Ms O'CONNOR question to MINISTER for PRIMARY INDUSTRIES and WATER, Mr BARNETT
In April this year Australia's largest and oldest dairy farm, Van Dairy, made shocking national headlines with claims of animal welfare abuse and overstocking of cattle, leading to effluent overflow and damage to local waterways. In 2019, as you know, 20 senior farm managers put their serious concerns about animal welfare at Van Dairy in writing. In December 2020 a whistleblower provided photos of skinny and dead cows and a 1000-litre container three-quarters full of dead calves. An audit of Van Dairy undertaken by the Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority this year reported that:
TDIA does not have confidence in the management of Van Dairy Group to ensure the effluent systems on farms are designed or operated effectively.
The audit highlighted severe management issues and significant overstocking of cattle.
Despite this escalating animal welfare and environmental disaster, there has been radio silence on Van Dairy from you and the Government generally. The situation has escalated on your watch. Could you please tell the House what steps you as minister have taken to ensure Van Dairy cleans up its act and what steps Biosecurity Tasmania has taken to ensure significantly improved animal welfare standards on all Van Dairy farms?
Mr Speaker, I thank the member for her question on this very important matter. The dairy industry is a very important part of agriculture and is doing incredibly well at the moment. I also make it very clear that animal welfare is a priority and taken very seriously by our Government. I will outline some of the steps in which that has flowed. Let me be very clear that the Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority is the regulator that is investigating and managing effluent issues which were identified in the question just now at Van Dairy farms and also the Environmental Protection Authority is also involved.
For the regulators it is a very important matter. I emphasise my strong support of the TDIA and its important independent role as a regulator and its maintenance of high standards.
I am a strong supporter of the dairy industry, as you know, Mr Speaker. I note that the issues at Van Dairy farms do not reflect the issues in the Tasmanian dairy industry as a whole. Confidence amongst dairy farmers remains high. As the dairy industry grows we will continue to engage with and support the industry, and ensure important standards are maintained across all aspects of production.
While this is a matter for the regulators, I have requested and am being regularly briefed by the chair of the Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority since the Government was formed. I have also been briefed by the director of the Environment Protection Authority. I am informed that TDIA officers have visited all VDL farms to assess compliance with the Farm Dairy Premises Effluent Management Code of Practice. The code, made under the Dairy Industry Act, has been designed to ensure that dairy farm effluent is managed in a responsible manner. This is the same standard that applies to all dairy farms in Tasmania. The TDIA has issued corrective actions to all Van Dairy farms that have not met the code and requested a full assessment by an accredited effluent designer. TDIA staff have met with the VDL owner, his staff and local government council officers to ensure all directions were understood and were being actioned in a timely fashion -
Ms O'Connor interjecting
Mr SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor.
Mr BARNETT - There is ongoing and regular communication by TDIA with the VDL to ensure they fully understand their obligations, and VDL are engaging with the regulator. The TDIA continues to regularly attend the farms to assess works and is working closely with the company and other regulators. As this process involves active directions and potential compliance actions as a standard practice, I am only able to provide certain information on this matter. I note that the TDIA has considerable powers to deal with this issue as compliance with the code is a licence condition and non-compliance can lead to suspension or revocation of a licence.
I have also met with the Van Dairy manager and reiterated that I support the high standards and best practices that apply to the dairy industry in Tasmania. I have urged Van Dairy to comply with the standards of the regulator.
I have also met with the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association and Dairy Tasmania, where I have raised this matter and listened to their views. I am ensuring on behalf of the Government and the community that I am fully informed about this matter from the TDIA and my department. It is a very important matter and it has been taken very seriously by this Government.