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Monday, 16 June 2008
Page: 2135

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) (9:40 PM) —First, I would like to thank all senators for their contribution to the debate. We on this side were pleased to see the level of support from earlier speakers, particularly the majority of opposition senators. I thank them for that support. A common theme that has arisen with most speakers is that the current arrangements need to change and that the industry needs to face realities and move forward. As Senator Minchin noted, problems were becoming evident under the single desk, and the government also recognises these inherent problems. They have provided growers with no real choices for their export wheat and have provided little incentive, as Senator O’Brien spoke about, for market innovation and market development. At the same time there has been no protection of growers’ interests, no contestability for service provision and no transparency, and the Export Wheat Commission has had limited powers to do anything about this. A range of these failures were highlighted over the years during a range of inquiries and reviews, including the Cole commission.

The bills before the chamber deliver on an election commitment to address these problems. I want to make the point that in developing the legislation the government undertook an extensive consultation process. People did have an opportunity to have their say in relation to this legislation. This process included the release of exposure drafts of the legislation for public comment, the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport inquiry and report, and the Wheat Industry Expert Group’s consideration of the delivery of industry development function. Prior to the release of the exposure draft legislation the minister also had constructive discussions with all of the major state farming organisations and major bulk-handling and trading companies. This process has given all industry sectors and the wider community ample opportunity to comment on these arrangements.

The government has considered the views expressed and has accepted arguments that have been put forward on a range of issues. Some amendments have been made to the draft legislation to address these concerns. These include making cooperatives eligible for accreditation, adding an objects clause and moving from a criminal penalty regime to a civil penalty regime. There were some claims made in this chamber during this debate that there was limited transparency and that the legislation was not thought through. As the process I have just outlined demonstrates, this is not the case. The changes to the bill followed the consultation process, and this demonstrates the government’s commitment to listening to relevant members of the community and other stakeholders on this issue.

During the debate there were a number of common issues raised. I will not hold the Senate up by traversing them in detail. There was discussion about growers not being paid and Wheat Exports Australia not being able to do anything about it. As senators would be aware, the Wheat Export Accreditation Scheme is designed to provide growers with multiple choices while making sure they are dealing only with exporters with the financial capability and reputation to meet their commitments. The scheme will be administered by Wheat Exports Australia, which will have increased investigative powers, including the ability to require information from exporters as necessary. These powers and the severe penalties that can be imposed for breaching conditions of accreditation or providing false or misleading information will give it the ability to protect growers’ interests.

At the end of the day the government believes the new arrangements in the bill represent the best balance for the future. These arrangements will give growers more choice, minimise costs, boost supply chain efficiencies, maximise incentives and lead to the development of new export markets. I commend the bill to the chamber and seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.