It wouldn’t matter what time I got up in the morning; there would be a farmer up before me somewhere in Australia. He could be a dairy farmer, an orchardist or a cattle, sheep or pig farmer—you name it. He could be on the Murray. He could be in South Gippsland amongst my mighty dairy farmers. He could be down in Darren’s electorate right now, where the farmers that have been burnt out down there are facing the most difficult of times and thinking about how they’re going to replace half a million dollars worth of fencing. He could be up on the Murray, where they’ve got water issues that we all know about; they’ve been struggling with them for 20 years, and they need to be sorted out. It could be, over in the west, one of our own members, Nola, who, with her husband, is a dairy farmer. So we’re connected. We’re connected into our dairy farmers. We’re connected into our beef farmers. They are the food supply for this nation. They’re not only our food supply; 80 per cent of what they grow and create is exported.
One of those great farmers and agripoliticians—and some would say an angry agripolitician—is a fellow named Bill Pyle. I will be launching this book, Australia: Land of Milk and Politics, about his history and his story, with the help of Kevin Carmody, who was a long-time ABC presenter in Gippsland and a member of my staff for quite a while. They’ve collaborated to tell this story about Bill, which is a story about the dairy industry in Victoria, how it evolved and how it needed restructuring and changing for the benefit of all. This guy actually stood for preselection for the seat of McMillan many, many years ago, and I’m rather glad that he didn’t get it, because it might have changed the course of history. He was a very good politician. But his path was swayed because he didn’t get that preselection. He was then drawn straight into the politics of the dairy industry. He saw there were massive problems. He saw his mates working really hard in the dairy industry. He saw them getting nowhere and he knew there needed to be a change.
This piece I’m about to read now, as part of this speech, will be my remarks tomorrow at the book launch:
Bill Pyle is a good dairy farmer. For his entire working life, he was disciplined and innovative. He was a loving husband, and a doting father, grandfather and in more recent years great grandfather. And importantly for Australian dairy farmers and the industry he helped to restructure, he was a leader.
As a young man, Bill saw the hard work all the dairy farmers in the region were putting in and knew it himself. Despite this, the dairy farmers still were doing it tough. They weren’t making enough money. Bill knew things had to change. Ask him about it now and he’ll tell you it was a total basket case, the dairy industry!
The industry needed leadership and structural change. There was unrest in the manufacturing sector, no research into farming and the prices of grain, beef and dairy had collapsed. They needed a better system. However, farmers split between organisations and in their visions of the future. They struggled to have a united voice, let alone be heard.
Bill became the uniting force. He knows farming like the back of his hand, he has a natural knack for politics, but most importantly he understands people. Even those who didn’t agree with him respected him. And he was then able to persuade the community to come together. He led the necessary organisational change Victorian dairy farmers needed. He spearheaded the negotiations with the government. And he marched a group of thousands down the main streets of Melbourne.
In his 9 year presidency of UDV, United Dairy Farmers of Victoria, they were able to achieve great positive changes for the industry. It’s thanks to these efforts that the price of milk was deregulated. And the manufacturing processes were made more efficient and consistent through herd improvement and production standards.
Bill was able to achieve due to his resilience in testing times and incredibly supportive family who he is endlessly grateful for. Bill has led a life to be looked upon with great pride and the industry must thank him for it.
To all the friends he has made along the way, many of whom— will be present tomorrow— thank you everyone. Of course you will get much more detail and insight in the book Bill has written. I commend it to you, Australia: Land of milk and politics.
I read that out, which is very unusual for me in a speech, because that was written by his granddaughter, who works for me in the office at the moment—so politics is a strain through the family. Well done to Bridget Tracy, his granddaughter, who is working up here and is at ANU. What a great nation we live in!