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Tuesday, 3 June 2008
Page: 4284


Mr JOHN COBB (11:18 PM) —I want to deal with one furphy straight off, and that is that all the large growers favour deregulation. That is totally untrue. The large growers are just not as frightened of deregulation as small growers, who have probably not had a lot of experience in marketing their own grain and certainly not in doing those things which bodies like the AWB, GrainCorp and others are not doing now—hedging or forward selling. I think the one thing that is beyond dispute—despite what some, including the current Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, claim—is that the vast majority of Australia’s wheat growers do not favour deregulation and do want a single desk for the export of their wheat from Australia’s shores. I think the most surprising feature of what the Labor Party are putting to the parliament tonight is that they are favouring, without doubt, neither farmers nor growers. It does not matter which way you put it and whether you say you are trying to protect them from various forces. Once you do this, you cannot. Once you take this step of taking away the single desk, there is no regulation and there is no protection. It is a total furphy to suggest that there is. But why would a party who purport to speak on behalf of working families, who purport to speak on behalf of the small against the big, not be favouring farmers, who are in this case the ‘small’? Why are the Labor Party favouring big business over small business? Why are they favouring corporate entities over small family farms, the hardest-working families in Australia? Why? I stop and wonder, but that is something I am yet to work out. Perhaps one day they will tell us.

Farmers recognise that perhaps the current situation is not perfect, but it does take away the necessity for them to hedge. It does take away the necessity for them to sell forward. Anyone who wonders what that means should have been in the central west of New South Wales this time last year, when people were trying to finance for the coming year. Because they were borrowing money due to the ongoing drought, of some five or six years at that stage, from banks or whoever else their particular financial entity might be, they were selling forward on a price of about $200 a tonne. Come harvest, not only did they not have a crop but the price of wheat had doubled to $400 a tonne. Your average small grower who ventured into hedging, which obviously deregulation is going to force quite a lot to do, took a bath. It certainly has put some of them out of business. Simply, their first exploration into dealing with hedging or forward selling was an absolute disaster for them. Really, the size of the operation was not the issue. The issue was not just that they did not grow wheat. You can deal with that if you have something to sell, if you forward sell. The issue was that it doubled in price in the meantime. That meant some of them had to buy out those contracts for upwards of $400 per tonne for wheat that they did not have and could not procure.

I am talking about eastern Australia where you have, as you do in the west, one entity with pretty much total control of the wheat-handling facilities. In the case of eastern Australia it is GrainCorp, which pretty much controls Queensland—it certainly controls New South Wales and Victoria. They have a very serious link with Cargill and, as I think we heard the Leader of the National Party say earlier, that is a potential partnership—it is actually one already—which has the ability to pretty much control the export, if not the movement, of all grain in eastern Australia. I tell you what: as a wheat grower for much of my life and possibly in the future, I would much rather have the AWB owning my soul than Cargill. I do not think I need to say too much about why that might be.

CBH is almost the only entity with any export facilities. I notice that to keep CBH happy the legislation had to be changed to include co-ops; otherwise the minister would have been in severe trouble from one of those large corporations or entities that I referred to earlier. Why in heaven’s name would the Labor Party favour big business over small and favour corporations over ordinary small working families, which they talk about day after day? Why have you given them the big A tonight?

It is not in dispute by anyone who has seriously looked at this that 75 to 80 per cent of farmers wish for a single desk to be retained. It has worked for them in the past and it gives security. It hedges for the farmer because some years you come out somewhat in front of world markets; some years you might come out slightly behind. But it takes out the troughs and the highs and it gives farmers security in marketing, security in their future. Once again, why is the Labor Party favouring big business over small, favouring corporations over the hardest-working families in Australia?