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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12631

Mr SCHULTZ (Hume) (20:41): In continuation of my short contribution last night, let me begin by repeating the last paragraph. In Western Australia, as an example, they have the unique, very successful industry process whereby the growers actually have a cooperative that looks after the wheat exporters. Western Australians own their own bulk-handling authority. By all accounts it is Australia's most effective and, apparently, cost-efficient system. It is in stark contrast to what applies in New South Wales, where there is indeed a serious monopoly called GrainCorp. The monopoly called GrainCorp originated through a decision by the Greiner-Murray government in the early 1990s to sell off the government owned Grain Corp to private enterprise. Hence the birth of the problems associated with monopoly handling of a particular system.

One of the problems that we have about this whole system is that it is very evident that we cannot come up with a system that is going to please everybody because of the geographic isolation and the infrastructure differences on a state-by-state basis. The object of the federal parliament is not to come out with a piece of legislation that pleases and/or appeases individual groups. It has to come up with a decision that is constructively centred on the interests of the people in the industry itself.

This particular bill is of great personal significance and interest to me. As I said yesterday, I made a couple of pretty comprehensive speeches on the issue of the corrupt AWB Ltd and what it was doing to export wheat growers in Western Australia and how certain A and B class shareholders of AWB Pty Ltd, who happened to be eastern wheat growers, were ripping off the Western Australian growers to buy $40 to $60 per tonne and in total $360 million a year, which was being used by AWB as a dividend base for A and B shareholders. I could not live with that or with anyone in any industry ripping off their partners in the same industry. I did not think that was appropriate.

I copped a bit of flak on this issue, as did the former member for O'Connor, Wilson Tuckey, when we pressed the then Howard government to do away with the AWB. One of the most vocal people was a fellow by the name of Jock Munro, of Rankin Springs in the member for Riverina's electorate. I note that the member for Riverina mentions him in glowing terms, but what he does not know about him, because he was not here at that time, was that he came into this parliament and tried to intimidate people. Fortunately he missed me, but he went up to the member for Farrer's office. I got a phone call from her after he had been there; she was very distraught because this bloke had threatened to destroy her politically. My reaction to that was: 'Susan, get on the phone. Here is the phone number for you. Ring up the Federal Police. He is in contravention of the Crimes Act and he should be charged.' That is the sort of person I have been dealing with on this issue for some time now. Anybody who thinks a bloke like that is all right really wants to have a look at themselves—I will say no more than that.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I will take this opportunity to acquaint you and the parliament with the history behind my original comments on this issue, which have been the subject of further discussions with thinking, reasonable people, including politicians and constituent wheat growers. The precursor to the problem with what is now described as a monopoly by GrainCorp in New South Wales, as I mentioned earlier, was the National Party agreement within the Greiner-Murray government to regulate the wheat industry in New South Wales by privatising GrainCorp. What we are living with today is the further deregulation of the export wheat market through an amendment to the 2008 wheat export marketing bill, which followed the former Howard-Anderson government's decision to shut down the embarrassingly corrupt AWB much to the disdain of A- and B-class shareholders who were reaping guaranteed share dividends which, as I said previously, were financed from costs and charges which AWB, under the single-desk process, were ripping off from export wheat growers who were predominantly South Australian and Western Australian wheat growers. I thought that was about as low as you can get: wheat growers living off interstate export wheat growers in the way of dividends resulting in reduced returns to those export wheat growers of $40 to $60 a tonne.

The idea of re-establishing a single desk for wheat marketing will not solve the current problem because you cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach when there are unique geographical and infrastructure differences on a state-by-state basis. I recognise that there are indeed problems with the east coast grain supply chain, but returning to anything which remotely mirrors the former single-desk system is not the answer—and that is what my concerns have been about. I am advised by clear-thinking farmers that they believe single desks or farmer owned cooperatives make sense when farmers face downstream monopolists. They reinforce the reality that wheat marketing is a highly competitive business with relatively small margins. They are adamant that the real monopoly is with rail, grain handling and ports infrastructure, where east coast growers have limited options outside of GrainCorp. They also say growers need to look at greater options for getting wheat to markets on the east coast and that reinvesting in the grain rail system and encouraging private operators—like Newcastle agri-terminal, which is run by Jock Carter from Goulburn in New South Wales—is the answer. The strong message I received was that growers need to focus on the right issue—their words, not mine—and not get distracted by some outmoded idea that the marketing of grain, as against its handling and transportation, is the problem.

National Farmers Federation President Jock Laurie met with 50 parliamentarians recently—and I might add that the parliamentarians came together because of a discussion between my colleague over there on the other side of the House and a wonderful individual on this side of the House, Nola Marino, a fine Western Australian dairy farmer. I would like to quote Jock Laurie's words at that meeting:

I think it is important that all people who actually support agriculture are prepared to stand up and support it on principle rather than on some of the party political stuff that goes on, because I really think that does a fair bit of damage to the debate out in regional areas.

He conceded that some of the blame for poor policy outcomes rested with farmers and farm groups across Australia who were really bad at working from a unified position. He also said that the wheat export debate was a very good example of an issue that had blown out due to different lobby groups presenting different views to Canberra. He said:

The biggest trouble with the grains industry is they do not have a united voice.

I make the point that there is no solution that can be delivered in the federal parliament that will satisfy individual states or farmers and the parliament cannot differentiate to please or appease, as I said previously. It is my personal opinion that the logical level of government to address this economy is the states, which have the powers necessary, including price-fixing, total acquisition, fair trading and the office of the ombudsman. In the meantime I just want to send a very, very stark message that I will not be influenced by the backdoor antics of the New South Wales Farmers Association. They have put out a standard letter to their members, asking them to write to me. I have answered each and every one of those letters—and I might add that there were only seven in total. Nor will I be influenced by personal cowardly abuse by National Party members or vested interests. I will make my decision on the basis of a fair and equitable resolution for growers of export wheat. It is, after all, an amendment to the 2012 export wheat marketing bill that I will be voting on.

The export wheat marketing bill that was introduced by the Labor Party in 2008, before many of my current colleagues in this place were here, was a revamped version of a similar bill that was going to be introduced by the Howard government for the very reasons that I outlined before: to clean the industry up and get the corruption out of the system. Sadly from my point of view—and nobody though about this—from 2000 to 2008, when farmer organisations around the whole country should have been getting together and working out a system that would satisfy all of the states, with their different infrastructure and geographical problems, nothing happened. It was only when the government of the day decided that it would move down the path of further deregulation and brought in this amendment bill that people started to sit up and take notice and suddenly realised that they had not sorted out what the Wheat Export Authority was put in charge to do—and that was to come to a consensus of opinion between all the different groups and all the farmer bodies across the country to come up with something that controlled the very issues that are of concern to growers.

That saddens me, because we are now going down the path where people are excited for various reasons about the further deregulation. Further deregulation can be undertaken if it is allowed now to go down the path of a two-year delay—that is, no further action done until 2014 to allow the Wheat Export Authority and the farmer groups to get together to come up with a solution that is going to be acceptable to everybody. At the same time that that is happening, it is incumbent upon the farming groups to get to the state governments of the day and talk to them about why they cannot come up with some sort of legislative process through the ombudsman—and, indeed their ownership of the infrastructure that carries a lot of this wheat—and put a restriction on the people that are leasing that infrastructure to the extent where there is some control on stopping them from using that infrastructure as a monopoly to hit people with costs and charges of up to $52 a tonne in an environment where they are carting coal, as an example, under the same system for $18 a tonne. You cannot do that to people. You cannot do that to producers. I understand their concerns about that issue, but the producers have an obligation with their farmer bodies to get together and fix this up now.

It is because of the conversations that I have had with people and assurances I have been given by both the Leader of the Nationals and the Leader of the Liberal Party on this side of the parliament that I will be supporting the coalition on this bill, as distinct from what I was talking about a week or so ago.