Agriculture Minister Ernie Bridge has expressed disgust at attempts by the Milk Vendors' Association (MVA) to engage in blatant political blackmail to stop reforms which will make milk distribution more competitive in Western Australia.
Mr Bridge said the MVA had previously agreed to the reform package, including a time frame which would see all Government controls removed by July 1993.
"Now, just weeks from an election, the MVA has written to me saying it will undertake a letterdrop campaign against the Government if I do not bow to their demands and defer the process for two years," he said.
"The reforms being implemented, which benefit the dairy industry and the community generally, have only occurred after extensive review and consultation. I will not be swayed from carrying them out because the MVA says it will mount a political campaign."
Mr Bridge said considerable changes had already been implemented, and the latest review of the dairy industry for 1991-92 showed record milk production, expanded dairy exports, and increased income for dairy farmers.
"We are obviously on track with our reforms, which involve the progressive withdrawal of unnecessary Government controls beyond the farm gate. The removal of Government price controls makes it particularly important that we ensure sufficient competition to protect consumers," he said.
Changes to date have included the removal of licence restrictions to allow individual operators to deliver milk to both retail outlets and homes. This previously needed two separate licences, with particular disadvantages for home vendors who were excluded from the more profitable retail trade.
"We have also given retailers and home consumers greater choice in deciding who they want to deliver their milk, by adopting larger distribution zones to give a greater choice of vendors and distributors," Mr Bridge said.
"We are now in the process of removing all remaining zone and other restrictions so that vendors will, by July 1993, have the ability to operate in any district and customers will have even greater choice.
"The aim is to make the industry more efficient through competition and if particular operators cannot compete in that deregulated environment, a safety net has been provided through a $2.5 million adjustment scheme funded from Dairy Industry Authority reserves.
"The Milk Vendors' Association can drop as many leaflets as it likes, but the bottom line is that customers - both home consumers and retail outlets - have the right to expect a fully competitive environment, and the more efficient vendors and distributors should not be restricted to operating in only a small area."
Mr Bridge said it was interesting that the MVA was claiming the Opposition supported its stance against the reforms.
"Knowing the clear divisions that exist between the Liberal and National Parties on the question of industry regulation, one party will have to swallow its principles in order to suggest a single position," he said.
"If they do endorse trade restraints and the continuation of monopolistic practices, they will be withholding benefits from both the industry and consumers."