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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4390

Mr WINDSOR (9:26 AM) —I rise to oppose the Wheat Export Marketing Bill 2008. We have just had an indication from the member for Charlton as to what the agenda really is here, and I would encourage people to read the first part of his speech. If they do, they will start to see what the real agenda is in relation to this particular legislation. It is not about wheat marketing at all; it is about politics and placating some of the rent seekers. It is about putting people in positions in the food chain of the production of food, where many others will make money and the growers will be left out of the equation.

The now Prime Minister came to Tamworth a bit over two years ago when the Cole inquiry was being held. He rang me and said he was travelling through that part of the world and wanted to speak to wheat growers. I said to him, ‘Look, rather than just driving down the road, I’ll put a group of growers together for you to talk to.’ I did, and we had breakfast together and talked about a number of issues. That meeting was held at a little silo south of Tamworth and about 40 or 50 growers turned up. There was a family represented at that meeting called Barwick. The Prime Minister met the Barwicks. The member for Charlton mentioned 1948. The member for Charlton, if he has a memory in relation to this, and others would remember that Don Barwick was one of the original founders of the Australian Wheat Board. Don Barwick was also a very good supporter of mine in my first campaign back in 1991. He was instrumental in mentoring me, in a sense, to prevent the then Liberal state government, the Greiner government, from selling off the grain handling system to international grain traders, who would have been the highest bidders. The member for Charlton may well remember some of this history.

I note with some degree of interest that the morphed organisation that was saved at that particular time from being sold out by the Liberals is one of those that will seek accreditation to become one of the accredited exporters under this legislation. It was at a time, in 1991, when there was a hung parliament and the then Greiner government had committed to sell it off, just as the current federal Liberal opposition have agreed to let it all go, and it was the Labor Party in New South Wales that was opposed to it. In my mind we have this interesting position developing—that is, that over that period of time there has been an evolution of the politics of the Liberal and Labor parties. If anybody had any doubt that the two parties are almost identical, then I think the way in which they have acted in relation to this particular bill and both parties’ shoddy treatment of country people is an indication that they do not really care about the people who live in those particular areas.

I listened to the member for Kennedy last night and his condemnation of the National Party in what he called its sell-out on most other industries. He said that they were here standing up on one of the last remaining industries that they have had some influence in. Maybe I am not as hard as the member for Kennedy, but I think there is an opportunity here for the National Party. If they stay within the Liberal coalition after this treatment then they deserve to die as a representative group. I challenge them to break links with this pathetic group that they have associated themselves with and have allowed themselves to be sold down the drain by. More importantly the people they represent have been sold down the drain, whether it is on Telstra, on this particular piece of legislation or on many other pieces of legislation.

So it seems that the rent seekers have won. This has not been about marketing; this has not been about consultation. Prime Minister Rudd, when he was shadow minister for foreign affairs, at that meeting in Tamworth made the statement—and it is readily available on tape—that he believed that before any changes to export wheat marketing arrangements took place there should be a poll of all registered wheat growers. He has not done that. Mark Vaile, the member for Lyne and Deputy Prime Minister when the previous government was in power, said, at Warracknabeal in Victoria, that before any changes took place there should be a poll of all registered wheat growers. He did not do that. I think if the member for Lyne, the then Deputy Prime Minister, had taken the initiative and actually sought a clear expression from growers then we would not be debating this farce today.

The motives in this particular legislation are not about improvement. They are not about the Australian Wheat Board at all. I personally believe that many in the Australian Wheat Board should be spending time in jail, but this particular legislation, in the ‘fit and proper’ clause, allows the Australian Wheat Board back into the game. It is absolutely designed to have the wheat board in there as a player. The minister for agriculture and the Prime Minister stood up in here some weeks ago and said that this would not have happened had the Australian Wheat Board not done what it did—and the member for Charlton, Mr Combet, referred to it again today—and here we have a bill that is designed to put it back in the game. The reason for the legislation, for the changes, is supposed to be that you can only have fit and proper conduct for companies—or for individuals, if the coalition’s amendment gets through—yet here we are allowing the so-called thief in the night, the very reason for this bill being brought on, to be a very important clause in the legislation. I just cannot understand how the minister could allow that sort of activity to happen and try and have some credibility in terms of some of the access provisions, and other provisions, within the legislation.

The motives behind this are purely political. There is a lot of payback in this. The Labor Party could see that the Nationals and Liberals were split traditionally over this and this is about exposing those weaknesses. It is not about the wheat growers. If people were interested in what the wheat growers thought, they would have consulted with them. Well, I did. The Prime Minister may have said that he would have, the former Deputy Prime Minister may have said that he would have and did not, but I did, and I think that for the record those results should be indicated.

Before reading the results out I should say, just for the academics, that the research that was done here is of a sample of 2,819 that will give this study a 1.7 per cent confidence interval at a 95 per cent confidence level based on the 20,845 distributed survey forms in Australia. This is—and this is the important point—basically saying that if you conducted the same survey 100 times, 95 out of the 100 wheat growers should yield results within plus or minus 1.7 per cent of the published number of the percentage. I notice the member for Farrer made some passing reference to this poll, but she obviously has not carried out any political polls in the past. If she had, she would understand that these findings are highly significant. Essentially, growers were asked in all states which option best represented their views—a single-desk option, the government’s deregulated marketing system with a multilicensing arrangement, or a fully deregulated marketing arrangement. 80.2 per cent of respondents argued that they wanted the single desk maintained. So, when people say there has been consultation that is absolute nonsense. 14.9 per cent supported the government’s position. Western Australia is very dependent on wheat exports. It does not have the domestic market that the eastern states have in terms of the competitive markets that are available. The Prime Minister again stood up and said, ‘Oh, we are doing this because the Western Australians want it.’ Well, people in Western Australia were asked that specific question. In their answers, 71.4 per cent said they wanted a single desk whereas 22 per cent—not even a quarter—wanted what the government is presenting.

Some have suggested, ‘Oh well, it’s only those little growers that are weak in the marketplace that are being protected by this vestige of the past. We have got to allow the industry to flex its wings. The bigger players are being restricted by this old time single desk arrangement.’ If you split it by production, however, those who supported the single desk were 83.9 per cent of respondents in the 0- to 500-tonne production range, 84.6 per cent of respondents in the 500- to 1,000-tonne production range wanted a single desk, 77 per cent from the 1,000- to 5,000-tonne production range wanted a single desk and even in the over 5,000-tonne producers—the bigger growers—62.6 per cent wanted a single desk. Not a quarter wanted what the government is proposing: 23.1 per cent in the over 5,000-tonne production range wanted the government’s proposal, and that government proposal is being supported by the Liberal Party.

Some people have said, ‘We have to allow the younger farmers to express themselves because of the new age marketing systems.’ The Leader of the Opposition waffled on about GPS in tractors and various other technology and tried to draw some analogy with improved marketing techniques. This is the split by age. Across Australia—that is, all states—of those aged 31 to 40, 79 per cent supported a single desk; of those aged under 30, 72.5 per cent supported it; and of those aged 31 to 40, 75.8 per cent supported it. Those showing the most support for the government’s initiative, the multilicensing arrangement, were those aged 41 to 50, at 17.5 per cent. As I said, they consulted with growers—that is, there has been consultation with those who are going to make money out of the production chain. That is hypocritical of the Labor Party, particularly because of their view on collective arrangements. This supports those who make money out of food production. There are issues at the moment in food and fuel and the carbon footprint of transportation. Those who make money out of food production will continue to make money out of food production. In fact, as the pressure on world food commodities increases, they will make more. But those who produce the food—the growers—will not necessarily be part of that process.

If you need any evidence, look at what is happening in chemical and fertiliser prices in line with the boost in grain prices of the last 12 months. Look at the rent seekers who are ripping more out of the marketplace now. Some of the people the minister for agriculture, and I presume others in the government, has been dealing with behind the scenes, who purported to be representatives of grain growers—that is, some of those in the grain-handling system, some of those in the National Farmers Federation and some of those in some of the state based bodies—have positioned themselves to receive rent from the work of others. That is the appalling position that the Labor Party has presented. As the member for Kennedy said last night, they won the election on the right of workers to collectively bargain. This is the wheat growers’ industry. They are not asking the government for any money in relation to this; this is not a begging bowl arrangement. It is their industry and they have not been consulted. Those who will profit from their industry—not those who actually do the work—have been involved in the consultative phase. If this government stands up again and argues the right of the worker, it will have a fairly hollow ring in my view.

The poll shows some resistance in New South Wales—and no wonder—as 87.8 per cent of wheat growers want a single desk; only 8.8 per cent prefer what the government and now the Liberal Party prefer. If anybody had bothered to ask—if the member for Lyne had bothered, if the Prime Minister had bothered or if the minister for agriculture had bothered—they would have got exactly the same answers. The reason they did not bother is that they did not want to know. They know the answer. They are clearly defying the majority of an industry group that has made clear time and time again what they want for the export of their bulk-marketing wheat. They have allowed containers and bagged wheat to go—and this indicates that they did want bagged and containerised wheat to go—but they want a single desk structure for bulk export wheat.

This is about structure, Minister. I do not necessarily mean the Australian Wheat Board. I would not give it to the Australian Wheat Board. I would not give it to them because I think their behaviour was appalling. But you do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The minister for agriculture has endorsed a structure. The minister for agriculture has not given anybody the marketing arrangements yet. He may give them to one organisation. He may give them to the Australian Wheat Board or the Wheat Export Authority. He has not endorsed anybody, yet he, the member for Charlton and the Prime Minister have based their whole argument on the Australian Wheat Board. That is not a structure. The legislation should be about the structure that the majority of wheat growers want. Time and time again you see examples where, if individuals or smaller groups go out into the world market, they get beaten up. Look at what happened to the coal industry some years ago. They went overseas as individual companies and bid each other down. They kept bidding each other down in Japan.

Some academics have been used to come up with this logic that there are no substantive gains to be had through a single desk marketing arrangement. If you look through the various boards of some of the groups that are going to be accredited, they are there. Some of the people in the Grains Council, for instance, are there. The only people in the wheat industry, in my view, who can hold their heads up high—the Grains Council cannot, the National Farmers Federation cannot; some people in the New South Wales Farmers Association can but the majority of the body cannot—are those in Western Australia who have genuinely fought a cause for those they represent. Many others have suddenly slipped behind the tree. That is what we saw here yesterday with the Liberal Party leader. He is a man who can make a speech without any notes, but he is so committed to the poor, downtrodden farmer that he had to read nearly every word he said on this legislation!

It is a sad day for the wheat industry but it is a sadder day for politics, in my view, because today, for all to see, there is no division in politics in this place. There are two ‘Liberal’ parties. They exist on both sides of this chamber and there is a very weak junior coalition party which has allowed itself to be run over by both of them, to be assumed by both of them for decades, a junior coalition party which now has an opportunity. The question is: will they take that opportunity or just occupy the benches and move on when their individual times are up?

If we are so concerned about the global market and choice, what is the government going to do when a carbon footprint starts to be implanted on the movement of grain internationally? What is the government going to do about the taxation and excise arrangements which are currently on grain based ethanol, for instance? Are we going to tax a renewable fuel or allow free interchange to take place? These additional questions should have been answered quite clearly before this legislation was even brought into the House. (Time expired)