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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 663

Senator WATSON(10.29) —The Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill 1987, which is before the Senate, seeks to correct an anomaly between existing legislation and the way in which the guaranteed minimum price is currently calculated. The need for this legislation arose when the Attorney-General's Department advised the Australian Wheat Board that its calculations for the guaranteed minimum price did not comply with the legislation as it stands. The legislation which outlined the methodology, which came up as a result of negotiations in 1984 in relation to a guaranteed minimum price, did not allow in its calculations for the inclusion of such items as interest payments on credit sales and investment returns. Given that the inclusion of these factors was consistent with a prior agreement made between the Government, the Wheat Board and the growers as long ago as 1984, this is a grave reflection on the capacity of the Government to give accurate legislative form to agreements that it enters into.

At the same time, the authorities cannot be absolved. It is also a reflection on the authorities that, while they accept in good faith at face value these respective agreements made with governments, they do not always immediately or subsequently scrutinise the supportive legislation to ensure that the legislation is identical with the agreement made with government. Given that many farmers are on the bread line, we do not wish to place any impediment to, or delay the passage of, this amendment. However, I ask why it has taken the Government so long to bring it in and why it is so close to this critical deadline of 1 March, given the predicaments of the wheat farmers at the moment.

Furthermore, we all know that if this legislation were not passed-of course, it does have Opposition support; nevertheless we condemn the Government for the delay-it would mean a reduction in the guaranteed minimum price and therefore lower returns to growers. We would not wish to do that. But this is a reflection of the Government's incapacity to bring in proper legislative form to support an earlier agreement. The urgency of the Bill arises from the fact that, if it is not passed and gazetted by 1 March, the final payment to growers may be in doubt. This is so because the inclusion of interest payments on credit sales and investment returns would make the revenue side of the calculation less, and consequently the guaranteed minimum price given to growers would be correspondingly less.

Regrettably, we must condemn the Government for its failure also to inform the industry adequately. In fact, the Grains Council of Australia had not been advised of the legislation until contacted by the shadow Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Hunt, yesterday morning, I think. I say on behalf of the Liberal Party of Australia that we support the legislation but we do not accept the views of the Australian Democrats, who said that we should not rub salt into the wounds of the Government for its failure to implement properly legislation giving effect to the agreement in the first place.