

The government also unveiled a $1.1 billion expansion of its local roads and community infrastructure program to support immediate upgrades of local roads, footpaths and street lighting.

The investment comprises $208 million for stage two of the Warrnambool rail line upgrade, $320 million for stage three of the Shepparton rail line upgrade, $292 million to upgrade Barwon Heads Road and $84.5 million to upgrade $292 million.

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said in a statement late on Tuesday night that the increased levels of debt being taken on by the Commonwealth was the right approach to the “health and economic challenge of our generation”.

The budget shows federal government spending on Victoria’s roads is far outpaced by spending in other states, with Victoria receiving less than half than what is pledged to NSW and Queensland.


Under a funding program delivered for road construction projects and network maintenance that accounts for the bulk of the federal government’s road spend, $1.7 billion will flow to Queensland and $1.2 billion to NSW, compared with $612 million being spent in Victoria. The remaining states and territories will receive about $500 million or less.

The Morrison government has already committed to spending $2 billion for faster rail from Melbourne to Geelong, $5 billion for airport rail and $1.75 billion for the North East Link road already pledged.

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Australian News

Incentives for JobSeeker, Youth Allowance as farmers call for more help ahead of peak season

Australia’s farming industry is under threat but it isn’t fire or drought this year that is causing the most damage.

The coronavirus crisis — and the closed borders that came with it — has left thousands of farms across Australia crying out for staff.

The farms, usually thriving with young foreign backpackers at this time of year, are hoping Aussies might be able to fill the gap left by the country’s international workforce.

Australia’s agricultural industry relies on foreign workers to fill around 50,000 jobs a year.

There are fears fresh fruit and vegetables could soon be more expensive at the supermarket due to the staff shortage with the government considering a range of options to attract people to farm work.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack confirmed some of the measures on Wednesday, one of which promises backpackers already in Australia a 12 month extension on their visa if they take another regional job.

“We want to make sure that if those backpackers are now facing the prospect of having to leave Australia they can apply for an extension to that for the harvest trail,” Mr McCormack told reporters.

Agricultural Minister David Littleproud also encouraged Australians to “have a crack” at the farm work, announcing a number of financial incentives.

“So we’re working through some measures that could be announced very soon around incentivising Australians who are on JobSeeker, but also Youth Allowance recipients, to look at measures and opportunities for them,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Mr Littleproud promised to announce exactly how those on government benefits would be incentivised “very soon”.

“That is the big challenge – how do we incentivise those people, particularly those who are recipients of the Youth Allowance, to get a leg in,” he said.

“I don’t think you’re going to see (a) rush to the regions, I think you’ll see a small but orderly transition of some people in metro areas who see the opportunities.”

Federal Liberal MP John Alexander suggested a harsher approach, suggesting a conscription-type system that would force unemployed people to work at farms.

“We need some more teeth,” Mr Alexander told a parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday.

“While we can’t probably go to conscription, can we apply a little more heat and pressure and do it urgently, because the crops won’t wait.”

Later suggesting a compulsory questionnaire for those on JobSeeker, Mr Alexander said Australia needed to pretend “as if we’re in a war situation”.

“The question (about farm work) should be asked, ‘if not, why not?’ if somebody is saying ‘Oh no, I don’t want to do that’ because they’re just happy sitting on the couch and taking the dole,” Mr Alexander said.

“What more pressure could be applied to somebody who’s a little bit marginal? “It needs to be done as if we’re in a war situation. It needs to be mobilised very quickly.”

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Australian News

Queensland fruit farmers face a chronic shortage of fruit pickers

Queensland farmers are desperately trying to entice young Australians to fruit picking as they face a chronic shortage of workers, despite the fact they could be earning up to $3800 a week.

Growers are offering up an attractive wage for the position – once popular among the many backpackers to Australia pre-pandemic border closures – as various fruits lay rotting on the ground.

It comes after Rachel Mackenzie at peak industry group Berries Australia said the labour shortage is a “serious problem”, with the backpacker population having reduced by more than 60 per cent in recent months.

RELATED: Border restrictions have pushed farm job seekers downwards

Managing Director Gavin Scurr at Piaata Farms which includes The Strawberry Fields at Wamuran, says there are misconceptions around fruit picking, particularly surrounding the wage.

“There is this perception that fruit picking provides poor wages but that is simply not true,’’ Mr Scurr said.

“We recently paid a worker $3800 for a week’s work recently and that is a top picker working six days a week, probably around ten hours a day, but even when you look at it as an hourly rate, that is pretty good.’’

He added that while it can be a hard job, with the right attitude, there’s fun to be had.

“It’s all about attitude – there are the real guns who just get right into it and make it a competition, with themselves and with the other guns,’’ Mr Scurr said.

“And they have fun, they just enjoy what they do, they go for it and it is not unusual for them to earn $3000 a week.’’

RELATED: Families urged to pick their own fruit

He added that “gun fruit pickers” are often after flexible working conditions and work across more than one farm given the lack of reliable workers around the place.

“Some really good workers may only want a certain number of hours a day and leave at 2pm and others might want only two or three days a week or whatever, but if they have that right attitude, they will be in high demand among the growers and they get the work.’’

He said it’s common that some workers apply, only to last one day and never come back.

It comes as Mr Scurr has had to destroy a portion of his crop because of a lack of labour.

Across Australia, many farmers are facing similar heartbreak as they struggle to find farm hands.

Orchardist Guy Geata, who grows cherries outside of Orange, has seen inquiries for work drying up during the pandemic despite cherry pickers being able to earn around $400 a day.

“We need about 70 people in December, and I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said, warning that if growers can’t find workers, Christmas fruit will be more expensive.

“It’s going to be left on the tree, they won’t taste as good, and the price is going to go up,” he said.

In August, NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall similarly said Australians should consider taking up a job on the farm as producers struggle to find overseas workers.

He conceded it was “very hard” to get Australians to do that sort of work.

“I think it would be lovely if there was a change of mindset, but that’s going to take a considerable amount of time,” Mr Marshall said.

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Local News - Victoria

Farmers still on tenterhooks despite government backflip

“I think most people can imagine what it would be like to have been harvesting for the better part of two days and then all of a sudden the carpet is pulled out from underneath you,” Mr Watzlaff said.


Mr Watzlaff said the backflip was a welcome one and three of the four markets Thriving Foods appears at opened on Saturday.

Melbourne’s cold weather added to the tough sales conditions on Saturday but Mr Watzlaff estimated business was around 60-70 per cent of what is usually is.

“Sense prevailed and all it meant was that I had to wake up ridiculously early at 3.30am to load up more vegetables as we didn’t properly load up the vehicles on Friday,” Mr Watzlaff said.

“Ultimately, it was a lot less stressful for the decision to be overturned and continue with the farmers markets than if they dug their heels in as I would be driving around Melbourne trying to connect with our customers and deliver the vegetables to them.”

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton apologised on Saturday for the uncertainty.

“We needed [a] panel to review what needed to be in place and to provide me an assurance that if those things were in place then they could safely operate, and that is where we got yesterday,” Professor Sutton said.

“I know it was disruptive, I apologise for the fact we have gone through this turnaround, if you like, but we do need to reinforce the idea that people need to be compliant.”

Ms McCulloch was juggling caring for their two-year-old and 15-week old children while also handling a barrage of social media messages on Friday night who wanted to know if they would be in business this weekend.

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Local News - Victoria

Farmers cling to city lifeline as DHHS backflips on COVID-19 market ban

“Farmers markets are limited to takeaway food and drink sales only – to be consumed offsite – with COVIDSafe restrictions including density requirements, signage and cleaning.

“It is the responsibility of farmers market organisers to ensure their event is COVIDSafe.

“Compliance with the requirements will be monitored closely and if it is apparent that COVIDSafe standards are not being met, the continued operation of these markets will be reviewed.”

The reversal comes after the government has been forced to alter its COVID-19 rules, with restrictions to maternity wards, permitted workers receiving childcare and driving to exercise within five-kilometre zones all triggering confusion and ultimately backflips.

Farmers’ markets have been a financial lifeline to many Victorian food producers.

But Melbourne Farmers Markets director Miranda Sharp said the original decision – a day before the weekend – had “absolutely blindsided us”.

“We’ve got hundreds of producers lined up who are literally packed and ready to come to Melbourne,” she said.

Ms Sharp said pictures circulated on social media last weekend that appeared to show large crowds at a market were not taken at an accredited event.

Heather Pollard at the Bendigo farmers market.

Heather Pollard at the Bendigo farmers market.Credit:Luis Ascui

She said the original decision would have forced people to shop at supermarkets instead.

“While supermarkets are allowed to be open, we haven’t even had a case [of coronavirus],” she said.

Farmers’ markets introduced new safety standards under COVID-19 restrictions, including controlling shopper numbers and asking customers not to touch produce before buying it.

The markets have been trading across the state throughout the pandemic, but late this week they were removed quietly from the list of permitted industries under stage four restrictions, sparking confusion among organisers.

Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association executive officer Kate Archdeacon said most of the network’s 36 accredited markets had remained open in Melbourne and regional Victoria during the latest round of restrictions.

“This is going to wipe out trading places for at least 300 producers without warning,” she said. “The impact across the sector is going to be huge.”

There were five accredited farmers’ markets planned for Melbourne this weekend.

Ms Archdeacon said many customers wanted to shop in the open air rather than going to supermarkets. They also wanted to support local producers, who relied on the markets for their livelihoods.

“There are so many people who want to buy food this way,” she said. “As the markets have adapted [to coronavirus restrictions] we’ve seen more people go to some of them because that’s where they feel safe.”

Ms Archdeacon said that in some cases, markets had closed because schools and local councils decided they should not operate on their sites during the restrictions.

Apple and pear grower Heather Pollard said farmers’ markets had been a saviour for the business.

She and husband Gary grow the fruit on their property in Elphinstone and they sell their produce at markets in regional Victoria and Melbourne.

Farmers’ markets will still be allowed to operate in regional Victoria, which is under stage three restrictions.

Ms Pollard said some producers who had lost business with restaurants were now relying much more heavily on farmers’ markets.

A weekly Bendigo farmers’ market started operating in March and has continued ever since. There were previously bimonthly and monthly accredited farmers’ markets in the city, but since the first round of COVID-19 restrictions they have added the weekly Thursday market.

Miramonte Farm owner Sue Jones, who sells beef from her Strathbogie farm, said farmers’ markets accounted for about 90 per cent of her business.

She sells at markets in both Melbourne and regional Victoria.

“We rely on it,” she said. “During COVID, the markets we go to have become stronger because there are more people discovering farmers’ markets.”

Seafood seller John Davidson said the markets had been a lifeline.

“There are a lot of smaller producers who just can’t get into major retail outlets like Coles, Woolworths and IGA,” he said. “Without these markets we would be close to being out of business.”

Some producers, including Newland-based vegetable grower Sandor Istella, have started selling produce from other farmers alongside their own.

At the Thursday Bendigo market, he has been selling about 50 boxes packed with vegetables and fruit, helping to keep his business alive. “It’s crucial,” he said.

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Australian News

History for sale as Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer’s football treasures go to auction

When the sporting treasures of Australian football pioneer Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer arrived at Melbourne’s Abacus Auctions a few months ago, it was inevitable there would be something unique among the carefully packed items.

The eyes of auctioneer Max Williamson were immediately drawn to an eye-catching gold medal with a map of Australia on the face, each state marked by its own coloured enamel outline. Every bit as distinctive as the man who won it, it was the 1956 Tassie medal claimed by Farmer as the best player in the 1956 Interstate carnival.

Brownlows, Magareys and Sandovers have hit the auction market at increasing rates in the past few decades (Farmer’s trio of the latter are now up for grabs too), but Williamson believes Polly’s is the first Tassie to be offered.

The Hall of Fame Legend won it en route to claiming his first WAFL premiership and Sandover medals that year, achievements which confirmed his rise to pre-eminence.

An image of AFL best and fairest medals.
Farmer’s playing medals are set to go under the hammer, including his 1956 Tassie medal (top left).(Supplied: Abacus Auctions)

Now it is Lot 272 in Abacus’s July 25 auction, with a pre-sale estimate of $20,000. It and 119 other lots of the Indigenous football legend’s treasured items could net the Farmer family more than $100,000.

A medal of the Order of the British Empire.
Farmer’s 1971 Member of the Order of the British Empire Medal also forms part of the collection.(Supplied: Abacus Auctions)

The haul includes premiership and best and fairest medals from Farmer’s days at Geelong, East Perth and West Perth, plus his Simpson medals and his MBE — the first awarded to an active player.

Williamson says that having made the long journey across from Perth for the sale, it’s likely that several key items will take a return trip, as Western Australian collectors look to secure everything from cufflinks, trophies and scrapbooks, to a crystal jug presented to Farmer on the occasion of his 300th Western Australian Football League game.

Photographs on the block include the unforgettable shot of Farmer handpassing a ball across a road and through the partly-open window of a Holden HR station wagon, taken during Geelong’s premiership year of 1963.

A black and white photo of a man handballing an AFL ball through a car window.
The 1963 shot of Farmer handpassing a ball through a partly opened car window is on the block.(Supplied: Abacus Auctions)

Even Hawthorn and Richmond supporters are catered for, although the items in question pose a painful ‘what if’: they are letters from both clubs, dated mid-1961, enticing Farmer to play for them and not the Cats.

A framed photograph of Graham 'Polly' Farmer standing with a ball in his hand.
A framed photograph of Farmer in 1963, as Geelong Football Club’s Best and Fairest.(Supplied: Abacus Auctions)

“It’s like a biography, really.

“Polly was a member of the Stolen Generation and he grew up in a children’s home, and it was important to the family that his entire history was told.

“So, there are documents relating to that in the sale.”

Even before this auction, Farmer was a significant figure in the world of sports memorabilia.

Of the increasingly prized 1963 Scanlens footy card set, Farmer’s card is the most valuable because of its scarcity.

Urban myth has it that Polly’s card was on the bottom corner of the large sheet from which the manufacturer cut the cards; when the blade came down it took off too much at the edge and quality controllers discarded the imperfect Pollys.

Trend of legends selling

The Farmer auction continues a trend for grand clearances of items associated with sporting legends.

An image of a black and yellow WAFL jersey, with a swan on the front.
A Western Australian football guernsey that belonged to Farmer.(Supplied: Abacus Auctions)

The sale that kicked things off for Williamson was Shirley Strickland’s items.

In recent decades, other greats to clear out the trophy room include Ron Barassi, Greg Chappell, Len Thompson, Greg Williams and Mark Waugh.

“We get excited when we get a player’s own collection, whether it’s a footballer, a cricketer or an Olympian,” Williamson says.

Beyond the superannuation bump, the reasons for living superstars parting with their treasures are many and varied, from downsizing to divorce.

Posthumous sales are often a relief for families looking to simplify the division of estates while finding loving homes for important pieces of sporting history that would otherwise languish in safety deposit boxes and sock drawers.

In Australia, ‘celebrity’ sales still err more on the side of tastefulness, or at least lovable naffness (the Bob Hawke and Russell Crowe auctions tested this theory) than the naked opportunism of the American market; at the Jackie Kennedy sale of 1996, Sotheby’s took eleven loose diamonds worth no more than $500, arranged them in the shape of a ‘J’ and coaxed bidders up to $17,250.

On the buying side of sales like the Farmer one, private collectors dominate the field at the best of times.

A black and white photo of a mens AFL team.
Farmer (middle row, centre) and members of the 1961 Western Australian team in Brisbane, where they won their first interstate carnival since 1921.(Supplied: Abacus Auctions)

Now, institutional investment in sports memorabilia looks like taking a further hit as a casualty of COVID-19 austerities.

Leagues, clubs and museums are carefully watching the bottom line — not to mention insurance premiums.

Rare are the benefactors like former Essendon chairman Paul Little, who purchased Barassi’s entire collection in a pre-sale deal so that it wasn’t split up and scattered around the country. But even that sale highlighted an obstacle for bulk buyers: to date, there has been no decision on how and where the Barassi haul will be displayed. Curation, storage, security and maintenance are additional costs that many holders of sporting gems aren’t keen to bear.

Williamson is now in his sixth decade selling sports memorabilia, having started out in stamps.

In the early days of the industry, he says, cricket was the dominant field of collecting, and at the higher end remains so.

Wisden Cricketers’ Almanacks are still the linchpin of many a collection, although the market is softening due to older collectors completing their sets and not being replaced by a new generation of enthusiasts. Similar can be said of baggy green caps, which have flooded the market in recent decades; many serious collectors have now ticked them off the bucket list.

The auction is expected to fetch up to a million dollars.
The baggy green cap worn by Sir Donald Bradman during 1948 was bought for over $400,000.(ABC TV)

Like most auctioneers, there is not much Williamson won’t sell.

The Farmer items appear in a catalogue which contains, among other curios, Greg Chappell’s MBE (estimate: $1200), Bruce Reid’s kit bag, the saddlecloth from Americain’s 2010 Melbourne Cup victory, and a baggy green cap whose appearance shatters certain modern myths about the Australian Test cap: it is signed inside “To Keith, Many Thanks, Steve Waugh”, and was presented by the former captain to a WACA dressing room steward.

Perhaps the scarcest item in the sale relates to another Aboriginal sporting champion, Eddie Gilbert, the 1930s fast bowler who rattled Bradman.


Gilbert’s signature, vanishingly rare, is available at the bottom of a hand-written note on Barambah Aboriginal Settlement letterhead.

Williamson says autograph sheets and books from Gilbert’s time in the Queensland team rarely contain the fast bowler’s scribble, and hypothesises that it probably reflects prejudices of the time — he thinks schoolchildren, then the predominate autograph hunters, must have been advised not to approach Gilbert.

Like all auctioneers, Williamson always hopes for the appearance of something truly unique and sacred, like Monty Noble’s 1909 Ashes urn, which he sold for $80,000 in 2017, or the time he auctioned the late John Kennedy Snr’s ancient Hawthorn jumper. The Hawks were aghast when they got wind of the latter sale. It couldn’t possibly be Kennedy’s, they said: he’d worn only one for his entire career.

To clarify the matter, Hawthorn’s most revered figure showed up at the sale rooms, held the woollen relic against his chest and ran his fingers over the front. It was the Real McCoy; Kennedy could feel the St. Christopher medal his mother had sewn inside the jumper to protect her boy. Now it resides in Hawthorn’s museum.

“When you’re a collector, it’s all about the thrill of the hunt,” Williamson concludes.

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Local News - Victoria

Victorian farmers escape almost unscathed from Chinese tariff hit


Nationals senator Matt Canavan, Liberal senator James Paterson and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton have all criticised Victoria this week over the BRI. Labor senator Kimberley Kitching was among federal opposition MPs who also took aim, saying the agreement was “bad policy and bad optics”.

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas had infuriated federal MPs from Labor and the Coalition when he accused the federal government of ‘vilifying’ China. Victoria is the only state to have pursued the BRI agreement, against the federal government’s position and that of national security agencies.

Victoria and China signed a non-legally binding framework agreement on the BRI in October, after earlier signing a memorandum of understanding.

The agreement is essentially a series of motherhood statements committing the two parties to seeking mutually beneficial trade, investment and infrastructure opportunities.

Economist Geoff Raby, who has served as ambassador to China (under the Rudd-Gillard governments), and ambassador to both the World Trade Organisation and APEC, said the BRI was China’s central piece of “statecraft” and the federal government should follow Victoria’s lead.

“The fact that Victoria’s signed up to the BRI will do no harm,” Mr Raby said.


“It is the organising framework through which, for many years now, China is increasingly conducting its foreign relations, trade and investment.

“This is a key part of China’s statecraft but to the extent it carries no legal, moral or other treaty-level binding obligations, then it’s up to each state or each government to decide what projects and activities it participates in or doesn’t participate.”

A fortnight ago, China banned beef imports from four abattoirs in NSW and Queensland, telling the Australian government the ban was due to labelling and health standards concerns.

This week it also hit Australia’s barley producers with an 80 per cent tariff, a move widely seen as payback for Australia leading efforts for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. China said it slapped the barley tariff on Australia’s exports over unfair trade practices.

Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien demanded on Friday to know what security advice the government had received before it signed the BRI agreement, which he said had failed to protect barley growers.

“We know that Victorian farmers haven’t been protected by this Belt and Road deal because they’ve copped an 80 per cent tariff by the Chinese government,” he told reporters. “It seems to be all one- way traffic. Chinese companies are building Victorian infrastructure, but Victorian farmers are copping punitive tariffs, that are costing jobs.”

However, Victoria has all but escaped the brunt of China’s tariffs and beef bans, with the majority of financial pain to be felt in Western Australia, Queensland and NSW.

Barley exports accounted for 8 per cent of Victoria’s grain exports to all countries in 2018-19, valued at just over $4 million.

A snapshot of Port of Melbourne data taken on Friday shows barley exports currently account for just 0.7 per cent of all full container exports to China. Chinese markets accounted for 14 per cent of red meat exports from the Port of Melbourne, or 3.7 per cent of exports from Victoria to China.

A spokeswoman said the government was committed to getting thousands of people back to work and building major projects, and Belt and Road was part of that commitment.

This agreement is about creating opportunities for Victorian businesses and local jobs – opportunities that will be more important than ever as we rebuild from the coronavirus pandemic,” she said.

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Australian farmers caught in the middle as China expected to announce tariffs that would end barley trade

China has fired its first shot in an increasingly bitter diplomatic row, threatening to slap major tariffs on Australia’s barley exports, that could rip hundreds of millions of dollars from the trade.

Relations between Canberra and Beijing have hit a fresh low in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison lobbies his counterparts for an international inquiry into the origins of the virus.

China’s Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye had previously threatened his country would impose economic sanctions if Mr Morrison continued to push for the probe, in what Trade Minister Simon Birmingham described as “coercion”.

Now, it appears China is set to make good on those threats and the first victims could be Australian barley growers.

Several major Australian grain groups have issued a joint statement today saying the industry understands China is “potentially proposing to place tariffs on barley imported from Australia as a result of their ongoing anti-dumping and countervailing duties investigation”.

“The yet-to-be-finalised tariffs may include a dumping margin of up to 73.6 per cent and a subsidy margin of up to 6.9 per cent for barley imported from Australia,” it said.

The subsidy claims are understood to refer to Australia’s fuel rebate and drought support measures, and together with the dumping tariff would effectively put an end to Australia’s barley trade with China.

Government sources suggest the investigation could be used as a cover to impose the tariffs, in retaliation against Australia’s push for the COVID-19 inquiry.

Valuable trade at stake

Grain Producers Australian chairman Andrew Wiedemann described the tariffs as “absolutely a massive kick in the guts” to Australia and one he believed would resonate “right through the community right down to the consumer to every part of Australian society”.

Typically, at least half of Australia’s barely exports would be bound for China, in an annual trade that was estimated to be worth $1.5 billion in 2018 but due to drought fell to $600 million in 2019.

Barley is considered one of Australia’s top three agriculture exports to China but since 2018 has been at the centre of dumping allegations.

Dumping allegations

Mr Weidemann believed Australia had answered those allegations, before the World Trade Organisation, and said the Australian industry had not expected China would effectively announce an end to the barley trade.

“Barely has been traded into China recently, even though we’ve had the dumping allegation on the record.

“In the last six months we know there’s been shipments and there’s been indications of further business required, so this decision came unexpectedly given we felt we had answered all of the questions as an industry back to China,” Mr Weidemann said.

“We also know that China really does want our barley, they’ve been a substantial buyer of our barley for a long time, so this also will cause damage to their own industry.”

Mr Weidemann said the grains industry was waiting for an impact statement issued by China to be translated from Mandarin to understand China’s claims ahead of a final determination on the tariffs, expected by May 19.

Birmingham: ‘We do not accept’

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the Australian Government was deeply concerned by reports of “unjustified duties levied on Australian barley imports into China” and that Australia would defend the interests of its barley growers.

In a statement, Mr Birmingham said the Government had worked with the Australian barley industry to put the case against China’s anti-dumping investigation.

“We will use the remaining time before China finalises its decision to continue our efforts to resolve this matter satisfactorily and will seek to uphold the integrity of our world-leading barley producers,” the statement said.

“We do not accept that there is a prima facie case, let alone a conclusive case, to find dumping by or subsidy of Australian producers.”

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