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Wednesday, 29 November 2000
Page: 20153


Senator TROETH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (4:53 PM) —I would firstly say that accountability has actually been raised under the new structure for wool, but that is something that we will no doubt be discussing tomorrow. What the Labor Party are actually saying is that they do not accept the model which has been developed after 2½ years work with the industry and government, and they want to unravel it. There is plenty of accountability built into the model. What I think you do not understand is that, instead of the old statutory authority arrangements which were set in place by the government and administered by the government, these new arrangements for industry are a partnership. They are a partnership between industry on the one hand, which has to constitute and work in the sense of keeping the wheels rolling along, and a new company. There are various conditions which industry, through its ownership of the company, must meet in order to maintain the government flow of matching dollars.

The government should not be running agricultural companies. That is the view of this government and, I believe, in part it was the view of your government. That is why over the last 10 years there has been a movement away from government running businesses, leaving industry to manage their own affairs. We have imposed conditions on this new company and it must strictly adhere to those because the deed of agreement is a legally enforceable document. If the company does not conform, you are quite right: we will move to what the government then needs to do to designate another company which will carry out the functions for which the company was set up. The ultimate sanction is undeclaring the company so that it cannot receive levy funds, it cannot receive matched funds and it cannot administer export control powers. You cannot have it both ways. There is a partnership between industry and the government. Each side must fulfil its side of the bargain.

Apart from what the minister can or cannot do, the annual reports of the company will be public documents. There will be a company annual general meeting and, as we have seen in various private sector companies in recent weeks, annual general meetings can be very interesting affairs. I would expect the levy payers of the new horticultural company to take the same amount of interest in the way that their money is spent. There are levy payer annual meetings, there are corporate plans which are circulated widely and there is the whole system of parliamentary scrutiny. To go by your remarks, Senator Forshaw, and those of Senator O'Brien, you would begin to imagine that the whole system of parliamentary scrutiny had suddenly been removed, that we had no more questions in question time, that we had no more questions on notice, that we had no more Senate committees and that all of that level of scrutiny was totally removed. It has not been removed; it is in place, just as it has always been. I am sure that if a parliament wishes to inquire into the workings of this company, that is exactly what it will do. But there must be a level of ability on the part of the minister to act when necessary. I am sorry that perhaps the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee and I do not see eye to eye on this matter, but we believe that the level of accountability which has been built into this legislation is more than adequate for the purpose for which it is designed.