House debates

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Wheat Export Marketing Bill 2008; Wheat Export Marketing (Repeal and Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008

Second Reading

10:16 am

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | Hansard source

in reply—I commence by thanking all members of parliament for their contributions to this debate on the Wheat Export Marketing Bill 2008. Anyone who has travelled and heard the different views and the lack of consensus around the country from wheat growers would have to agree that the debate within this parliament has at least ensured that everybody’s view has been represented and that everybody’s view has been represented somewhat passionately. I have been hoping for some time to be able to provide certainty for Australian wheat growers. I thank the Leader of the Opposition for the comments he made last night which provided an opportunity for wheat growers, whether they are supporters of the change or not, to at least now have some certainty as to the rules which will apply to their current crop. I would have preferred if that certainty could have been given to them three months ago when the exposure drafts were first put out. Indeed, that was the idea of putting the exposure drafts out, so that we could have some certainty, but at least we have it now.

The views of growers do differ around the country. There has been some discussion already about views differing between young growers and old growers. It is also true that opposition to these measures is strongest among those who sell to the domestic market and that support for these measures is strongest among those who export. A lot has been said about the protection which is provided by the averaging systems of a national pool. I just remind the House that averaging works both ways. Averaging not only serves for people to be brought up; it also involves a process where those who had grown a high-value wheat end with a lower return. Some growers will want to continue to work collectively. The legislation allows them to do so. Pools will still exist. We have extended, as I mentioned in my second reading speech, the original requirement to have to operate through a corporation to also now apply to cooperatives.

A point has been made throughout the debate about the fact that many of our overseas buyers are single desks. I had the opportunity earlier in the year to meet directly with the single-desk buyers in Japan. I have to say the fears that they will refuse to deal with a system of multiple traders certainly are not well founded and do not reflect the discussions that my officials have been having around the world.

The domestic market in wheat for some time has been deregulated. Domestic exports, if they are done in bags, are already deregulated. Domestic exports, if they are done through containers, are already deregulated. The same growers who grow wheat will very regularly grow a variety of crops, as in the example by the member for Barker. In those other crops they are already deregulated. These reforms allow, for the first time, growers who want to be involved in bulk exports, but would rather do so without operating through a pool system, to have the option of doing so.

The bills before the House constitute a major economic reform. We are talking about a $5 billion industry, roughly half of which is involved directly in exports. To make sure that we had the policy development right, and carrying forward what was an election commitment, there has been extensive consultation. The consultation began in visits to growers on their own properties over summer. That consultation resulted in my concern to make sure that we did not replace a national export monopoly with three regional monopolies with respect to GrainCorp, CBH and ABB. That was the reason for arriving at the ACCC undertakings, which appeared then in the exposure draft. Before the exposure draft went out, consultation was made with growers groups, with the state farming organisations and with other affected parties. The exposure draft process then went forward.

We also went forward with the independent expert group and with the Senate inquiry. The opposition spokesperson from the Senate made a request that that Senate inquiry go for longer than what was originally anticipated and we allowed that to occur. Of the recommendations from the Senate inquiry: they asked for an objects clause and we amended the legislation to do that; they wanted an amended definition of an executive officer and we did that; they wanted to require WEA to follow due process before varying an accreditation and that change was made; they wanted to allow cooperatives to be accredited and the legislation was changed; they wanted a register of exporters to be included on conditions on accreditation and that was done. They also wanted information sessions to be provided for growers and that is happening.

In addition, there are responses to that Senate inquiry from Liberal senators. They asked for WEA to be required to pay for audits it has ordered. That change was made. They asked for a review of arrangements to be included in the legislation, and that is now included. Both the Senate majority report and the Liberal senators’ comments also asked for us to go down a higher road of regulation. We did not do that. I now understand, from comments made by the Leader of the Opposition last night, that Liberal amendments, instead of asking for a higher level of regulation, are going to be asking for a lower level of regulation. We accept in good faith the need to work cooperatively as we go forward to get the best economic outcome on this and the best deal for growers. We have an open mind on those proposed amendments and will certainly look at them when they come to us in a final form in the Senate debate.

I thank all members for their participation in this debate, particularly where they have gone from the policy detail—and I note in particular the member for Mallee—to the real-life stories of many people who are in a situation following years of bitter drought. I thank all members for their contribution and commend the bills to the House.

Question put:

That this bill be now read a second time.


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