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Monday, 10 September 2012
Page: 10014

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (19:42): It is with a background in the wheat industry itself that I rise to speak on the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 tonight. I have a background in growing wheat. The parliamentary secretary, I would imagine, would never in his life have even stepped onto a wheat-growing farm, yet he seems to be a self-described expert in his address—and he walks out of the chamber. I come to this with a background as a former wheat grower. I also come to it from the interest point of view of my own constituency.

One of the bodies that represent the wheat growers in my electorate is called AgForce Grains. That is the farm body that I listen to, because it has genuine concerns that if Wheat Exports Australia is totally abolished, as the government would like to do, there is nothing there to replace it with. This authority has been a regulatory body for many, many years—at a cost to growers, I might add, of 22c per tonne, which they are quite willing to continue to pay to give an assurance to the buyers in export markets of an accreditation of Australian wheat, particularly when it comes to varieties, particularly for smaller lots. It is not true that wheat is wheat is wheat; there are many different qualities in wheat. It is important that we give our customers a quality assurance of the variety of the wheat that is exported.

We are one of the largest wheat exporting countries, and we have established markets all around the world. I have visited some of those countries and spoken to the importers. One of the things they have always liked about our wheat is the quality assurance. I remember being in Kuwait at the Flour and Biscuits Co., and they said they can buy wheat cheaper and nearer to them but it does not perform like Australian wheat. The other thing they like is the quality assurance aspects when they are making the flatbreads they consume. That comes with Wheat Exports Australia giving a seal of approval, in many ways, to the wheat being exported.

We talk about deregulation. What do we have for banks in this country? We have regulations that they have to comply with, and recently there have been more regulations put on them. It is only right and proper that we do have regulation. It is a similar case with the Australian Stock Exchange. It has regulation. What about our insurance industry? It has regulation. The government would see Wheat Exports Australia working without regulation, and at the moment it has some small regulation but it is very important. This proposed regulation will be funded by the wheat growers themselves at a cost of 22c per tonne to ensure the reputation that we have built up over such a long time and that has led us to gain market share against other countries is a reputation that we can keep and that will never be diminished. Can we get that guarantee as part of a totally regulated market? In my view the answer is no.

Witness again my visit to Kuwait a number of years ago. They said one of the things they like about our wheat is that it has got that quality assurance and they know that what they prescribe and what they pay for is exactly what they get. I say it again: they can buy wheat cheaper and nearer to them, in northern and eastern European countries, but it does not perform like Australian wheat. That is one of the untold values that Wheat Exports Australia brings to Australia's wheat exports. The WEA have accredited 38 or 39 companies in Australia. These companies have to be accredited to export wheat. Last year something like 19 companies exported wheat from Australia—some 18.5 million tonnes. That is a significant proportion of our total annual production. It would be almost our total production in a bad year, but of course we have to supply our domestic market. The wheat products we have in Australia would nearly always be made from Australian wheat.

The growers want to transition to a new authority. They are not stuck with the model in place now, but they have not been consulted sufficiently. They want to put in a new body that they have had a genuine say in. The parliamentary secretary said that there had been a report from the Productivity Commission. Is that consulting the wheat growers and the wheat bodies of Australia? No. It is the Productivity Commission's view of what might suit the wheat growers of Australia.

I ask the government to support our amendment and keep this body in place until there is sufficient consultation with grower bodies and peak industry bodies, for heavens sake, like AgForce in Queensland, in my own electorate. They say they are fearful that if the current Wheat Exports Australia were wound up there would be nothing to replace it with. They are absolutely right. The government has not made the case for totally abolishing Wheat Exports Australia. The growers want to see a transition to a new body. They are happy to put in reform but they just have not been given sufficient time or opportunity to put forward models that they believe will work not only in the best interests of Australian wheat growers but also in the best interests of Australia because of the importance of this wheat trade to our export performance as a nation.

The WEA and the industry would like to develop a quality assurance scheme. That is particularly important when you are dealing with a more aggressive market internationally. As an industry and as an exporter you have to be able to differentiate your product from others. That is what the growers would like to do—to make sure that their international customers are happy with the guarantee for the product they are buying. The industry would like to protect the integrity of the wheat classification system that differentiates Australian wheat in discerning markets. It appears the government just wants to take a 'wheat is wheat is wheat' attitude, but there are different qualities of wheat and there are different market needs. The growers have known for decades that there are different market requirements and there are different buyers who have particular niches and market opportunities, and they want some quality assurance in place. The industry would like to put that in place but they need time to work with grower bodies, work with peak industry bodies and work with exporters to do that. It appears that the government is not prepared, by the look of this legislation, to allow that process to take place.

My electorate of Maranoa, the seat of Groom and the seat of Flynn have the bulk, if not all, of the wheat growers in Queensland. The wheat industry is a significant employer of local people. It is a significant earner for the regional and local economies. I know, if there is going to be a wheat harvest—and we hope it is a good harvest this year—that there will be cash in the economy before Christmas. That is what it means. Anything which would diminish the value of that product to the wheat grower, anything which would see it worth less on export markets, would definitely mean that there would be less money in the regional economy. Why would there be less money? There will be less money if you lose a single market anywhere because another exporting country has been able to supply that market, for whatever reason. It could be due to a lack of the quality assurance we have been able to give for decades or because the quality reputation we have built up over decades is no longer there. It is going to impact not only on our export performance but on our regional and local economies.

I talked about reputation but I also want to talk about relationships. Markets are not built through buyers coming in from around the world and saying, 'We want to buy a bit of wheat from you.' As with anything, you have to build up a relationship. As part of that relationship, you have to have trust in the people you are buying from. That trust also has to extend down to the quality of the product you are delivering to that importer through your exporters.

I go back to the point that the wheat growers have come to me and, through AgForce Grains in Queensland, said that what they want is some time. They are happy to reform Wheat Exports Australia. They do not see the solution in this bill before the chamber. They want to be given an opportunity to have more input into the reform process. They certainly want a body, whatever that might be at the end of the day, but they want the design of that body to come out of consultation with growers, with peak industry bodies, with exporters, with port operators and with those who control the silos and our bulk handling and storage facilities.

I say to the government: listen to the growers out there and give them the opportunity to have input into a new body—because they will not support this one. They do not support this one. It may be what the Productivity Commission has recommended but it is not what is recommended by the vast majority of Australia's wheat growers. I say to the government: just for once, take some advice from this side of the House. You have not done so on many other pieces of legislation on important national policy issues. But please take some advice from this side of the House in relation to something we know about. We know about it because of where our members come from and what they have done.

I sometimes look around and wonder whether there is a wheat grower on the other side of the House. I keep looking and looking and I do not see one. So please rely on some of the knowledge and personal experience which comes from this side of the House and on the input which is coming from the people out there—the wheat growers, the voters, the regional economies and the people who work in the industry. Listen to us for once. Through us, you are listening to the growers. All I ask—and I ask it sincerely of the government—is that you give the growers a chance to provide input to this industry's reform. This bill will not do it. This bill, in fact, is opposed by the growers and the peak industry bodies. The government should just give the growers their chance to reform an industry which is a significant export earner for Australia. We do not want to see our reputation diminished over time without the growers being able to have some oversight of what is such an important industry to Australia and to so many regional economies.