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Wednesday, 20 June 2007
Page: 43

Mrs HULL (11:33 AM) —Today I rise to support the Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill 2007. In listening to the debate that has emanated from this chamber I have been staggered to hear some of the untruths and false claims made in many of the speeches from those on the opposing side of the House, commencing last evening with one of the first speakers, the member for Hotham. It is no secret that drought has claimed many victims in my electorate of Riverina and right across Australia. What angered me most during this very volatile time of drought was what happened when the current Leader of the Opposition made an obvious and deliberate decision to challenge the member for Brand and chose to lay his credentials on the table for his party colleagues to judge his performance—and perhaps the differences between what lengths he and the member for Brand were prepared to go to in order to lead the opposition.

What the current Leader of the Opposition must have been thinking when he was in his former portfolio as shadow for foreign affairs and sitting on that bench behind the member for Brand, when he was the Leader of the Opposition, was, ‘How can I do this to the best effect? This is a case of war, and in war there are obviously going to be some deaths and many casualties’. I am sure that this was how the member for Griffith and Leader of the Opposition was thinking: ‘Who could we dispense with in the field?’ The phrase ‘in the field’ would have struck him. He would have thought: ‘Of course! “In the field” means farmers. We haven’t anything in common with farmers; we’re not interested in what happens with country people. We have limited representation in rural and regional areas. I think that we can dispense with those pesky critters out there—farmers—and particularly with wheat farmers. There seems to be a bit of an issue around this AWB thing. It seems to have a hint of sensationalism; not only that, there are a lot of people on the world stage watching. The Americans are watching and the Canadians are watching. There are quite a few in the international scene watching this issue.’ It was an aspiring leader’s dream come true.

The poor old member for Brand thought that the aggressive and sensationalist questioning tactics of his trusted foreign affairs spokesman would help him. And haven’t we all heard him shrieking things like ‘Saddam’s bagman’ across the chamber at the Minister for Foreign Affairs? That most insulting of displays came from the now Leader of the Opposition in his quest to lead his party and to bring about the undoing of the member for Brand as the leader. We saw his true colours, his nasty retorts and his accusations. His position was one of judge, jury and executioner of all those in the AWB and beyond. Basically, his tactics in the House were puzzling. Then, eventually, we came to the point—

Mr Edwards —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I thought we were addressing the Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill 2007, not engaging in some personal denigration of the Leader of the Opposition. I ask you to draw the speaker back to the matter of the bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Secker)—I say to the member for Cowan that I will listen very carefully.

Mrs HULL —This is the preamble to my discussion on the bill. All of the opposition speakers have taken the chamber through history and denigrated every Nationals leader and minister responsible for agriculture to have been in this House, so I remind the member for Cowan that what is good for one is good for all.

Mr Edwards —Mr Deputy Speaker, I again rise on a point of order. I think the member speaking is defying the chair. I once again ask you to draw the member to the bill.

Mr Secker —I think the member was quite in order.

Mrs HULL —I move to the substantive issue of what happened with farming and the farming process that took place in my electorate in respect of the single desk. We have an organisation that is substantially required to put in place security for our farmers. That is what the National Party and this government have been doing. We have been trying to minimise the damage that has been created by the House of Representatives over a long period of time for reasons known only to many of the members who spoke so viciously and determinedly without thought to the desperate situation in rural and regional areas. We have stood fierce and determined to support the thousands of growers across Australia who were calling on us to ensure that the single desk was retained and that they would have access to pooling and the benefit of having security for their crops into the future.

The Nationals have been united and steadfast, and I am very proud to know that we have delivered what is here in the House today—that is, a view and a plan to enable a grower-owned and controlled single desk to be retained. The legislation that we are looking at today enables the minister’s powers of veto to be extended. That is because the growers’ demands and calls have been heard by this coalition government. They provided us with a position. On 4 May, the Western Australian Farmers Federation, the New South Wales Farmers Association, the Victorian Farmers Federation and AgForce Queensland wrote to the Prime Minister outlining the consensus that they had reached in order to go forward, to try and overcome the damage that had been done in the past by many and to deliver the best outcomes for the growers and for all parties who had been involved in the debate surrounding the single desk for wheat exports.

The four organisations remain committed to the retention of the single desk marketing system for wheat exports from Australia, and they require a resolution of the issue so that growers can be sure of a marketing system in place for this coming season. Part of the process that we speak of in the House today is accommodating that. The plan was supported collectively by those four organisations, which represent the vast majority of grain producers and grain production in Australia. They took a consensus view that they needed to retain a single desk. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, for whom I have the greatest respect and regard, has been able to deliver, due to his tenacious, committed and dedicated attention to working his way through and negotiating with all parties on a very emotive issue. He has done an excellent job in coming to a position that sees all of the areas represented by the four peak bodies addressed and delivered on—that is, an opportunity for a new and wholly owned and controlled wheat export entity.

That entity will hold a single desk export licence for bulk wheat and will be a not-for-profit, autonomous entity that will be totally demerged from AWB Ltd. It will have a mandate to maximise the returns to growers and there will be a system of full contestability of ancillary services that will reduce all costs to growers. There will be complete transparency through a strengthened wheat export authority with greater powers of audit. It will enable the bagged and containerised wheat industry to be traded outside of the single desk. Personally, I am hesitant and cautious about that. I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, but I register my caution and my hesitancy in this area. If this body is successful in being assembled by March, it will be answerable to wheat growers and will control pooled services. It will also, very importantly, continue to maintain existing markets and to develop new markets through what I refer to as ‘industry good functions’.

This is what the four farming associations had asked for, and they have been given an opportunity to complete this and to put it in place. I congratulate those growers across my electorate of Riverina, who were absolutely unwavering when they faced the issues that had little to do with them and much more to do with leadership challenges at many times—though not at all times—in this House. I am proud of the way in which 450 growers in Narrandera, who were facing the most difficult times of their lives, rallied on 20 December to voice their unanimity in wanting a single desk retained.

I extend my great thanks to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Hon. Peter McGauran—for whom we all have great fondness and affection—for the way in which he has handled this whole thing with such integrity. I also thank the Leader of The Nationals, the Hon. Mark Vaile, and the Prime Minister for the way in which they have managed this whole process through the coalition in this House. We will all be watching with a great deal of interest to see how this whole thing progresses.