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Tuesday, 3 June 2008
Page: 4282

Mr IAN MACFARLANE (11:12 PM) —I thank the House for this opportunity to speak about something which is very close to my heart and even closer to my heritage. I look around the House tonight and I see on this side of the House—and this is not a reflection on the government side—people who spent a long time in their previous lives, and have continued that support for the industry, representing the interests of wheat growers: the member for Wide Bay, who has just spoken; the member for Calare, who will speak shortly; the member for New England, who was on the coarse grains committee of the Grains Council of Australia with me; the member for Maranoa, who got onto this list by sheer lobbying and who represented the United Graziers Association, but, to be fair to him, represented graziers who grew wheat as well; and I could not leave off the member for O’Connor, who I do not think ever had a life in agripolitics but was the bane of every agripolitician’s life.

Tonight is an opportunity to talk about the future. I have a limited understanding of the history of the wheat industry. I did at one stage of my life grow wheat. I in fact held shares in the Australian Wheat Board. I was President of the Grains Council of Australia. I actually sold to growers the new model for the Australian Wheat Board. I sold it on the basis that Australia needed a new system to market wheat, but it was not my preferred model. My preferred model was cast by the wayside. It was a model where all grower assets were combined into one marketing and handling group that did not rely on the whim and wishes of government but actually put the power in the hands of the growers through that one thing that speaks all languages, and that is financial empowerment. That was a model that the growers turned down in 1992, and time moves on and growers’ ambitions change. What we should do tonight and tomorrow with the Wheat Export Marketing Bill 2008 and the related bill is decide what is best for the wheat growers of Australia.

There is, as the Leader of the Opposition stated, a diversity of views. But those of us who have had the privilege and the opportunity to look at this industry in depth from a number of different angles will be required under this bill to make a call. It will be a call, in my case, made on what I think is best for the wheat growers of Australia. It is for that reason that I will not be opposing the bill and the Liberal Party will not be opposing the bill as proposed by the government. We on this side of the House do believe in freedom and individual choice. We do believe in the opportunity being provided to those who grow wheat to market their wheat in the way that they see fit. There are systems that have been in place in this country for a very long time that have assisted growers during the transition to the current era. As the Leader of the Opposition mentioned, we live in an age where satellites guide tractors to within 2½ centimetres and where market information is downloaded into the cabs. This sure as hell beats listening to the ABC all day, which was the only option I had when I was a farmer, or before that, when tractor radios did not even exist, relying on information that was sometimes a week or two weeks old to market your crop. These days, growers can access the most up-to-date information instantaneously over their mobile phones, PDAs, laptops and home computers.

This is a new beginning for the wheat growers of Australia. It is a beginning that this side of the House is looking forward to ensuring is done in a way which provides the maximum opportunity for the wheat growers of Australia. I do have to express some disappointment that the single desk was traded away in the international trade arena by the now government without the opportunity for some recompense. Where I come from, when I do business, if I give then I get. If I give something away which I hold dear and that is valuable not only to me but also to my competitors in the international marketplace then I would expect a concession. The indiscriminate haste of the now Labor government caused this opportunity to pass. I am not going to lament it but I am going to highlight it. The Liberal Party supports this bill. The wheat growers of Australia will benefit from this bill, assuming the right amendments are put in place, and I look forward to seeing the future of the Australian wheat industry go forward from here—God willing—with rain, but also with the right marketing mechanisms.