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Wednesday, 10 May 1989
Page: 2204


Senator STONE (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(5.04) —When my remarks were interrupted by the luncheon break, I had been referring to the legislation originally introduced into the House of Representatives on 13 April by the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Kerin). I remarked that the legislation was wonderful to see. It was so wonderful to see that subsequently, when the legislation came to be debated as it was last Thursday and early Friday morning, the Minister put forward no fewer than 45 amendments to his own Bill introduced into the Parliament only a week earlier.


Senator Brownhill —That is good drafting!


Senator STONE —That is great drafting, as my senatorial colleague Senator Brownhill said.

There were in the Wheat Marketing Bill 1989 such proposals as are contained, for example, in clause 3 of the Bill, which is a definitional clause, which states:

``grain'' means wheat, barley, triticale, maize, grain sorghum, soybeans, safflower seed, sunflower seed, linseed, oats, rye, rapeseed, rice, field peas, . . .

And so it goes on. It concludes:

. . . and any product of the soil declared by the Minister . . . to be grain for the purposes of this Act.

That is the kind of drafting which, presumably, we can expect to receive from this Government and which, of course, is designed to give the Minister dictatorial powers to declare any product of the soil to be grain.

We had a similar dictatorial approach to the issue in clause 88 of the Bill as originally put forward, which relates to the operation of certain State and Territory laws. It is a very long clause and I certainly do not have time to quote it in full. But one representative subclause, that is, subclause (4) of clause 88, says:

Nothing in any prescribed-

that word `prescribed' means prescribed by the Minister-

State or Territory enactment operates to prevent a party to a sale contract or a service contract discharging obligations under the contract according to the terms of the contract.

That is another way of saying that, whatever the law of a State or Territory may be, if the Minister so prescribes, that law may as well not have been enacted. That, I think, gives great problems to anyone who has any regard for State responsibilities in these matters as distinct from the centralisation of all power in Canberra.

It is a matter of record that during the course of 13 April the then coalition leadership agreed to support this Bill. It did so-I have to say this-notwithstanding that it was perfectly clear that the terms of the Bill did not meet the conditions as laid down in the heads of agreement document of 4 April, which I was referring to before lunch today. Indeed, my coalition colleague the shadow Minister for primary industry, Mr Bruce Lloyd, in a media release on the following day, 14 April, when he was referring to the decision made late the previous night, said:

The decision late last night of the leadership group and the Coalition Parties to ignore criteria in the recently released Coalition Wheat Policy . . . has forced me to consider my position as shadow Minister for Primary Industry and Deputy Leader of the National Party.

He went on to say:

I believed that no objective assessment of the criteria-

that is, the criteria of the heads of agreement document of 4 April-

could allow the Coalition Parties to support this further deregulation at this stage.

He then went on with a series of other comments. There is not the slightest doubt in the world that the Bill did not meet the conditions or the criteria, as Mr Lloyd calls them, laid down in the heads of agreement document of 4 April. I simply want to say-Mr Acting Deputy President, you will be well aware that I am now speaking of a matter relating to the coalition pre-yesterday, if I may put it that way-that it appears to me to be quite clear that the agreement at that time to support the Bill did not, in fact, accord with the heads of agreement document entered into between the coalition parties at that time.

On those grounds alone, the Bill raised a very serious problem for me personally, which I make no bones about stating. There is a matter, I believe, of not merely keeping faith in the sense of the operations of the coalition but keeping faith with people out in the electorate who, I would like to think, believe what they are told by people in this Parliament. I quote, in that context only, a resolution of my own Queensland National Party carried at a meeting of the central council on 22 April in Toowoomba. It was a resolution regarding wheat marketing. I will not quote it in full, but it said:

. . . requests the Federal Leader-

that is, the Federal Leader of the National Party at that time-

to call upon Mr Howard to seek a review of this matter to permit NP members to vote against the Kerin de-regulation legislation without damage to the coalition.

There were some other aspects of that resolution which I will not quote in full because of the constraints of time. I had also the very difficult experience of attending in Warrnambool on 28 and 29 April a meeting of the Victorian branch of the National Party of Australia. On the morning of 29 April I listened to a debate on the Wheat Marketing Bill and the general matters pertaining to that. That debate was one of the most poignant, in some ways, that I have ever listened to. People asked why it was that their party had not stood up for them on these matters.

This is a matter of keeping faith with people to whom one has pledged one's word and with whom one wants to go ahead in company. If these Bills had been debated last week I would have had a great deal more to say on that particular aspect of the matter. We now have, as a result of certain events yesterday of which everybody is aware and which I will not canvass, a new leadership in the Liberal Party and in the National Party. We now have a new and united coalition with, if I might say so, a renewed determination to defeat the Labor Party at the next election and a very greatly enhanced capacity to do so. If only for those reasons, I now believe that there is no longer-because we are debating this today and not last week-any profit in pursuing those points further.

The Bill we now have before us, as I say, was the subject of no fewer than 45 Government amendments in the House of Representatives last week and also a number of amendments accepted by the Government which were moved in the debate in the House of Representatives by my National Party colleague the honourable member for Murray, Mr Bruce Lloyd. I think he moved no fewer than 39 amendments, of which the Government accepted several. The Government also effectively accepted others by moving its own slightly different amendments in some cases.

Senator Lewis is leading for the Opposition on this matter in the chamber today. As I think he may have said in his earlier remarks, today or tomorrow when we come to the committee stage he will move no fewer than 22 amendments-what one might call the remaining amendments which were not accepted by the Labor Party in the House of Representatives last week. I hope the honourable senator will have the support of the Australian Democrats in that regard. He will certainly have my support and the support of National Party senators in this place.

Nevertheless, even if those amendments are all accepted, the Bill in a fundamental sense will remain flawed for members of the National Party who regard the course of events in this matter as having left a great deal to be desired. We will indicate our rejection of that process, and in that sense of the Bill, by voting for, as I have already foreshadowed, the amendment which has now been circulated in my name. When we come to the end of the second reading debate we will vote for that amendment and against the second reading of the Bill.

In relation to paragraph (b) of my proposed amendment, I refer to what the Minister said in his second reading speech on 13 April in the House of Representatives. I quote the paragraph concerned:

The AWB will continue to be able to use private traders as principals or agents as it does now and it will be able to authorise the direct export of wheat if the Board and growers judge it in their best interest. While it continues to have this export monopoly, the AWB will continue to be the receiver of last resort. This will, however, not prevent it from setting standards for the wheat it receives.

He went on:

The essential point is that compulsory acquisition is no longer needed for an efficient marketing effort.

This is the critical sentence:

I am confident that the AWB will remain the dominant force in a deregulated domestic market, given its expertise and the additional commercial powers which I outlined earlier.

As we all know, the actual legislation which the Minister produced did nothing of the kind. Far from allowing the AWB to remain the dominant force in a deregulated domestic market, it virtually entirely neuters the Board because of the provisions of the Bill, which basically prevent the Wheat Board from undertaking intrastate trade. If one wanted to, one could argue that, in that paragraph at least, the Minister misled the House of Representatives. I do not want to pursue that here but I think it is necessary to put it on the record. I now formally move:

At end of motion, add ``, but the Senate:

(a) deplores the Government's betrayal of the wheat farmers of Australia;

(b) condemns the Government for weakening the position of the Australian Wheat Board as a strong trader in the domestic wheat market; and

(c) regrets the Government's failure to negotiate adequately with State Governments over their respective responsibilities, including in regard to State statutory marketing authorities''.