Concerns about historical political donations and regulatory oversight have been raised amid an unfolding controversy at Australia’s largest dairy farm.
- Van Dairy donated $25,000 to the Tasmanian Liberals in 2017-18
- Liberals remain confident in independence of regulators
- Industry expert appointed to forge new path for Van Dairy
Van Dairy in Tasmania’s remote north west was thrust back into the spotlight this month following an audit that uncovered serious issues with effluent management.
The foreign-owned company donated $25,000 to the Tasmanian Liberal Party in 2017-18, according to the Australian Electoral Commission.
Independent MLC Ruth Forrest, who has represented the local upper house seat of Murchison since 2005, said the donation was of “great concern” because “people don’t give donations expecting nothing in return”.
“You see fairly consistent and what I believe to be accurate reports of a failure of VDL to adequately fund the work necessary to manage the effluent and to manage the cattle,” she said.
Ms Forrest said it had “taken far too long for our state and local government regulators to actually step in”.
Liberals confident in independent regulators
Van Dairy is currently being scrutinised by a mix of regulatory bodies, including the Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority, the Environmental Protection Authority and Circular Head Council.
The company said earlier this month it was undertaking “urgent repair work” to fix overflowing effluent ponds and problematic pumps.
A Liberal Party spokesperson said images published in media reports about the Van Dairy situation were “concerning and should be fully investigated, which is occurring”.
“This matter is currently being assessed by the independent regulators and we have confidence in their ability to take action where appropriate,” they said.
When asked about Van Dairy’s donation, the Liberal Party spokesperson said all donations were disclosed “in accordance with the law”.
“And, for the current state election, by voluntary agreement for amounts received over $5,000 since 26 March 2021 on the Party’s website,” they said.
Tasmanian Labor did not respond to questions about whether it had received donations from Van Dairy.
Van Dairy did not respond to questions from the ABC about political donations.
Van Dairy seeks operational reform
In the wake of the public scrutiny, Van Dairy recruited experienced dairy industry consultant Wolfie Wagner to develop a plan to reform the business, meet the demands of regulators and pave the way towards a sustainable future.
Mr Wagner said his appointment was not just a PR exercise and he had already seen signs that Van Dairy wanted to build the business, “look after their animals, the people and the environment”.
“I visited six of the farms last week and it was pleasing to see no direct breaches of animal welfare or environmental industry guidelines,” he said.
“It’s quite surprising what has been achieved in a short space of time and it’s pleasing to see if they commit to doing something, it appears that that’s been happening.”
Mr Wagner said there was a “100 per cent” chance Van Dairy could come back from the current situation.
“They are committed to building this world-class dairy and if it was a breach, it is was it is. We accept it, we get on, we create a plan or reform work — whatever has got to be done to fix it,” he said.
“And I think they’ve demonstrated that in the immediate recent time.”