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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12864


Mr CROOK (O'Connor) (17:37): I rise today to discuss the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012. Many speakers before me have outlined the tumultuous journey that the wheat industry has taken from the single desk to this latest push for deregulation. Many speakers have also outlined the benefits that deregulation can provide to the industry, particularly in the unique Western Australian market. As a result, I do not intend to rehash these arguments today. Rather, I intend to outline my involvement in this bill and how I have come to support it.

As many are aware, I have received a lot of criticism for my support of this bill, much of which has come from members on this side of the House. Before I discuss my reasons for supporting this bill, I would like to directly address some of this criticism. Many on this side of the House have criticised me for supporting what they call a Labor bill. To those people, I say: I am not supporting a Labor bill; I am supporting Western Australian wheat growers and the Western Australian wheat industry. Many MPs have also criticised me for crossing the floor in a minority parliament. To those MPs, I say: as a member of parliament I have an obligation to stand up for my constituents, and this obligation to my constituents must come before any obligation to any party room. Many MPs have criticised me for standing up for my electorate in what they have called a media stunt. I solemnly request of those MPs that they honestly reflect on what they think the job of an MP involves. What are we doing in this parliament if we are not standing up for our electorates? What are we doing as elected representatives if we are not brave enough to stand up for the interests of the good people who had the faith to put us in these positions?

As I alluded to earlier, I have had significant and ongoing involvement in this bill. My electorate of O'Connor, as the electorate that produces the largest amount of wheat exports in the country, has always had a very strong interest in the wheat market. Meanwhile, Western Australia is the biggest wheat-exporting state in the country. As a result, I was pleased to have the opportunity to sit on the House Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry, which inquired into this bill and tabled its report on 18 June this year. Since that time, I have undertaken substantial and ongoing consultation with industry bodies and industry representatives, as well as non-aligned individual growers in my electorate. Further, my Nationals WA colleagues in the WA parliament have undertaken similar consultations throughout their own electorates.

The response in Western Australia has been clear. An overwhelming majority of Western Australian growers want this bill, and they want it now. The Western Australian Farmers Federation support this bill. The Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia support this bill. CBH, the bulk handlers in WA, support this bill. The majority of non-aligned individual growers who I have consulted with and the majority of non-aligned growers who my Nationals WA colleagues have consulted with support this bill. The Western Australian Minister for Agriculture and Food, the Hon. Terry Redman, supports this bill. The Nationals WA, including the Leader of the Nationals WA, the Hon. Brendon Grylls, support this bill. In fact, the Western Australian Liberal-National government supports this bill. I completed these consultations in the second half of September and, on 25 September 2012, following a meeting of the Nationals WA, I announced my decision to support this bill. As a passionate representative of O'Connor and regional Western Australia, in good faith, there was no other choice to be made.

I fully understand that, in the main, this view is contrary to the views expressed by growers on the east coast of Australia. As such, I fully respect the obligations of my federal Nationals colleagues from the east coast to represent their east coast growers by opposing this bill. Indeed, I gladly defend their right to have a different view to mine and to be allowed to exercise that view in this place, as they do with me. In fact, I think there has been some unfair criticism of my federal Nationals colleagues. In all of our party discussions on this issue, I have never heard one member call for the return of the single desk, as has been claimed by some sectors. I do not deny that some growers rue the death of the single desk back in 2008 and I do not deny that it was foisted upon the industry at a time when it was very unpopular. However, in Western Australia, farmers have moved on and have embraced the free market.

Although this stance has been difficult, I have been encouraged by the support that my Nationals colleagues have shown me, and I believe my decision is consistent with the rich history of the Nationals in standing up for their regional electorates. However, what I have found baffling, and somewhat depressing, is the inability of Western Australian MPs to stand up for their state. I stood in this House absolutely dismayed as I watched Western Australian Liberal and Labor Party MPs vote against my motion for a fairer GST deal for WA. When the bells ring for this bill, I fear my dismay will return because I fear we will once again observe Western Australian Liberal Party MPs choosing to bow to the east coast dominated party room rather than doing what is right for their state.

I think it is important to note my absolute surprise that this Labor government has produced a bill in the agriculture portfolio that actually has the support of WA farmers. Let's be honest: this government has unequivocally failed in most of its dealings with regional Australia. This government has failed to deliver regional infrastructure spending, especially when you compare it to the hugely successful Royalties for Regions fund delivered by the WA Nationals—it pales into insignificance. This government failed to deal with live animal exports, particularly when the industry was looking for leadership to support them, not to shut them down. This government has failed to properly support farmers in what is, after all, supposedly the Year of the Farmer. However, this bill—which, I note, is Liberal Party policy—is unequivocally supported by the Western Australian industry and will undoubtedly provide great benefits to WA growers and the WA economy.

So I say to the WA MPs who claim that they put the interests of their electorates and their states first that this is the time: as this debate ends and the bells ring, that will be your litmus test. Regardless of all the public grandstanding, WA MPs will be forced to choose between the interests of their state and their east coast dominated party room. WA Liberal MPs will have to choose: they can either meekly fall into line or stand up and represent Western Australian wheat growers The people of O'Connor and the people of WA deserve to be passionately represented. For those reasons, I am proud to support this bill.