National Farmers' Federation

Government Back-Flip Leaves Farmers Stranded

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has slammed the Federal Government’s decision to renege on its election pledge to implement a mandatory Code of Conduct to protect horticultural growers from unscrupulous wholesale practices – instead opting to re-start two-year-old talks.
“This back-flip not only breaks a key 2004 election promise – when the Government undertook to mandate the code within 100 days of returning to office to deliver integrity and transparency in the fresh fruit and vegetable market – but leaves farmers at the mercy of those traders intent on abusing the system,” NFF Vice-President Charles Burke said.
“Growers often find themselves at the hands of unscrupulous operators – promised one thing, but handed far less. Thus far the Government has done likewise.
“Wholesalers can, and often do, go back on verbal agreements with fruit and vegetable growers – promising one price, but paying far less. Farmers also often find themselves in unclear trading relationships where wholesalers fail to disclose whether they intend to act as an agent (on the grower’s behalf) or merchant (on their own behalf), leaving farmers short-changed.
“We expect three things from Government on Thursday and nothing less. Firstly, contractual clarity for growers. Secondly, the requirement for wholesalers to identify themselves as agents or merchants. Thirdly, a workable dispute resolution process.
“Anything short of these three NFF requirements, and the NFF will withdraw from the process.
“As for the Government’s feeble attempt to avoid public scrutiny of its election back-flip by going back to square one and attempting to re-start a two-year-old consultation process with another Working Group, it is a cynical and reprehensible stab at covering up its inadequate handling of this issue.
“All we have sought is contractual certainty for both buyers and sellers to strengthen the wholesale market’s appalling reputation as a viable channel for doing business. This would not impose onerous red-tape requirements on the wholesale sector, but put in place the same minimum terms of business that are the ‘norm’ elsewhere.
“Now, some two years on, the Government is ‘talking’ about an enforceable code and ‘assurances’ that the wholesale market sector will sign up for its voluntary code. However, this remains to be seen.
“We have consistently asserted that where there is market failure the Government has an obligation to ensure a fair and equitable playing field, keeping rouge traders in check. Shirking this issue when honest farmers are being ripped off is unacceptable.”
The Australian horticulture sector generates $7 billion-a-year for the Australian economy and supports the jobs of 64,000 Australians.

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