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Monday, 10 September 2012
Page: 10016

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (19:57): The Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 will implement the Australian government's response to the Productivity Commission review of wheat export marketing arrangements. The bill will amend the Wheat Export Marketing Act 2008 to deregulate the bulk wheat export market, making it consistent with other agricultural commodity markets. These changes will promote further competition, leading to more innovation and higher productivity in the industry.

The Australian government agrees in principle with the Productivity Commission's recommendations and is implementing changes through a staged approach. This will provide a more efficient transition to full market deregulation. The response takes account of the views put forward by industry during an extensive consultation process undertaken during the commission's review, which included two rounds of written submissions and public hearings attended by farmers, grower associations, industry associations, traders, bulk handlers and members of the public.

The proposed approach is expected to deliver net benefits to the wheat industry, which plays an important role in many regional economies. The industry will benefit from the removal of the costs associated with bulk wheat export market regulation and through the increased competition, improved productivity and encouragement of innovation generated by a fully deregulated wheat market. The wheat export charge paid by Australian wheat growers will be removed, putting wheat exports on the same basis as other agricultural commodities.

The implementation of an industry code of conduct will give all wheat exporters long-term security of access to grain export terminal services, which will in turn help ensure that these facilities have the necessary throughput to attract the level of return on investment required to keep them viable while allowing competition in the export sector. It will also provide growers with certainty that, irrespective of which exporter they sell to, their product will gain access to grain port terminal services. This will in turn underpin Australia's international reputation as a reliable wheat supplier by providing overseas customers with certainty that all Australian exporters will be able to meet supply commitments.

The background to this bill is the 2005 revelations about the then single-desk operator the AWB using bribery to maintain the trade of wheat into Iraq in the worldwide scandal known as the oil-for-food scandal. It was revealed that AWB was paying bribes to Saddam Hussein's regime to ensure Australia continued to be awarded contracts under the United Nations Oil-for-Food Program. While there were other companies engaged in corrupt, sanctions-busting behaviour, the AWB bribes were far and away the largest. The Cole inquiry was established by the Howard government in November 2005 to investigate these claims.

Debate interrupted.