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A straw house in a tornado: the Victorian dairy farmers' voice in the path of deregulation, 1970-2000

posted on 22.02.2017, 03:38 by Jackson, Monica
The purpose of this thesis is to examine the decision by Victorian dairy farmers to vote in favour of farm-gate price deregulation in December 1999. This was a curious vote because despite a $1.7 billion restructure package accompanying deregulation, it meant substantial income losses for dairy farmers around Australia, with large numbers being forced off the land. The question that arises is, to what extent can the vote be considered a genuine expression of the farmers’ political voice? In order to examine this issue, the thesis adopts an innovative research design that combines qualitative research analysis with techniques of narrative nonfiction. Through the former, three avenues that farmers have traditionally used to express their political voice are identified: the dairy co-operatives (exemplified here by Victoria’s largest co-operative, Murray Goulburn); the farmer unions; and the Country/National Party. The thesis examines how each of these avenues was transformed through 30 years of neo-liberal policies in the lead-up to the final stage of deregulation in the late 1990s. To explore the personal experience of these events, narrative nonfiction is then used to tell the story of south-west Victorian dairy farmer Alex McKenzie who attempted to stop deregulation. In employing this research design, the thesis brings to the fore the human experience of dairy deregulation, something that is often absent from more traditional analyses, providing fresh insights into a highly contested issue. The thesis contends that far from being a genuine expression of the farmers’ political voice, the December 1999 vote represented a new stage in the silencing of that voice. At a time when Australian agriculture prepares to dramatically increase production to capture opportunities offered by growing Asian markets, these findings are of direct relevance to dairy farmers today.


Principal supervisor

Jenny Hocking

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

National Centre for Australian Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts