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Tuesday, 9 May 1989
Page: 2045

Senator CROWLEY —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. The proposed legislation to deregulate the domestic wheat market has met with some opposition, not only amongst growers but also amongst politicians. Some have argued against deregulation on the grounds of its deleterious effect on organic growers of wheat. Can the Minister tell us the effect of the proposed legislation on organic growers of wheat?

Senator COOK —A number of comments have been made about wheat deregulation on the basis of protecting the interests of organic wheat growers. In the main, the people making those comments have been the Australian Democrats. I think it is right to record that the wheat deregulation proposals that the Government will bring before this chamber shortly will advantage organic wheat growers. The present arrangements inhibit the growers of organic wheat and, indeed, impose on them a surcharge that they could well do without and do not need in the present circumstances. There is a very small amount of organic wheat grown in Australia-according to the Wheat Board, about 1,000 tonnes of it is harvested annually-but there is a strong indication that there is a black market in organic wheat, which indicates, so to speak, that growers vote with their sheaves by taking their wheat and selling it directly on the black market in the most unregulated way possible. I do not condone the black market proceedings-of course, I want to see these growers operate through the Australian Wheat Board while those arrangements remain. Nonetheless, the fact that a large number of them do work a black market is indicative of the fact that they perceive that their best interests lie in that direction.

At the moment the problem is that normal grain storage and transport usually involves spraying the grain with insecticides to protect it. Organic wheat growers do not store their grain; under a special provision of the Wheat Board, they sell directly to the millers. Nonetheless, they have to transact their arrangements through the Australian Wheat Board and have those arrangements sanctioned by the Board, which imposes costs on them for that purpose. They sell direct; they arrange their transport and their storage directly as well. Those services that the Australian Wheat Board provides-in their particular case, they are non-services-cost about $10 per tonne in 1987-88, and in some States bulk handling charges are about $5 a tonne. From those points of view there is actually self-interest in growers of organic wheat supporting the amendments, and not taking the view that some Democrat critics put forward-that the amendments are proposed in some funny way and that, somehow or other, they act against the interests of organic wheat growers. That is not the case.