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Tuesday, 3 June 2008
Page: 4291

Mr FORREST (11:50 PM) —I cannot say that I am pleased to rise tonight to speak on the Wheat Export Marketing Bill 2008. I would like to take a different tack to everybody else and remind the House about the human element: the 3,166 registered wheat growers in the constituency I represent. This debate is being broadcast. They are currently out there on their tractors with their lights on taking their last chance. It has not rained, and you have just got to admire their courage and their faith. They are out there and they are listening to this debate. I think it is a great tragedy in all of this that, despite their desire to retain it, the single desk is being abolished in this legislation. I have heard the minister say in this House and other places that wheat growers accept the legislation. He, like the member for O’Connor, happens to be a man whom I do have some regard for. But I plead for the minister not to interpret acquiescence from burnt-out, sabbatical, seventh-year drought-stricken grain growers that acceptance of this legislation is right for them.

I regularly spend a lot of time with my wheat growers. It is not uncommon for the member for Mallee, when he is driving past, to pull up on the side of the road, walk into the paddock and do a few rounds with them while they are out there spraying herbicides or whatever—and latterly, when they are with their crops—even late at night, because I have that sort of admiration for them. But not one speaker tonight has focused on the human element of this. I take very seriously my role as a member of the House of Representatives, and I do not come here with some ideological view on whether there should be a free market or total regulation. I take seriously my job as a member of the House of Representatives. In fact, I like to hyphenate the word to make it ‘a member of the House of Re-presentatives’, which gives me the obligation to re-present the views of the people out there. Now, in an electorate that has 93,000 in it I suppose you might say that 3,166 wheat growers is not a large number. But if you regard each of those entities as a family—mum, dad and two or three children—we are probably talking about 10,000 people. I know, without polling them, that 75 per cent to 80 per cent of them wanted to keep the single desk. The leader of the National Party has made reference to the tragedy of what happened with the wheat for weapons scandal and the whole program in Iraq. That is a tragedy, but an enormous amount of water has gone under the bridge since then. But one of the growers in my electorate, Geoff Nalder, who does not live far from where I live, led the wheat-growing industry with a model. His group said, ‘We recognise the challenge here,’ and they put forward a model which I supported very strongly at the last election. I said to my constituents, ‘I now have to look you in the eye and say, “Send me back to Canberra; I will argue a case and work to achieve for you a grower owned entity that will take custodianship of the single desk.”’ This would have removed all of the corporate complications we have had with the former model. And if there is any commercial benefit associated with the single desk, through a grower owned entity it would automatically go to growers.

That is what I supported at the last election, and I am determined to maintain that integrity. So that is what I am speaking about tonight. That is what I told the growers I would try and achieve. This bill is so far from that that I simply cannot support it. I say to the minister that the growers, with their big tractors, are not out the front of the parliament protesting, as they normally would have been had they had successive good years. They are just punch drunk and beside themselves. They are confronted with the uncertainty of what is going to happen with the exceptional circumstances program, which for some of my regions closes down in four months time. But the growers are out there and borrowing heaps of money to take one more chance, hoping that we will get significant rain for them to grow a crop.

So I am not supporting the bill. I am opposed to it. I want on the record my fears for the future. The nation and this parliament will rue the day it has destroyed a marketing entity that other countries envied. I have spent a lot of time with the enemies of the single desk, particularly the United States, who used what happened in Iraq to their own advantage to encourage us to abandon something they deeply envied. A huge number of wheat growers said to me, years back, ‘I wish we had the orderly marketing arrangement Australia has.’ It just gives our farmers that extra edge. In an extremely corrupted export market it gives them the edge and the capacity to deliver real quality, which is what Australian wheat growers have achieved. So I am opposed to the bill and I say, on the record, that the parliament will rue the day this bill was passed.