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Tuesday, 28 October 1997
Page: 8230

Senator O'BRIEN(4.04 p.m.) —On behalf of opposition senators, I commend the various organisations that made submissions to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee in relation to the Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill 1997. Also, I commend the committee secretariat for their assistance in the drafting of the report.

Our position, which is in opposition to some of the matters to which Senator Crane has referred, is contained in the report proper, and no dissenting or minority report has been published. I would draw the attention of the Senate to those parts of the report which set out our dissent in relation to the report.

It should be said that we support the general principle of the legislative scheme proposed, at least in part, by this bill—and that is, we support an overall package of measures to achieve the stated end aim. However, we do not agree that it is appropriate to process this scheme through a two-stage legislative arrangement. We are dealing with one tranche of the legislation now. We will see the second tranche of legislation some time in the New Year perhaps, dependent upon the processes of government. Those two tranches together form the legislative scheme that we give our support to.

It can only be in the government's mind at this stage what exactly will be in the second tranche of legislation. We believe that if as legislators we are to support a package, we should have that package before us. We enumerate some of those concerns in the report summary at the bottom of page 2, going to page 3. We say there:

While there has been essentially bi-partisan support for the legislation scheme proposed by the Bill, differences between the members of the Committee have arisen over the timing of its consideration by the Senate.

. . . . . . . . .

There was concern expressed by a number of industry representatives that they were being asked to endorse the whole wheat legislation package without having the opportunity to scrutinise all the detail of that package.

The industry is also concerned that it is being asked to endorse the new structure for the AWB without knowing the details of the new taxation regime to apply.

You will see in the report that there is quite a deal of material about concerns particularly about taxation arrangements that apply to the wheat industry fund moneys as they are converted to category B shares under the proposed incorporated arrangements of the new Australian Wheat Board.

In terms of the formal opposition recommendation, I suppose it can be encapsulated in the statement which appears, I think, on page 3 of the printed report. I do not have a copy before me, but that is my understanding of where it appears. It says:

The Opposition Members of the Committee recommend that consideration of the Bill be deferred until the industry, and this Committee, examine the details of the whole package of legislation.

Further, the Committee, and the industry, should properly consider the new taxation regime to apply to the restructured AWB and growers before any further changes are legislated.

The evidence from the wheat industry to the Committee strongly supports this recommendation.

In addition, the Chair of the Committee, Senator Crane, correctly stated that in the commercial world `. . . it is against the law to put up half a prospectus; you have to put up one that is signed off with the Australian Stock Exchange.'. This Committee . . . should require that the same rule applies to legislation coming before the Senate.

Further, the AWB told the Committee to progress the legislation in two parts was highly desirable but not critical. The AWB, while accepting the Government's desire to progress the legislation in two parts, said it would have preferred to deal with only one package.

That is the essence of our recommendation and the basis for the opposition's approach. Indeed, if all we are doing with this legislation is to effectively give a new face to the Australian Wheat Board and make no change of substance to its operation, which I think is the logical conclusion to which you would take the evidence presented to the committee by the department, then there is indeed no urgency to pass this legislation, other than the pressure from the government.

We take the view that, as legislators, indeed in the interest of the industry, it would be better if the package of measures were dealt with together so that the outcome arrived at in the Senate would not be one which assumes things or is governed by a decision previously taken, which is a possibility arising out of a two-stage approach. Given also that we are advised informally, at least, that the government would expect to have this legislation before the parliament in March next year, we are not talking about an inordinate delay or in any significant way disadvantaging the industry.

Indeed, the position which has been put to the opposition in relation to this legislation, to put it simply, is that, if the tax issue to which both I and Senator Crane referred is not resolved to the satisfaction of the industry, certainly a number of people in the industry would prefer that none of this legislation goes ahead. We do not have an answer on that. The industry has been waiting a considerable amount of time for an answer in relation to the tax status of those wheat industry fund moneys when converted to class B shares. If we cannot have that answer, then I think this Senate is entitled to know why not. Indeed, the industry or certain significant sectors of the industry have said that they would rather this matter not proceed until we have an answer. So, in short, that is the basis of the opposition's position in this matter. When the legislation comes before the Senate, we will be seeking its deferral and we will be seeking to move a second reading amendment to that effect.