As Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce huffed and puffed at the board of Murray Goulburn, those cunning Kiwis were conducting another fortnightly global dairy auction, and guess what, their prices jumped 12.7%. With the 6.6% price rise a fortnight ago, prices are up nearly 20% in a month. So is a dairy boom looming?

In fact the average global dairy price is now back to where it was in October of last year, before it tanked for a third time in three years. The price of New Zealand’s major export, whole milk powder (WMP), jumped 18.9% and is up nearly 30% in the past month. Fonterra has a farm gate price of NZ$4.25 a kilo of milk solids, some NZ analysts are looking at prices closer to NZ$5 if the current rebound can continue. Even at that level many NZ farmers will still be doing it tough. But Murray Goulburn and Fonterra’s Australian farmers won’t see much benefit. How the prices were stuffed up by Murray Goulburn and Fonterra is the key, not government aid, loans or grants.

That’s why yesterday’s TV opportunity and meeting in Canberra was useless grandstanding by the PM and his Deputy. Something more substantial in the way of inquiry is needed to find out why the two dairy giants waited for so long to cut prices in the face of the price falls on the global dairy trade auction site. The evidence was there. Fonterra was cutting prices in NZ and warning of worse to come, but somehow Australian farmers were exempt. A full explanation and a bit of hard-edged blame might be needed to expose what on the surface seems another example of corporate incompetence, which has damaged the lives of tens of thousands of people and animals.

Peter Fray

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