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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 58

Senator ABETZ (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) (12:39 PM) —I thank senators for their contributions to this debate. Despite all the issues impacting on wheat producers over the last few years, growers have never wavered from their calls for the wheat single desk to be retained. The Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill 2007 delivers changes that provide growers with greater control of their industry and greater certainty for the future.

The extension of the temporary veto power for the minister to approve or reject bulk export applications until 30 June 2008 recognises the reality that only AWBI is in a position to manage the 2007-08 harvest. However, the government has put in place a system which will prevent the veto ever returning to AWBI or any other AWB Ltd company.

The bill also provides the minister with the power to change the operator of the single desk between 1 March 2008 and 30 June 2008. This limited time frame will allow the transfer of the single desk to another entity while, at the same time, providing the industry with certainty about the future long-term operator of the single desk.

The government is giving growers until 1 March 2008 to establish a new company to take over management of the single desk. They will have to demonstrate that the new company is completely legally separate from AWBI. They will also have to demonstrate that the new company has the necessary financial and managerial capabilities to assume control of the single desk before the minister could consider designating it as the new single desk holder. There will be no extension beyond 1 March 2008. As the Prime Minister said on 22 May:

If growers are not able to establish a new entity by 1 March 2008 the government will propose other wheat marketing arrangements.

The government has also decided to regulate the export of wheat in bags and containers. This will provide growers with the ability to search out niche and new markets, and to further develop those markets that provide high-value returns. By making it a requirement for exporters to comply with a quality assurance scheme, the government is also securing the reputation of Australia as a reliable supplier of quality wheat.

The government has also considered the other side of the wheat export equation by addressing concerns with the industry regulator. By providing the Wheat Export Authority with strength and powers to request information, it has reduced any possible impediment to the authority fulfilling its monitoring and reporting functions.

The bill also provides the minister with the power to direct the authority to investigate and report on matters relating to the operation of the Wheat Marketing Act. Any information uncovered that requires further investigation can be provided to the appropriate authorities. Further changes to the authority have also been made to implement the government’s broader policy on governance arrangements in response to the Uhrig review. However, the interests of growers will be protected in these changes, as it will be a requirement for the minister to appoint at least one commissioner of the new Export Wheat Commission based on their skills in export wheat production and at least one other based on their skills in grain production. The amendments contained in the bill are measured and have been made in the best interests of growers. Most importantly they deliver on the key message the government has repeatedly heard from growers: ‘Keep our single desk in place.’

There has been some comment as to why the urgency for this particular legislation. As honourable senators would know—and I am sure we are all thankful—rain has been falling in parts of Australia and, as we speak in this chamber, I understand people are actually undertaking the planting of wheat. We, as a government, believe it is important that growers and exporters are provided certainty in relation to these changes well in advance of the upcoming harvest. This will allow growers to make decisions for their own planting and growing considerations. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.