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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 13721

Senator McGAURAN (6:39 PM) —I wish to bring to the attention of the Senate, and probably more particularly of wheat farmers, the veiled activities of the Grain Growers Association. The vision statement in their 2002 annual report reads:

To increase the downstream involvement and influence of grain producers in the marketplace thereby assisting producers to maximise their productivity and profitability.

It is certainly a well-financed organisation, with net assets for 2002 showing at $344 million and cash at the end of the financial year at over $44 million. Yet, with this background, the Grain Growers Association at every forum they turn up to attempt to pass themselves off as a wheat farmers lobby group, cynically representing the best interests of the wheat growers. Some farmers lobby group they are, with $344 million worth of assets and $44 million in cash in the bank! I would ask: where does such a farmers group get that sort of money?

The truth about the Grain Growers Association is that it is the parent company of the bulk handler GrainCorp. GrainCorp has joint ventures with the internationally recognised grain merchant Cargill, the largest multinational grain trader in the world. The chairman of the Grain Growers Association is also the chairman of GrainCorp. Grain Growers directors are also GrainCorp directors. The reason I outlined this information is to show what a powerful player the Grain Growers Association is in Australia's domestic wheat market, which is a good thing. I repeat: this is a good thing—at least until they decide to misrepresent.

Their misrepresentation is threefold. Firstly, they cleverly attempt to parade themselves as a wheat farmers lobby group in name and in their vision statement. They claim to speak for the bulk of the wheat farmers. Secondly, their claim of a 13,000-strong membership is very misleading. It is a membership based on the most spurious grower representation. For example, doing a business transaction with or holding shares in GrainCorp makes you a member for life. There are no annual fees or fees at all. The most spurious contact gets you a membership. What is more, the members are inactive. Thirdly, led by their chief executive officer, the association has lobbied in Canberra, in the media and around the country for fundamental changes to the single desk under the mantra of: `We support the single desk, but'—and then they go on.

The truth is that this slick and well-resourced presentation is nothing but a guise for the interests of the grain merchants. It would not be news to any wheat farmer that the big grain merchants seek to dismantle the Australian Wheat Board arrangements and therefore the single desk. What is new is this Trojan Horse approach by the grain merchants. I bring this Trojan Horse tactic to the Senate's attention because the strategy of the Grain Growers Association has started to gather pace and credibility in some parts of the country. Admittedly, it is the same old suspects who have been against the Australian Wheat Board and their monopoly operations, but they too have now picked up the Grain Growers deceptive mantra of: `We are not against the single desk, but'—and in fact it has reached such a crescendo that you know them by their words.

The Grain Growers Association have had a series of some 22 so-called farmer workshops. The Grain Growers Association portray the workshops as having the endorsement of the Grains Council of Australia—the properly recognised farmers lobby group— and themselves as being there to discuss marketing arrangements within the industry. In reality, the meetings are subtle propaganda attempts to lure wheat farmers away from their belief in the single desk. The meetings begin with the distribution of a strategic planning paper endorsed—and, if not, paid for—by the Grain Growers Association that conveniently criticises the Australian Wheat Board and the single desk powers, I dare say just to open up debate. Further to this, the forum facilitator vigorously pushes certain lines during the meeting—for example, single desk at port and deregulation of bags and boxes along with the reconfiguration of the Australian Wheat Board International and the Australian Wheat Board Ltd. The attempt to indoctrinate does not stop there. The Australian Wheat Board have been effectively locked out of these so-called workshops. They have been refused permission to send a representative, let alone speak at all of the 22 workshops—which I would have thought was necessary at any of these forums.

In short, the Grain Growers Association is attempting to carefully manipulate the workshops to get the result it wants: to set the agenda in the government's mind. I assume that the Grain Growers Association report from the 22 workshops will be ready to submit for the 2004 wheat marketing review. We already know the report it wishes to write: if it cannot abolish the single desk, it will undermine the integrity of the single desk. However, these pretenders will hit a brick wall, because over 90 per cent of the wheat farmers in Australia will not have a bar of any change of the single desk arrangements. So there are two camps: the Australian Grain Growers Association, representing the interests of the grain merchants; and the Grains Council of Australia, representing the 45,000 predominantly family wheat farmers. Whatever adjustments may be made or may have to be made to the wheat marketing arrangements following the 2004 review, the fundamental difference between the Grain Growers Association and the Grains Council must be kept in mind for the sake of an honest debate.