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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12637

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (21:09): I rise tonight to speak on the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill and the amendment. It is a great honour to speak after the member for Lyons, because, along with the member for Lyons, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry undertook an inquiry into this bill. I commend the member for Lyons on the way he steered the committee in getting to its final report, because the final report that was put out the by House committee addresses the issues that are still before us tonight as we debate this bill. It is one of the great pities that work has not been done to fix the issues which we identified in this bill before we had to come here and debate this bill, because if the executive had listened to the committee, which was chaired by the member for Lyons, and had read this House report and done its work, I think we would all be here saying that cooperatively we will move forward in the best interests of the Australian wheat industry. Unfortunately, that has not happened to date.

So, we are here debating this bill while the issue of port access arrangements, the issue of transparency standards in relation to stock information, and issues to do with minimum quality standards are still up for discussion—while there is still debate and negotiation going on over the voluntary code which underpins the future of the industry.

It is a real shame that the minister has not done the work required. So, rather than us being in a situation where it seems that the government wants to play politics with this bill, we could actually do what is in the best interests of the Australian wheat industry. And the Australian wheat industry is very important to our nation. The evidence that we took during our House committee inquiry demonstrated that. And the future is bright for the Australian wheat industry. The evidence we took also demonstrated that.

The forecasts that we were given by ABARES show that Australian production of wheat between 2012-13 and 2016-17 will be about 26 million tonnes. And wheat exports are projected to be at about 20 million tonnes, up to 2017-17. This is providing substantial export income for this nation. It is a serious industry and the government should give it the service and the attention that it deserves.

So what has been done around the issues, identified by industry, that they want sorted out before full deregulation takes place? I just want to get on the record quite clearly that all members on this side of the House support deregulation. This parliament took the first step—basically the most important step and the significant step—to make sure that we had a deregulated wheat industry, when it abolished the single desk. What we are talking about here is making sure that in taking the final step we have the future of the industry at heart and that we set the direction for the industry along the right path into the future. Sadly, at the moment we are not there. That is why it surprises me that we are here debating this bill tonight. We should have had these issues sorted out before this bill was brought before this place.

What is the process currently being undertaken by the industry to try and get to the stage where they can move to that last step towards deregulation? They are trying to sort out port access arrangements to make sure that the old legacy issues—some of them monopolistic—that have been left through deregulation can be dealt with going forward. And the idea is that we would get a voluntary code which would deal with this.

But the issue is that the voluntary code has no teeth. There is nothing which requires the players who come together as part of that voluntary code to stay as participants. What is to stop them, come September 2014 or 1 October 2014, from walking away from it? There is no certainty there for players in the process. And there does not seem to be an indication of how that problem can be alleviated.

There is also the issue with stock information. Once again, a House Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry inquiry took submissions on this issue. Some of the submissions were quite compelling. The acid test on this issue is whether you can have a proper functioning futures market with the amount of stocks information that is available in this country. According to the ASX, at the moment you cannot. So let us not hear from the other side this rhetoric about protectionism going backwards. What we are looking to do is make sure as we go forward that we have the proper structures in place to make sure that a deregulated wheat industry can operate how it should operate. One of the keys to a proper deregulated wheat industry taking place and operating efficiently is a proper functioning futures market which growers can participate in with certainty and with knowledge so that they can hedge along with other players in the industry like they already do. We need in Australia a proper functioning wheat futures market so we are not reliant on what is happening in the US futures market. We need to control our own destiny so that our wheat growers know with certainty that they can operate on a futures market here in Australia. They would not have to worry about all the issues around currency hedging, which they also have to take into consideration if they go to Chicago or elsewhere. What we need is the certainty for them here to control their own destiny.

Quality standards was another concern raised by industry. Ultimately we have the final arbiter and that is the overseas market. If you send poor quality wheat overseas then the person buying that wheat eventually is going to say, 'You are not delivering the quality or the standards we require; therefore, we are not going to buy from you.' That is the final backstop to this issue. There is the market to deal with this issue. But the problem is if you get a couple of shipments rejected then, because of the bulk wheat that we export, it does have the potential to hurt the industry as a whole. What industry wants to do is have the opportunity to come up with a way where it can ensure that there are some controls around basic minimum standards—not a request which is unreasonable or unfair.

What has the government said to industry players when they have detailed quite specifically that these are the concerns in taking the next step down the deregulation path? They have been given no assurances. They have been given no undertakings. They have not had any of the future direction of the industry or where the government sees this industry going mapped out. They have had no assurances whatsoever. The minister needs to take leadership on this front. It might be that what the minister needs to do in taking this leadership position is say to industry, 'I want to empower you to come up with the solutions yourself.' That would be a very good way forward.

It has to be said that there are divergent views within the industry. There are divergent views in Western Australia and in South Australia where the bulk of our wheat is exported from and along the eastern seaboard where the majority of our domestic wheat is grown and sold. There are issues of fairness and transparency that need to be worked out as we go forward. We have had full deregulation in the domestic wheat industry and we have seen that that has been successful. In moving to make sure that we get to full deregulation on the export side, maybe we need to look and ask: have we got the balance right? It requires the minister to say to the industry, 'I have confidence in you being able to work this out, being able to show us the way forward. I want to empower you. I want to treat you with the respect that you deserve because you are an industry which is incredibly important to our export performance.'

Our exports of wheat to Indonesia are incredibly important. It is a part of us supplying the growing middle-class of Asia. We talk about the Asian white paper. We did not see a lot of detail around food processing, around agriculture or around what the government is doing to make sure that linkages into this growth market will continue to grow and develop. Will we get the sort of cooperation that we need to ensure value is added to the food chain along the export path? This is the sort of thing that industry players want to see from the government. More importantly, they want to see that the government has the confidence in them to come up with some solutions to their issues. It might be that they need and they want their own body to help them along this path and maybe they want to fund that themselves.

Previous governments have taken the deregulation path with AWI, with MLA, with Dairy Australia, and done it quite successfully. If you look at the dairy industry, the way the coalition went about deregulating the dairy industry and setting up Dairy Australia, it gives an example to the minister of the type of leadership which he needs to show on this issue.

So, rather than playing politics with it, read the House report, Minister. See the issues that are identified. The chair was happy to sign off on identifying those issues and say that they need to be fixed. Yet all we are hearing from the executive is silence on this issue.

Those in the industry are calling for leadership. They understand that they need to go down the deregulatory path. They understand that. But what they want is some surety from government that, in going down that path, the government is prepared to stick with them, work with them, and make sure that the path is as smooth as possible—not something which is too contentious; not something which has not been done before. It is something that the minister seriously needs to look at, because if he sits down with the industry and tries to work things out, a path forward can be found because the issues have been identified. What we need now is the time and effort put in to finding the solution. If that can be found—and industry says, 'We are confident it can be found'—then I am sure all sides of this House will get behind this bill and say, 'Yes, this is the path we want to go down.' But putting the cart before the horse and asking us all to take a leap of faith is placing us in an untenable position. So let us step back from that and see if we can work cooperatively to get the solution that we need.

This industry is too important to play politics with. It is one of our key agricultural export sectors. It is one of the keys to ensuring that we will feed that Asian middle class which has been identified ad nauseam by those on the other side. But let us start seeing some substance put behind the theory on the other side. Let us see them work, sit down and do the hard yards, to make sure that the industry knows what its future is and is confident about its future. The Australian wheat industry is too important for us not to do that.