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Wednesday, 20 June 2007
Page: 45

Mr FORREST (11:46 AM) —In the tradition of the former members for Mallee, it is important that I make remarks with regard to the Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill 2007. As the second-largest constituency in the country in terms of numbers of wheat growers—I think perhaps behind the constituency of the member for O’Connor, and I am not quite sure about the Barker electorate, Mr Deputy Speaker Secker—this has been a very long process for my growers. Like the member for Riverina, I would like to focus my remarks on the growers’ perspective. I think the reality of the situation that this legislation reinforces has been sadly overlooked.

There are some who argue that it is quite an oxymoron or a bizarre situation that, if wheat growers in Australia want to sell their wheat in an export market, they are required by law to send it to only one provider. That is true. For those who believe in a free market—particularly those who have little understanding of the long traditions of the way that wheat has been marketed in Australia for the last 60-odd years—this seems odd. Since the publication of the Volcker report, in which AWB Ltd and more than 2,000 other companies around the world were identified in the sense that serious questions were being asked about facilitation payments and where they went, this has been a very tortuous process for my growers.

My growers are well accustomed to the member for Mallee spending time with them. It is quite common to have the member for Mallee stop beside the road and do a few rounds on the tractor or a few rounds in the header, just to stay in touch. One thing that I have known right through this process instinctively—without even asking and having it formalised—is that, right or wrong, there is a very strong level of support amongst growers for retaining their orderly marketing arrangements. That is not to say that there is not a discussion. When John Ralph’s report was made public via the government, it did not surprise me that the figures from my own constituency reflected strong support of 80 per cent for the retention of the single desk and that 20 per cent had a different view. That was not news to me, but I suppose we needed to work through a formal process to collect that data and information.

I was very concerned after a month or two of the activities of Terry Cole QC’s inquiry that the most serious element of all was being ignored—not just in the silly nonsense of the discussion that went on and the questions asked at question time in this chamber but as reported by the national media. The one single ingredient and opinion that was being left out of the discussion was the attitude and view of growers. At the suggestion of a number of my growers who were expressing some concern at the future of their orderly marketing arrangements, I organised a rally in Warracknabeal. In the short space of three days, there were 250 apologies from wheat growers and 700 attended. I invited members of the press gallery, who make reports and observations that influence opinion, to come down and listen to the attitudes of growers. I was roundly condemned for holding that rally. I was accused of sensationalism and so forth, but all I wanted to achieve was to allow the growers to get their perspective into the national discussion. I am proud of the fact that that was achieved. Since then, the Cole commission report has come out and there has been a tremendous amount of discussion. Far too much ridiculous politicking has gone on—even in the debate on this bill—and it ignores the fact that the orderly marketing arrangements which this chamber institutionalises do not belong to individual members of the chamber or to the government, which has the jurisdiction and custodianship of what happens in the chamber. They belong to growers, and they say—whether they are right or wrong—that they need their orderly marketing arrangements in place.

I am quite keen to see this legislation processed expediently in this chamber today and through the other place so that we can get supported legislation out there to enable an environment where growers and their industry associations can now do what they clearly must do, and that is deliver an organisation that does not have the conflict of interest that our current arrangements have had in a commercial sense or a pecuniary sense—a grower owned not-for-profit entity that, through supported law and legislation, automatically gives to the producers of the commodity any benefits that it receives from having a single desk. Wheat is one of the remaining commodities that this nation produces. People say, ‘Why is wheat any different to any of the other commodities produced around the nation?’ Wheat is still a staple and is an important commodity in the food chain. Regardless of the ideological positions held on this, at the end of the day, those of us who believe in and support democracy realise that this is about growers and what they want.

In my concluding remarks I would like to thank the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, who is at the table, for steadfastly listening to the concerns of my growers. I am quite keen to ensure that there will be a good dialogue in the ongoing process that must occur between now and March next year for growers to deliver what this legislation proposes. The minister’s second reading speech sets out the principles of what needs to be delivered. I thank my growers for the robust way in which they have made their opinions known to me. With the introduction of this legislation, I hope they can now be confident that not only have their aspirations been recognised here but also those aspirations have been advocated for and delivered on. But it is now over to the growers to ensure that they get motivated through their industry bodies and grower groups so that, well and truly before March next year, they have a properly prepared business case and an entity available for the government to go on from and make its subsequent decisions—which will clearly require more legislation to reinforce.

I repeat my thanks to the minister and I thank all government members who have contributed. I am ignoring the silly, churlish remarks made by opposition speakers, who clearly—by their remarks—have absolutely no understanding of the importance of this issue to my wheat growers. As an outcomes focused person, I am looking forward to the continuation of the journey towards orderly marketing arrangements for wheat and I look forward and am confident that growers and industry bodies will deliver. I commend this bill to the House.