Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has called Coles “lazy or at best… slippery” over its 10 cent per litre drought levy on milk, arguing the move is little more than a media stunt and “farce”.
Last month, within hours of Woolworths announcing plans for a “Drought Relief” milk range costing $1.10 a litre – with the extra 10 cents going directly to dairy farmers in drought-affected areas – Coles, who’d previously rejected the idea, announced it would partially follow suit, increasing the price of its 3-litre Own Brand milk to $3.30.
A furious Littleproud is urging consumers to avoid Coles milk and buy branded milk or shop at independent grocers instead, saying the supermarket giant doesn’t even know what farmers it deals with because it buys the milk from a processor.
“The Australian consumer has the power here – they can make change with their wallets. They can buy branded milk, preferably from an independent, and put a fairer return back in farmers’ pockets,” he said.
The minister said that while “supermarkets rub their hands together” at his suggestion because they make more money than from $1 milk, farmers are “paid more fairly for branded milk”.
“Milk shouldn’t be cheaper than water,” he said.
Littleproud accused the German discount chain Aldi, which hasn’t offered any kind of support, of giving “a one finger salute to Australian dairy farmers”.
After Littleproud’s initial salvo against Coles, calling the partial levy a farce, the retailer claimed a 10c a litre levy on all fresh milk would cost Australian consumers $250 million annually, and they can’t afford it.
“That’s a cost that would fall disproportionately on the 40% of households who have only $150 a week to spend on their weekly grocery shop,” the company said.
Cole said it had plenty of applications for the money from its drought relief fund and had also teamed up with northern NSW co-op Norco to make it easier for farmers to apply.
But Shane Hickey, a dairy farmer who’s spearheaded the campaign for a levy via Facebook videos, supplies Woolworths and has already received some drought relief funds, criticised Coles for the “shitload of paperwork” and delays in payment, saying Coles is simply banking the money and getting interest on it before they pass it on to farmers in January.
Littleproud said Coles’ “first lazy idea was to just give money to the NFF and hope they’d sort it out – which didn’t happen” and now “Coles is still forcing farmers to apply for grants which farmers will see as welfare” when they simply should be better paid for their milk.
“Farmers want fair trade, not aid,” he said.
“[Coles] make millions of dollars a year from farmers and if I have to go to the media to call out their slippery corporate behaviour then bad luck.”
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