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Monday, 16 June 2008
Page: 2135

Senator JOYCE (7:39 PM) —I would like to acknowledge the work that Senator Nash did in the committee stage of the Wheat Export Marketing Bill 2008. Due to circumstances in her family, Senator Nash cannot be here tonight. So, in my contribution to this bill tonight, I speak also on her behalf.

The defeat of this legislation should be a complete no-brainer. It is quite apparent that, in the current drafting of the legislation, a range of issues have not been thought through. Even in discussions with Mr Woods this afternoon regarding sections of the bill, such as the accreditation scheme, I have seen that this legislation as it stands has holes all through it. So, if on nothing else but a technical process and the competency of a government to bring forward legislation that has been thought through, especially with something as contentious as wheat exports, this legislation is lacking.

If you do not want to give competitors a free kick in front of our trade goalpost, the need to defeat this legislation is obvious. There is no question about it. We have the ridiculous concept that now, with 60 per cent of our world’s wheat being purchased by single-desk buyers, Australia will go forward. We hear that 80 to 100 people are looking at becoming accredited, while a number of other people in the same room will be selling the same product from the same area. There is only one way the price of Australian wheat will go, and that will be reflected back to the grower. Of course, they are the ones who lose. The trader picks up the margin on the way through, but the grower picks up the final result. So this legislation should be defeated on that scenario alone.

If you believe in open and transparent government that fully ventilates and gets to the end of contentious issues and that gives alternative models, such as the Wheeler model, a chance to go forward and succeed, then this legislation should be defeated. If you believe that the Ralph report should have been tabled so that its outcome could be seen and thereby give a reflection of a true and transparent government dealing with its people, then you should defeat this legislation, because the government has not presented that report. If you believe in legislation reflecting the democratic will of the people, especially those whom it will affect to the greatest extent, then this legislation should be defeated. We know that, overwhelmingly, the Australian wheat grower does not want to lose the single desk.

If you believe in removing monopolies, then you need to understand that this legislation is actually creating them. Those who vote for this legislation are going to create regional monopolies that will have a huge impact on where the marketing of one of our prime exports goes forward from this point. I am sure that there are people in the chamber tonight who know that what they are doing is not quite right. They know in the pit of their stomach that they are about to hand over something to our major trading competitors in the United States. If they are honest with themselves in their quieter moments, they will know that they should not support this legislation. But they are being driven towards it. The question that everybody is asking tonight is: driven towards it by whom?

Why do Australians want to associate with farmers and why are they proud of them? We are proud of farmers because, for very little return, they do a job that is decent and honourable. It is decent and honourable in that the efforts that farmers put into their endeavours lead to food being placed on the table. One of the key things we should look at tonight is the effect that this legislation will have in reducing the affordability of wheat and making its growing less worth while. As that reduces, fewer people will grow wheat. As fewer people grow wheat, there will be less of it on the world market. With less wheat on the world market, there will be less food to feed people, and people will starve—especially now, when we have very short supplies of grain.

We are playing with a mechanism. We are playing into the hands of monopolies and multinational organisations that will certainly extract a premium, but they will extract that premium, at the end of the food chain, from those who are most exposed. Do not think for a moment that this legislation is not going to have ramifications outside of Australia. Do not think for a moment that, with less wheat being produced, somebody in Africa or in South-East Asia will not be affected by the decisions you make in this chamber tonight.

It is peculiar in the extreme when I see people such as the Greens doing a 180-degree turn. They are now helping a multinational extract an unreasonable premium from the market to the detriment of the most vulnerable in the world community. They are supporting this. There is something that is a little bit insidious about this whole process.

We keep referring back to the AWB. This is the life raft that people attach themselves to—the disgraced AWB. That is it; that is the raison d’etre for going down this path. However, I never hear people talking about the disgraced Japanese or the disgraced Germans. People that Australia has gone to war against seem to get a fuller reprieve than an organisation that, since that point in time, has removed the people who were involved. It is an inanimate body which you have tried to place a certain conscience on, not so much to put a moral position onto that organisation but to remove yourselves from the same moral question. It is a convenient argument, but it is a shallow argument.

There are so many views that are quoted, but no-one wants to be absolutely transparent with the numbers of Australian wheat growers who want to maintain the single desk. It is their livelihood; it is their income. It was the Labor Party that went to the last election and won it on the premise of bringing a fairer outcome to working families. We learnt our lesson—they won; we lost. But it is complete insincerity and a complete change of heart which really cuts through the absolute philosophical core of what you are—that you are now going to persecute other working families that you do not identify with as much because they might be a little bit different to you. Were those working families that were out there today the wrong type of working families? Do you want another type of working family? Do you have a very specific type of working family which is the only working family you wish to help? Those working families today are obviously under immense stress and this change is going to be reflected through them.

Let us just walk through one of the events that can occur from here. Currently we are going to have the Wheat Export Authority granting licences. I have asked about this tonight and there is no mechanism in the granting of a Wheat Export Authority licence to ensure that a person has unconditional access to a port at a certain price. That is to be determined by commercial terms and by the port. So what we will have now—and this is another flaw in your legislation—is the ownership of the grain transferring to the trader upon the transferral of goods, even though the payment has not been made. So the agent takes delivery of the crop from the farmer, who is hocked up to the eyeballs and is hoping for that last crop. The crop comes under the ownership of the agent. The agent takes it to the export facility. The export facility says, ‘We will export it at these terms,’ which are obviously out of line and unprecedented. So then the agent starts going broke because it cannot export its wheat. It cannot get payment and therefore the farmer, who is back at the farm, never receives their payment. Not only do they lose their crop; they lose their place.

That is the consequence of the lack of forethought that has gone into this legislation that is currently before us, and nobody seems to be prepared to do anything about it. Tonight when I asked that question of Minister Ludwig, the answer I got back was: ‘I didn’t write the legislation. Those problems are just there.’ That is completely unacceptable and you should take it on as a moral duty to do something about it. You should have the bravery and the conviction to turn around now and say: ‘We haven’t got this quite right. Even if we want deregulation, this is not quite right and we’re going to do something about it.’ If you do not then you really have denigrated this place and obviously this is just a cathartic place of no real consequence where you march in, do whatever you are told and toddle back out the door. Your oath of office has obviously lost its conviction.

Where was the rally? We always hear about the strong views of those in favour of deregulation. Where was the rally for those in favour of deregulation? They could not even muster a football team with a free keg. Yet, leaving sowing and their debts at home with whoever had to look after the place and leaving the bank manager screaming down the phone, we managed to get 500 or 600 farmers to come out here today. That is the sort of feeling that is permeating and those people are angry. They are angry because this parliament has deserted them. They are angry because this parliament has left them on their own. They are angry because this parliament no longer reflects their views. So it becomes not just a slight on the wheat issue but a reflection on how this parliament reflects its people.

I can see the numbers stacking up with the most peculiar extremes—the Greens and a whole range of people all lining up to help Cargill, an American multinational, along with GrainCorp take control of the eastern seaboard and CBH take control of the western seaboard. CBH, which has 95 per cent of receival infrastructure and 100 per cent of ports, is trying to take control of the west; Cargills and GrainCorp are trying to take control of the east with 100 per cent of the ports and the vast majority of the receival enterprises. This is what we are voting for. After this debate, the senators will leave this chamber and they will fascinate themselves with discussions about how they actually got it right, how everybody else is confused, how the only ones in step in this squadron are themselves and how the Australian people will just have to learn to meet it. I have heard some ridiculous statements that this is only the position of the old farmers. How condescending and ridiculous is that! That is the position of the old farmers. That is how it was in the past. Things have got to move on. When you lose your sense of compassion and empathy, that is how you start talking. I find it coming from all sides. I find it coming form the Labor side and it is completely nauseating no matter where it comes from.

I am perplexed because I listened to some of the Greens senators speaking tonight and I know that, despite their disgust with Peter Garrett, they have gone out and done exactly the same thing—deserted their principles to get in line with the American multinational, Cargill, and big business. Remember that these grain traders at times can be the worst of the worst. The big, multinational grain traders have got influence in a way that no-one else has because they determine the food that people eat. They have got you over the ultimate barrel. Yet the Greens have decided that they will support them tonight.

I do not see this as the preserve of the Nationals—it is bigger than that. In fact, if that is all it is then that is very sad, because we are really hoping to show to the Australian people that we have the capacity in this chamber to listen to what is the ultimate and overwhelming view. I went to many meetings where the sentiment was overwhelmingly that they wanted to maintain the single desk. Their inherent fear is—even the people wanting to deregulate have this inherent fear—of regional monopolies coming into place. And they are going to come. I used to work for ConAgra. I know what happens next. They are going to extract an unreasonable premium and manipulate the market. And they know they can do it in a nation such as Australia because we have the weakest trade practices laws in the Western world. We are just ripe for the picking.

I find it peculiar in the extreme, listening to Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, in the United States; Senator Norm Coleman, a Republican, in the United States; or Alan Tracy, director of US Wheat Associates. All these people previously had one thing in common: they hated the Australian single desk because it gave the Australian wheat farmers an advantage. They were trying to match that advantage with subsidies, but they disliked intensely our single desk. It was the first thing they would bring up in discussion. Even at the last Doha round, the first thing that Mark Vaile was confronted with were attempts to get rid of our single desk. So what do we do? Do we even get anything for handing it across? No. We just hand it in. What is the point of that? Why are we doing this tonight to Australians?

I understand that the Liberals have a different view on this, and I am disappointed about that. More to the point, I am disappointed to know that some Liberals do not have a different view to mine but are going to support handing it across nonetheless; that is even more disappointing. I am disappointed that there has been this manipulation of facts. We heard that this was all because the Western Australians wanted deregulation. Over in the West, one of the senators said, ‘We cannot find anybody who wants to keep the current system of marketing.’ That is not correct. When we went over there, the largest farming group in Western Australia wanted to keep the single desk. The group that represents the greatest number of farmers in Western Australia wants to keep the single desk.

So where is the honesty in this debate? Where are the facts and figures of this large amorphous group that apparently wants deregulation but can never form a group of more than 10 in any one place at any one time? They never turn up and mount and ventilate their argument in a public forum—but apparently they are out there somewhere! I will tell you where they are: they are sitting at boardroom tables tonight, opening bottles of Moet and cheering the Australian Senate. That is where those wheat farmers are. And the people who are going to be exploited are those who tonight are dealing with machinery that has broken down, a drought that is going on, an auger that is busted. They are the Australian people; they are the people you should be going out and talking to. But I feel that a certain group has permeated this debate and affected the outcome that is going to be delivered to the Australian people.

I hope that Australian farmers will not give up on this because, if they do, they will be giving up on their own democratic system; they will be giving up on their own proper representation in this parliament. I hope that they do maintain the rage because, if they fall over on this one, so many other issues will fall over as well and we will get a continual march of corporate interests into rural Australia, we will start to lose the family farm, we will start to lose Australians’ connection to the land they walk on and we will start to justify and moralise by reason of the overwhelming line. ‘This is the way the pure market works. We walk over the top of you’—that is how it works! And we are not even getting a pure market; we are getting the corporatisation and monopolisation of specific and centralised essential parts of production. So they will control the market.

After this goes through—and I am no fool; I know it will go through—what will we have? The person who receives the wheat will be the person who gets control of the rolling stock, who will be the person who owns 100 per cent of the export facilities, who will be the person who controls the export market. And that will be claimed as a success for the Australian grower! And, after GrainCorp, who now are in trouble, get themselves into more strife and Cargill takes a greater controlling ownership of it—because currently eight per cent of GrainCorp is owned by Cargill—our major competitor will be marketing our wheat. Doesn’t that just show the collective intellect of this chamber!

But what worries me is that I know that you know this. I know that you know it is wrong. So why are you doing it? That is the question that has to be posed to all of you—and do not go into that sort of communal confession session where you all lie to one another. Ask yourselves, in your quieter moments: the majority of the Australian wheat growers did not want this—why did we do it to them? Why did we do it, when we could have done something else, when we could have come out with a better outcome, when we even had the opportunity to close the holes that are so apparent in the legislation as it stands now?

What will be completely nauseating is that later we will see people feigning an association with this wide brown land, tearing around the countryside in RM Williams boots and Akubra hats, with earnest and sober looks on their faces as they walk through a paddock—knowing that it will look good in prime time back in Sydney. But we know that their true association, their true belief, their underlying core, is far from those people. The reason they do it, the reason they like that grab to appear on prime-time television somewhere between six o’clock and 7.30 is that they know the Australian people associate with Australian farmers—because Australian farmers inherently have always been pretty decent people.

In closing, one of the things we have to look at in this nation is food sovereignty. We talk about oil sovereignty, and that is extremely important. But we have to look at food sovereignty. We have to look at our capacity for delivering to our people one of the most fundamental aspects of what a nation does—feed itself. When you start walking away from that, you walk into all sorts of problems. When you start walking away from the multiplicity of participants at the farm level and start centralising that, you start playing a game that is extremely dangerous. That is, in essence, another reason why this is so dangerous—what this is a harbinger for.

This bill should be defeated because the majority of Australian wheat growers do not want it. This bill should be defeated because it plays straight into the hands of our major competitors. This bill should be defeated because its premise is based on people who did not tell the truth in disclosing how they would support the issues. This bill should be defeated because, even as it is drafted right now, it has holes all through it. And this bill should be defeated because you know—and I am referring to all senators—it is wrong.