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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 12075

Mr GRAY (BrandSpecial Minister of State and Minister for the Public Service and Integrity) (13:11): I listened intently to the member for Grey's observations, and I have absolute confidence in his knowledge of his local circumstances, given his own background. But I have to say: how can members opposite turn a blind eye to the numerous public appeals by Co-operative Bulk Handling Ltd in Western Australia, the WA Farmers Federation and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association—groups which represent the majority of Western Australian farmers and are their voice on this subject. Even the Western Australian Liberal Premier has pleaded for Western Australian Liberal members to support this bill.

The CBH terminal in Kwinana is in my electorate and stands to lose up to $1 million a year if the coalition votes down this final step towards deregulation by dismantling Wheat Export Australia. The CBH terminal is a cooperative. It is owned by farmers. Farmers will lose that $1 million. In addition to that, individual wheat growers in Western Australia stand to lose a further $3 million in revenue for their own farm businesses.

Western Australia is the biggest export wheat state. This is Western Australia's biggest agricultural industry. It is worth around $3.5 billion a year. It is one of the great pillars of the Western Australian economy, and it is beyond belief that some members on the other side, who claim to represent the interests of WA wheat growers, are prepared to betray them and sell them short for purely political reasons.

It is beyond belief that they are prepared to reject this Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 and cost wheat growers in Western Australia millions of dollars in lost revenue and continue to add to the administrative, regulatory red-tape burden of the CBH operation in Kwinana and the administrative, regulatory red-tape burden of all farmers in Western Australia. It is beyond belief that the personal appeal of 10 senior Liberal Party members in Western Australia who, on 4 October, wrote to all Liberal MPs and senators, will have the door slammed in their faces.

I seek leave to table the letter to all Western Australian Liberal MPs and senators from those 10 senior Western Australian Liberals: Barry Court—a substantial and thoughtful Western Australian Liberal; Murray Nixon; Andres Timmermanis; Steve Martin; Alex Butterworth and Gordon Thomson, President of the Durack Division; Richard Wilson; Sandra Brown; Steve Cleaver and James McLagan. They deserve to have their voices heard and their opinions heard within the Liberal Party. Their voices and their opinions count on this matter and their voices and their opinions are the voices and opinions of agricultural Western Australia—that great pillar of our state that built our state through its first hundred years of existence.

I hear members opposite speak of whether or not you are selling cars, washing machines or Tim Tams. I can say this: whether or not you are selling cars, washing machines or Tim Tams, you actually want to have a free market, and that is what we are talking about here—a free market. All of us would believe—and anyone involved in primary production would believe—that it is a reasonable proposition that, before you take your crop off, you should know and understand the conditions under which that crop will be marketed. You should understand that. And I believe that members opposite do understand that. I believe that there is still an opportunity for members opposite to be brought to their senses before an industry is brought to its knees. There is time for thought and for consideration of the critical matters which Western Australian wheat farmers have sought quite properly to bring to the attention of this parliament.

The Kwinana grain terminal in my electorate is a fantastic piece of infrastructure. It was built in the 1960s as a courageous act by Co-operative Bulk Handling. It cost $90 million, and these days, when you talk about the wheat terminal in Kwinana, you get the NIMBYs who would prefer, because it is bright blue, that it not blight their skyline. You get the people who do not like the dust that occasionally settles on the sea and helps grow fantastic mussels. You get the people who question whether or not that terminal is in the right spot. That terminal is a critical piece of Australian infrastructure. It cost a cooperative $90 million 40 years ago. It is an investment that today would not be made. Today, if you had to replace it, it would cost over $2 billion. It is an investment for future generations of Western Australians from great farmers who made a decision to build it. The beneficiaries today are a grateful generation of farmers and of workers in my electorate who work at that terminal. It exports our principal export crop. When you are dealing with a principal export crop, you want to deal with the freest, most open market circumstances that can be created, and you want to deal with that before you take your crop off.

The grain industry in Western Australia has a courageous and a unique history. From the days of its creation in the middle 1830s, at a time of starvation and malnutrition, our farmers in Western Australia began to understand the poor nature and the poor quality of their soils and they began to understand the importance of trace elements. The development of that industry grows in concert with the understanding of the addition of trace elements. It also grows at a time of the expansion of mechanised farming, the introduction of the internal combustion engine, and the opening up of a fantastic grain belt, made available to farmers in Western Australia because of science and because of an appropriate combination of agricultural common sense and know-how and industrial technology. So we develop a grain belt in Western Australia which is beyond any doubt the envy of the world.

Just the other day I was at a CBH function which marked a massive investment in grain rail infrastructure, an investment in infrastructure to carry five billion tonnes of grain around Western Australia and to bring it to our ports and our silos. Of those five billion tonnes, 3½ billion tonnes are our wheat crop, and it is that wheat crop that we discuss in this bill here today. The grain industry in Western Australia is a critical pillar of our social development, our community development, our own sense of being and, importantly, our economy. It is why our Premier supports this bill. But, unfortunately, our Premier does not have a voice in this parliament on this issue, because his own party in this place has deserted him.

The Western Australian grain rail system involves 1,200 kilometres of rail capacity to carry this crop to our markets. Five hundred million dollars from the Western Australian government, from the Commonwealth government and from CBH, from farmers, has been invested in the latest technology upgrade and uplift to bring our grains to market. We want it to come to the best possible market. We want it to come to a deregulated market. We want it to come to a transparent market. We want it to come to the market that our farmers want to take it to. All of us in this place should celebrate the removal of regulation and not seek to extend regulation, even for limited periods of time. Where we can, we should take regulations out of the system. We all know that. A decision not to support this bill is a decision to send a bill of $3 million to our farming community and to then impose a further bill of $1 million on our combined bulk-handling operations.

Today, wheat is exported from Western Australia to more than 20 countries. Major shipments go to China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Iran and Pakistan. They go in bulk and they go in containers. Our systems for managing and handling our grain exports in Western Australia are built on the great insight that is brought to this industry by combined bulk handling, by the insightful decision made in the 1960s by Mick Gayfer to put into the industry a $90 million investment, which at that time people would have thought was mad. The generation who are the beneficiaries of that courageous investment, of that courageous decision, now want to say, 'Let's really get the benefit of what our forefathers have done.' By putting in place the best grain-gathering system, by investing in that grain-gathering system, by investing in our export infrastructure, we have made available the capacity to deliver great gains and great benefits for Western Australian farmers. This season is not going to be a great season. It did not rain much in June or July. The August rains did not really get into our grain belt and much of the September rains did not get into our southern wheat belt, although some did get through to the northern part of our wheat belt. But it is not going to be a bumper crop like last year's 14 million tonnes. It is probably going to be closer to nine million tonnes. At a time of pinched markets and difficult circumstances for our farmers because of increased costs and the difficult situation with the high Australian dollar, why would we want to make it harder for our principal export market industry, the grains industry in Western Australia? Why make it harder?

Members opposite have conceded: 'In time, we will get around to it. In time we will get around to this deregulation.' The time is now, a month before the grain crop is taken off in Western Australia, a month before up in the northern part of the grain belt they start to get their machines going to harvest their crops, and six weeks before they start to do that around my family's wheat properties in Kellerberrin and Doodlakine. It is around a month before they will do it in other parts of the southern wheat belt.

Farmers deserve to know the conditions under which they will sell their crops before they take off their crops. I can do no more than politely plead with this House and the members opposite to heed the views of Western Australian wheat farmers, heed the views of the Western Australian Premier on this matter and heed the views of those farmers who genuinely want to gain the best dollar they can for the crop into which their families have invested their livelihoods—a crop which saw an extremely uncertain 90 days at the start of this growing season and which is critical to the sustained health and welfare of our farming sector in Western Australia.

I know and I understand what difficult decisions look like. I know and I understand that the Australian wheat industry is not the same on the east coast as it is on the west coast. But I am a Western Australian and a person whose family connections are with this industry, a person who knows it and cares about it. Every November I take great pride in taking my sons with my father-in-law up to the family farm to watch the crop being taken off. It is reasonable that at the time at which we watch that crop being taken off, my brother-in-law and his family should understand the conditions under which it will be sold. That is a reasonable proposition. It is a sensible proposition.

What the government and the parliament are attempting to do here in this bill is consistent with years of discussion. It is consistent with undertakings given by this parliament on many occasions to seek to remove the wheat export arrangements currently in place. It is good public policy. It is good policy for the farmers of Western Australia. They have reasonably sought that their Western Australian parliamentary representatives support them in this place, and I am extremely pleased that Mr Crook has agreed to do just that. I am extremely pleased that people are listening to the Western Australian farmers. But I plead: this is an important matter, and there is time before this vote is taken for people to change their views and consider the central, thoughtful proposition that farmers, before they take their crop off, should understand the conditions under which their crop is to be marketed. I thank the House for its indulgence.