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Tuesday, 3 June 2008
Page: 4288


Mrs HULL (11:37 PM) —I rise this evening to support the comments of the leader of the Nationals, the Hon. Warren Truss, because I believe if you want the facts and the truth of the issue you read the Hansard of the speeches by the leader of the Nationals—quite simply because there lie the facts for this great industry of Australia. I would like to use my five minutes to clear the record. There have been many assertions and many accusations and claims made that the proposal that the growers tried to put forward, for a grower owned and controlled company, failed or fell over. In fact, that is clearly not the case. Can I categorically state in this House that the business plan for AusWheat was not a failure. It had the support of the financial institutions. It was not given an opportunity to succeed on behalf of the growers. The policy that the coalition went to the election with last year would have been delivered through AusWheat, but it was not given an opportunity by this government as a result of the fact that the previous government lost the election.

Because the real facts have been put in Hansard, I would now like to take the opportunity to thank Graham Blight, John Ridley, Bob Iffla and all of those people who gave their time, their energy, their effort and their emotion to try to save the industry that has served them so well for so many years. In doing so, I would also like to thank my growers. They have had the worst seven years in their history but they are young and resilient. They have tried and they have risen to the cause. Every time that I have asked them to come back and fight the fight, they have stood and fought the fight, even though many of them have not a dollar to fight with. They have been backwards and forwards in many, many trips—five, six or seven trips to Canberra at their own cost—to try to save the industry that they not only love so dearly but also operate so well in.

There are around 2,800 growers in the Riverina who will have their lives dramatically and forever changed by the legislation that is being introduced into this House and that will be voted on in this House—the Wheat Export Marketing Bill 2008 and a related bill. Even today the action group that has been formed only recently—again, out of a multitude of growers right across New South Wales—has been in the House with me, desperately trying to salvage their livelihoods and the lives of the communities from whence they came, recognising that their plight is so significant that their uncertainties and insecurities will now lead to the demise of many communities.

What we have at this point in time is the demolition of Work Choices by the current government and the demolition and the removal of AWAs. The explanation for that given to us was that we were pitting the most vulnerable, the weakest and those least likely to be able to fend for themselves against the most powerful—that being so-called unscrupulous employers who would erode conditions and remove rights from workers. But what we clearly have here in this legislation is an AWA imposed on the growers of Australia, and there is no Fair Pay Commission; there is nobody to watch for the interests of our growers. We have the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable position after a seven-year long drought now having to barter and work their way through these new rules with multinational traders who have at heart not the interests of the growers but most certainly the interests of their shareholders. I believe any allusion that the ACCC will protect the rights of the growers that all of the rural members in this House represent is an absolute furphy.

This is a sorry day. It is a sorry day for the industry. It is a sorry day for the history of Australia and a day when this government has turned its back on a class of working families that it simply will not recognise—the working families of rural and regional industry, which has competed in a corrupt world market for so long and is still competing, as Mr Truss said, in a distorted world market with subsidies in the US and the EU. There will be no supply chain efficiencies. They will be lost because we will have regional monopolies and they will stifle competition.

Could I finish by saying the Senate inquiry saw people with no knowledge and no history of growing wheat making decisions on the future of thousands of growers. I am very critical of the Senate inquiry process, one that I stayed very closely attuned to and watched with great interest and great passion. Could I thank the growers for their incredible resilience, their ability to fight and their absolute dedication to an industry that is now lost to the Australian people forever.