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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12640

Dr STONE (Murray) (21:24): I, too, wish to speak on the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012. You would think, from the way this government has behaved in relation to this most important agribusiness in Australia, that they have no experience whatsoever of managing an export enterprise and that they just simply do not understand what can in Australia very easily become a monopoly situation. We sometimes imagine that it was the mining sector that rescued Australia from the global financial crisis. It was not; it was the fact that more wheat was being traded out of the country because it had rained over various parts of the wheat-growing belts of eastern and western Australia.

Wheat is a commodity. Some people do not quite understand what that means. It means that the importers of the product in Korea, Japan and the Middle East are absolutely dependent on the specification which they have identified for delivery. That specification includes such things as the protein levels, the moisture levels, any chemical residue levels, and things like trash. They need to have the volume, precisely, and the variety that they have ordered sometimes a season in advance. That is because the product that they manufacture out of our wheat has to be consistent if they want to deliver a high-value, high-quality, branded product into their market.

When it comes to Japan, their noodle products are icon foods. They are even more important to the Koreans. The Japanese and Koreans together regard their noodles as their icon foods—more important than the quality of bread to France, I would suggest. They have depended on Australian noodle wheats now for at least some 25 years.

I was most concerned, when I was in Korea and Japan in the last two months, and asked them about our wheat. These were the big importers of our wheat, the manufacturers, the millers, who put into the market high-value fresh noodles. I asked them: 'How is our wheat going? Are you still quite happy with the product that you are receiving?' And these big buyers said to me: 'Well, we are concerned. We have no longer got the guaranteed specification that we had come to pay a high price for and that we had come to value, above, say, the Canadian product or the American product or products from countries in Europe. We are finding now it is a bit of touch and go. We are not getting the absolutely guaranteed, down to the finest decimal point, specification that we used to order and receive season after season. And we are not receiving,' they were telling me, 'the sort of market information that we used to receive from the single desk, which told us in advance, if there was a problem with drought in Western Australia, that there would have to be a blending of some product from the eastern side and that the specification would need to be a little varied.' They once received notice about that so that they could make adjustments to their other ingredients and still produce, at the end of the day, a manufactured product that was consistent and something they could be proud of.

I am not saying that it is just because we lost the single desk that we are now beginning to lose the strong reputation for Australian wheat in our premier markets. I am suggesting that we have had such a frenzy of exporting occur since we had so-called deregulation of the market that there has not been the attention to quality assurance that needs to happen if the reputation of Australia's wheat is to be retained. And I am sorry to say it but it is a fact that once a nation's reputation for quality is damaged it takes a long while to get it back.

I was never surprised when the United States Wheat Associates or the Canadian Wheat Board were desperate to have our situation of pre-eminent reputation in Australia damaged. They would, year after year, say things like, 'You can't be sure about Australia; it's always drought or flood.' In fact, for a very long time we had a pre-eminent position in the world as delivering as per specification.

What we have to do now is to make sure that this government understands that it is not a baby-and-bathwater situation. You cannot allow Rafferty's rules to reign if you want to still have a wheat commodity that has a reputation for excellence and for being delivered as per specification. That does require some oversight.

This requires more than a voluntary code, I have to say. Unfortunately, the Gillard government, with so little experience in the real world of business and certainly no experience in agribusiness, is trying to abolish the last remnant of any sort of quality assurance and oversight. They seem to think that standing back and seeing what happens will do. It will not do. That is why we have a proposed amendment to the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012. Our amendments says, 'Give us time; give the industry time; give the wheat export marketing framework a little more time so some quality assurance and oversight can be sorted out.'