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Victoria: farmers rally at Warracknabeal to support single desk system for wheat exports.

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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.


It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.


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Wednesday 22 February 2006

Victoria: farmers rally at Warracknabeal to support single desk system for wheat exports


MARK COLVIN: About 700 farmers turned out at a rally at Warracknabeal in Victoria's Wimmera-Mallee today to call for the continuation of the current monopoly on wheat exports. 


The Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile addressed the crowd and said he was committed to retaining the so-called single desk system. 


Mr Vaile said that as long as the United States and many European countries propped up their farmers through subsidies, Australia would need to provide protection to wheat farmers through a single desk. 


And Mark Vaile was joined by a far-off visitor and fellow wheat farmer, Senator Bill Heffernan, who told the crowd that the Liberal Party was also in favour of the current export arrangements. 


Daniel Hoare was at this morning's rally. He filed this report. 


(sound of farmers gathered, discussions) 


DANIEL HOARE: The farmers who gathered at this morning's rally in Warracknabeal were seeking a commitment from Mark Vaile that he not tamper with a wheat export system which has helped them maintain a predictable crop price since 1939. 


It was an older crowd at today's rally, with only a scattering of younger faces: testament to the fact that Australia's farming population is getting older and some might argue even more set in its ways. 


The single desk system is popular with most farmers because it provides certainty. It saves farmers from acting as pseudo currency traders because their wheat exports are hedged on their behalf by AWB. 


The single desk hands AWB monopoly control over wheat exports and exploits the economies of scale that are provided by Australia's huge wheat crop. 


Today's rally was organised by National Party Federal MP, John Forrest, and was supposed to be all about the single desk. But it was always going to be difficult to keep the Cole Inquiry in the background. 


JOHN FORREST: Terry Cole is not interested in the single desk. He's interested in finding the truth, as we all are. 


DANIEL HOARE: John Forrest told today's gathering that the single desk issue was inevitably going to become tied up with the Cole Inquiry. 


JOHN FORREST: I knew what it would become. It would become an all-out assault on our precious orderly marketing arrangements, and that's happened a few times in the 12-year career I've spent in the Federal Parliament. 


DANIEL HOARE: The Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile revved up the crowd with anti-American rhetoric. 


MARK VAILE: There's an organisation in the United States called the US Wheat Associates and they are the organisation that are causing the greatest problems for us across the world. They are ratcheting up the issues in the WTO negotiations. They've been stirring the pot, trying to knock us off in markets across the world. 


DANIEL HOARE: Mark Vaile assured wheat growers the Federal Government was committed to their best interests. 


He was joined by a surprise speaker at the rally, Senator Bill Heffernan, who insisted that the Liberals stood side by side with the Nationals on the issue of the single desk.  


BILL HEFFERNAN: The one thing you want to go home with tonight when you have a beer is: don't worry about the single desk. It's not at risk. 


DANIEL HOARE: After the rally, Mark Vaile told the media that as long as countries in Europe, as well as the US, continued to subsidise their farmers, Australia's farmers would need a safety net. 


MARK VAILE: Right here, right now, the distortions exist in the international marketplace. Right here, right now, we have a structure in place for dealing into those global markets. That should stay in place. 


The Cole Inquiry has got to come to its conclusions and report to Government. Then, beyond that, obviously there needs to be dialogue amongst industry, with industry, and between industry and Government. 


DANIEL HOARE: Mark Vaile rejected suggestions that a change to the single desk was imminent. 


He says he welcomes the fact that Coalition members are discussing new proposals for wheat exports. 


And by the end of this morning's rally, Mark Vaile was back where it all started, discussing that link between the Cole Inquiry and the single desk. 


MARK VAILE: The very clear message from today, from this meeting, was: please don't get the single desk tangled up with the debate and what's going on in the Cole Inquiry as far as AWB is concerned. 


MARK COLVIN: Mark Vaile ending Daniel Hoare's report.