Government blunder sours Australian milk vote


By Boyd Champness


VICTORIAS new Labor Government has come under fire after 130 dairy farmers in New South Wales and South Australia were accidentally sent ballot papers for the Victorian election on deregulating the industry.


The mistake was made when Agriculture Minister Keith Hamilton failed to direct his staff to check post codes.


The Government obtained the postal addresses of Victorian dairy farmers from dairy co-operatives.


The mistake came about when farmers on interstate borders, who supply milk to Victorian processors but are ineligible to share in the regulated Victorian market milk pool, were accidentally sent ballot papers.


With other states opposed to deregulation because of Victorias dominance in the milk market, the National Party leader, Pat McNamara, said the votes cast from outside Victoria would skew the no case.


“It would be in their interest to try to skittle the move to deregulation in Victoria – the plebiscite should now be declared null and void,” he told The Age newspaper.


In fact, many interstate farmers who received ballot papers admitted they had posted their vote back when contacted by media outlets despite being ineligible to vote.


Other inconsistencies include farmers receiving more than one ballot paper because they appeared on two dairy co-operatives supplier lists.


“I supply Dairy Farmers (Group), but Murray Goulburn (Co-operative) picks up my milk,” said one farmer contacted by The Weekly Times.


“So I got two ballot papers, and Ive filled out both and sent them off.”


While admitting the issue was embarrassing, Mr Hamilton said the important thing was that the ballot of 9262 owners and sharefarmers went ahead.


The closing date for the ballot is today, Monday 20 December.


Meanwhile, a random survey of 50 dairy farmers conducted by The Weekly Times shows the majority of farmers are voting “yes” to deregulation.


Of the farmers interviewed in the survey, 41 said they had voted yes, four said they had voted no, with a further five were undecided.


But many of those who voted yes believed deregulation would disadvantage the Victorian industry.


About half said they were really only voting for the $1.8 billion restructure package and had reluctantly accepted that deregulation was inevitable.


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