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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2769

Senator CHILDS —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. I refer to the article on the front page of the Australian Financial Review this morning headed `Trouble at the Wheat Board as executives leave'. Is it true that the Australian Wheat Board is undergoing an upheaval in its staffing? Is it true that anomalies in the Wheat Marketing Act 1984 have surfaced between the wheatgrowers, who have control over the Board, and the commercial needs of selling wheat on the world market?

Senator WALSH —I have seen the report in question which is apparently jointly authored by Angela Mackay and Sarah Sargent. The first thing that should be said about it is that it is a bit of a beat up. Indeed, in a letter to the Australian Financial Review some months ago an agricultural economist at Melbourne University, Dr Alistair Watson, in reply to a previous criticism of Sarah Sargent-a previous critic having said that Sarah Sargent took an overly academic approach to a number of matters-said that nobody who knows Sarah Sargent would accuse her of taking an academic approach to anything, which I think was probably fair comment.

As to the substance of the article as distinct from the style, the Government's Wheat Marketing Act 1984 was designed to make the Board a more flexible operation and in particular to get more commercial expertise on to the Board. The legislation reflected that desire. That has happened, although it is true that the Opposition in the Senate prevented the Government from making all the changes of that type that it wished to. I do not think there is any real evidence of the sorts of problems that are alleged in this morning's Australian Financial Review and in particular it should be noted that the Wheat Board since being given permission to borrow overseas in 1983, if I remember correctly, is a very substantial overseas borrower and has retained its highest rank of credit rating because it is a short term borrower as distinct from the Government which, when borrowing overseas, of course, tends to be a long term borrower.

I understand that Mr Kerin, under statutory marketing reform, has given approval to changes to the Act which will enable the Board to compete in the labour market for its staff and which has strengthened the Board's accountability to the wheat farmers who, in the end, pay for its operation.