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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 10226

Senator EDWARDS (South Australia) (13:13): I resume talking about the draft voluntary code of conduct proposed for the Australian wheat industry. The draft code is flawed in that it is not binding, it is not independent, it does not have a sustainable source of funding via the arbitration act and it may further circumvent the ACCC. In short, the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 as proposed fails to achieve its competition objectives, hence the reason we now have amendments on the floor, because even the Greens know that any real oversight will only happen if the code is mandatory.

That code should broadly contain, firstly, the adequate provision of grain stock information to enable efficient operation of the market; and, secondly, an enforceable mechanism to ensure fair access to port facilities for non-handling exporters. That means the people who sought to come into this business to compete and to provide an international marketplace, are not prejudiced because they do not own the infrastructure, ports or the up-country rail hubs that have in the past led to a closed market. Thirdly, the code should contain an effective mechanism to provide confidence in cargo integrity, especially in relation to the Australian wheat variety classification system.

The final report of the South Australian Select Committee on the Grain Handling Industry called for the federal government to:

… ensure the benefits of deregulation are fully realised within a competitive and innovative framework that provides the basis for a viable and successful industry.

It is my contention that, unless we ensure that at least those three aforementioned elements are contained within the reform, all of the findings of this inquiry conducted recently, and the many others I have been involved in, will be ignored.

To ensure this actually occurs, the federal government should establish an independent body to maintain this deregulation momentum. I cannot stress enough the importance of the minister appointing a truly representative panel to the proposed advisory body, which is flagged in the amendments to this bill before us. The board should have representatives comprised of grain grower representative bodies, non-bulk handling traders and bulk handlers—and they should all be in equal numbers. This would prevent one interest group from dominating the final code agreement to the detriment of one of the other stakeholders in this very important Australian industry.

The importance of this industry cannot be understated. Not only is wheat growing part of this country's DNA, but also, if demand rises, as everybody expects it will during the much-lauded Asian century, it should be set now to succeed and be the success story for decades to come that it deserves to be. We must get this right now and with the appropriate oversight framework in place—the kind of oversight that the majority of wheat growers of this nation are expecting from the minister. I urge the minister to listen to them. Many of us from this side of the chamber will be working to ensure that the reform required is implemented.

I will be supporting an amended bill. Senator Xenophon, I have some sympathy with a number of your proposed amendments and I will look to talk those through in the committee stage of this bill. I would underline the fact that the minister has a great responsibility to ensure that the proposed advisory body has—if we adopt the amendments to this bill—a mandatory code of conduct so that it functions properly and so that we may look forward to a fair and prosperous wheat industry from this day forward.