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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 48

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (12:01 PM) —I have no wish to delay the Senate, as Senator Boswell has properly covered The Nationals and government’s position on this legislation. I seek leave to incorporate my speech on the Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill 2007.

Leave granted.

Senator SANDY MACDONALDThe incorporated speech read as follows—

The Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill 2007 contains six proposals that will enable the transfer of Australia’s wheat exports from an AWB controlled single desk to a true grower controlled entity which will facilitate the continuation of Australia’s highly successful single desk export marketing tradition.

Firstly, it provides for the extension of the Minister for Agricultures temporary veto power over AWBI’s bulk exports until 30 June 2008. The Minister has had this power since the Cole Enquiry reported. Now this power has been extended for a further 12 months and allows the Minister to direct the industry regulator, presently the WEA, to approve or reject bulk wheat export applications.

This is a power that the Minister has exercised in the public interest and on a case by case basis—always with the knowledge of the importance of the single desk to the vast majority of Australian wheat growers who support it presently, and also into the future in a new form which is to be determined by the Australian wheat industry over the next 9 months.

Importantly, this extension will make sure that the power of veto over bulk wheat exports does not revert to AWBI on 30 June this year. The Government however understands the reality that AWBI is currently the only entity that can realistically manage the 2007-08 harvest but without the power of veto over bulk exports which it held before the Cole Enquiry reported.

Secondly, the Bill gives the Minister the power to select the corporate entity that manages the single desk in the future.

We will require that the new entity is registered under the Corporations Act 2001 and is completely separate from AWB Ltd. This new company will be required to have a developed strategy to successfully take over management of the single desk before the 2008-09 harvest. Industry players and the Government are aware that there is no time to waste.

The commencement date for the Minister’s power to select is set at 1 March 2008. Therefore, the power to replace the designated company is not required until 1 March 2008 at the earliest. This delay, which is commonsense, provides AWBI and growers with certainty over the export arrangements for the current harvest which I hope will be a record, and a chance for many wheat farmers to recover from disastrous drought.

When the power is exercised after 1 March 2008 will depend on a number of factors, including the progress growers make in the creation of a new company, the transition arrangements involved in a handover to the new entity, the need for AWB to finalise sales from the 2007-08 harvest and just simple commercial commonsense.

The wheat industry must be sure that the Minister will exercise his power at some stage and that the wheat industry must get on and prepare a suitable entity which they own and control. The weights, for all good reasons are on the wheat industry to agree on a suitable single desk entity.

Thirdly, the WEA is to be provided with further teeth in terms of its investigative capacity. These powers of investigation will enable the WEA to delve into transactions that in someway may be a repetition of transactions like the “oil for food/AWB” fiasco. More teeth for the WEA in a governance sense, are clearly warranted.

Fourthly, and in conjunction with the above, the Minister will be empowered to direct the WEA to investigate a broad range of issues relevant to its functions. This capacity addresses problems the WEA has in progressing possible breaches of the law under the current Act.

Fifthly, the Bill allows for a range of structural and governance reforms based on the Uhrig recommendations—the WEA will be changed from an agency of Government with an Independent Board to a Statutory Commission with no Government representative on the new Commission. The new body, the Export Wheat Commission will come into effect on 1 October 2007.

Finally, this Bill confirms the export of wheat bags and containers will be deregulated. This will allow immediate and greater certainty to those seeking to develop niche and new market opportunities for special products and markets.

Remind the Senate that containers and bag exports only make up a small proportion of wheat exports—probably around 3% to 5%.

While bags and boxes will be exportable without AWC approval the AWC will maintain quality assurance to ensure that the product meets contract specifications—this is to protect the integrity of the Australian wheat industry.

Growers clearly regard exports in bags and containers differently to bulk exports and this change is not regarded as an undermining of our commitment to the single desk.

Overall, this is a historic opportunity for the wheat industry. Wheat is a vital export earner and a vital part of rural production for the communities that form the great sheep/wheat zones of rural and regional Australia.

And it is also vital to secure Australia’s position in the world’s wheat agriculture commodity trade, where markets are corrupted by subsidies and lack of market access.

A new single desk entity and the other changes involved in this legislation is good government and I support it wholeheartedly.