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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 10236

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (13:53): I rise to make some comments regarding this Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012. Like Senator Joyce in front of me, I am a wheat farmer. While I am a senator for New South Wales, I am also a wheat farmer. Senator Joyce and I have some skin in the game in this. Senator Joyce could not have been more right when he talked about those with a philosophical view. I completely understand that and acknowledge absolutely the right of my colleagues to have a philosophical view on this. They do not have the practical experience of being on the ground, day in and day out, knowing how this affects wheat growers and rural communities across the country.

I have not changed my position one bit from 2008 when I thought that getting rid of the single desk for wheat was singularly one of the most stupid things a government has ever done in this nation. I stand by that now and I have seen nothing in the last four years to change my view on that. Interestingly, at the time when we looked into the legislation that was going to get rid of the single desk for wheat through the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee, the committee as a whole had serious concerns about the fact that if we removed the single desk we would end up with regional monopolies. Remember, colleagues, this was 2008. Indeed, in the dissenting report put forward by me, Senator Joyce and Senator Scullion, we said:

The draft bills as proposed clearly do not satisfy the requirements necessary to ensure a wheat marketing system that would deliver the best outcomes for wheat growers. More dangerously, the draft bills lack sufficient safeguards to prevent regional monopolies from arising.

Madam Acting Deputy President, it is a really sad thing to say I told you so in this place, but we told you so.

Four years ago we could see exactly what was going to happen, that we would end up with regional monopolies in place of a single monopoly that served wheat growers very well, replaced with regional monopolies whose instincts at heart are to serve their own interests. I excuse CBH from that in that they do operate on the notion of returning to growers. I do see that they are different and, indeed, as Senator Joyce said earlier, perhaps there is a case for having different arrangements in different places across the nation.

What we had with the cessation of the single desk for wheat was for the Wheat Export Authority to put in place transitional arrangements—I do acknowledge they were transitional arrangements—to a fully deregulated system. What that Wheat Export Authority has done is accredit wheat growers and also put in place some requirements on the bulk handlers for continuous disclosure to oversight what those bulk handlers were doing and, of course, the access undertakings for those bulk handlers who also had port operations.

What we now see from the government is complete dismantling of the Wheat Export Authority as well. On this side of the chamber, we recognise that the industry has said, 'We are not yet ready to transition to complete deregulation, because there are a number of industry good functions that need to be performed since the cessation of the single desk.' It has become increasingly apparent that these industry good functions need to be performed to ensure the optimum running of the wheat industry, particularly for those wheat growers. It has become increasingly clear that the most appropriate way to deal with that is, as we have reflected in the coalition amendment, through continuing the Wheat Export Authority and then appropriately reconfiguring it to be able to provide the proper processes for those industry good functions to be performed. It is sensible; it is a no brainer. We already have an industry body that is funded by growers at a 22c a tonne levy that is already in place that could easily be reconfigured to do those industry good functions that the industry itself wants to see performed.

Colleagues, we had a Senate inquiry into this and it was abundantly clear that the great majority—again notwithstanding some industry voices in Western Australia—saw that as the appropriate mechanism to provide these functions: primarily access to stocks information and equal and fair opportunity access to ports and quality assurance. Those are very simple, practical, sensible things that the industry and those of us actually out there on the ground understand need to be addressed, so much so that the majority of the state organisations came before the Senate committee to put their collective voice about the fact that the WEA should not be disbanded until these issues were addressed and resolved.

I will just place on the record that AgForce Queensland, Grain Producers South Australia, New South Wales Farmers and the Victorian Farmers Federation all joined forces to reject the bill. They believed that rules were needed if Australian grain was to retain a premium on the world market, if fair access to port terminal services was to be maintained and if the market supply chain was going to be transparent. How sensible and practical is that? Grain Producers South Australia chairman Garry Hansen said:

As the major grain farmer representatives organisations on the East Coast and in Southern Australia, we are united in our opposition of the Government's Wheat Export Marketing Bill.

… we join together to support an evolution of the existing regulation to better facilitate competition for our members' grain.

New South Wales Farmers Grains Chairman, Mark Hoskinson, said:

We are concerned that the removal of specialised wheat regulation in the present market will see the influence held by the three major bulk handlers inhibit competition. This would ultimately be to the detriment of the grain farmers our four organisations represent …

Debate interrupted.