House debates

Wednesday, 31 October 2012


Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012; Second Reading

4:36 pm

Photo of Tony WindsorTony Windsor (New England, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 before the House. I do so in front of the member for Groom.

Mr Ian Macfarlane interjecting

It is a privilege to speak in front of him. I thank him for those complimentary remarks. The member for Groom and I were members of the grains council coarse grains committee some years ago. I am sure he, in his more private moments, will recollect some of those days and also recollect the circumstances before the House today and how history tends to repeat itself in one shape or another in the grains industry. One thing I do remember fondly of his and many others contributions to the grains industry—and I exclude myself from this—was a much greater and more positive degree of leadership than there is these days within the grain sector. I think that is one of the issues that needs to be addressed. I do not mean that as a criticism of individuals; we have a lot of very good people in agripolitics trying to do their best by their constituent groups. But I think the fractious nature of the cropping and grains industry in recent years has possibly been to the detriment of the industry itself.

This legislation has come off the back of the abolition of the single desk system many years ago, the establishment of the WEA and the consequent sunset period. I have been quietly involved over the last month with various grower interest groups such as Agforce Queensland—which the member for Groom would be very familiar with; they are very good people—the New South Wales Farmers Association, the Victorian Farmers Federation, Grain Producers South Australian, parts of the West Australian grains industry and also Grain Producers Australia. I know there have been many discussions within the building. I have also had discussions with the minister and the minister's chief of staff, who is with us today, to talk about various arrangements that may or may not be put in place and about the issues that arose through the termination of the WEA.

I do not think there are many people in the building who want the Wheat Export Authority to be maintained; there are some. There are many within the industry that would like to see something put in its place. I guess that is where the argument develops. What do you put in its place, if in fact you put anything in its place? Should that body have some degree of statutory bite or not? If it did have some statutory bite, would it be an attempt to recreate what has been taken out? Some people have suggested—quite wrongly in my view—that there is an attempt by some other people to recreate the single desk. I do not think that is the case at all.

There are some issues which I think are pertinent in the development of grain handling systems and the control of the ports. For many of the growers or their representatives that I spoke to, the issues of port access, stocks information and wheat export standards do have some relevance. There are a number of issues that can reflect on the supply chain. There are some arguments that this is all about free enterprise and about exporters making their own arrangements with other countries. Regrettably, and I think we saw it through the live export arrangements that were put in place in the north, the impacts can go back through the supply chain—not just to the exporter, not just to the grain handler and not just back to the particular individuals who may have supplied grain to a particular shipment if it was found to be poor in quality or the correct sanitary arrangements had not been put in place.

There are some supply-chain issues that I believe should be addressed. I do thank a member of my staff, John Clements, who spent considerable time working with industry groups to try to come up with a resolution that was acceptable to the industry, particularly in Western Australia. I am familiar with the issues the Western Australians have in this and with the politics in this House of that particular issue. John Clements spent quite some time with the industry players trying to reconcile some of the differences. We had a number of meetings with the minister, Joe Ludwig—and I thank him for that—to try to come up with an arrangement which could be suitable to the industry and which would allow the WEA to be moved on and to address these three significant issues. The minister and I had discussions again yesterday around a broad framework that might work, such as some sort of ministerial council appointment or a task force to address these particular issues. It may well have access to the export charge as a funding source so that the industry can address these three issues and others under certain terms of reference if the industry agreed. Those discussions were held without prejudice.

This morning I had a phone hook-up with about a dozen people from various states to discuss this issue and to see whether they were interested in exploring this fairly broad framework to address these issues under the auspices of some sort of council or task force arrangement with a view to using wheat export charge moneys to do some further research into the issues of public and private good that the industry groups have been raising.

It was determined by way of the phone hook-up that the industry players were not particularly interested in that proposal, even though it was fairly broad in the framework. They felt that they were not prepared to give up any leverage in terms of the WEA for something that was a bit out-there in the fine detail. I made the point that the detail was really for them to write, and I did not think that other than the code of conduct there was any real room to move in terms of statutory bite. As a consequence of that meeting, which was held in a very cordial atmosphere, it was decided that the growers would not take advantage of that opportunity and preferred to try to have the status quo put in place, or that a future government may be able to address the issue in a more favourable sense as far as they were concerned.

Since that time—and things do move quickly in this House—I believe there has been an agreement struck with the Australian Greens. I am not privy to all of that agreement, but I think some of it might be fairly similar to the arrangement that the minister and I have been talking about. I will listen with interest when it is raised in the House or when the debate takes place over this so-called arrangement with the Greens as to what it actually means. That will possibly determine the way in which I vote on this issue in relation to how it addresses some of the issues that the growers were raising.

I would be interested to hear from any growers as to whether they are attracted now to this arrangement. I think one of the things that we have to be a little bit careful of is that it looks as though the numbers could be in both houses for the WEA to be put to bed. I do not think anybody would really object to that but, as I said, in some sectors of the industry—the eastern states, South Australia and some parts of Western Australia—they believe there needs to be some sort of body that can oversee some of those three issues that I raised earlier. This is a live animal at the moment, and I will be interested to see what the particular amendment is that the minister's representative in this chamber may bring. I guess that will take place in a number of minutes.

The other bit of history—as well as the member for Groom, and I do not mean that he is history—was that I listened to the contribution of the member for Hume.

Mr Stephen Jones interjecting

You listened too? I was in the New South Wales parliament at the same time as the member for Hume, and he made a good contribution to the debate. On re-reading it I think some of his historical context is just a little bit out of play. Nonetheless it was in a hung parliament, similar to this one, where my vote put a Liberal premier into power. Part of the agenda of that particular coalition government at the New South Wales level—when Wal Murray was the Leader of the Nationals—prior to the election was that it would sell the grain handling system to commercial interests. The grain handling system was called the Grain Handling Authority in New South Wales. It had previously been the Grain Elevators Board et cetera.

Interestingly enough, that grain-handling authority eventually morphed into what is now called GrainCorp. We now have a scenario being played out on the coast where American interests are considering the purchase of GrainCorp, which is a commercial operation. The way it transitioned from a grower group was that the growers actually paid for the grain-handling system by way of levy back in those days. I guess a similar thing would have happened in Queensland. The Greiner government came to power and they intended to sell it to the highest bidder. One of the conditions on the formation of government that I was able to apply was that, if in fact it was sold, it had to be sold to grower-friendly interests. It was a fairly simple line, and Nick Greiner did adhere to it. It was sold for, I think, $100 million, and it was probably worth more than that. It was sold to the Prime Wheat Association, which, again, was a grower body—a very good body. Over time politics and a whole range of other things came into it—agripolitics—and it morphed into a commercial arrangement. The control originally was by growers because of the shareholding—there were different grades of shares struck—and growers lost some degree of control over the handling system. Then it morphed into a fully commercial operation, and that operation today, GrainCorp, is under some degree of threat by international interests.

Again we see a similar scenario being played out, and growers are quite anxious about what all that means. There is an old saying, 'He who controls the ports controls the industry.' I do not think that is strictly true, but there are elements of it that probably are. One of the things that the growers have been asking for is that they need scrutiny where they believe there could be the development of some degree of monopoly power and impact when the grain handlers are also grain marketers and that the little people are regarded within that system. The stock information and the access arrangements all give confidence to the industry and the players. The quality issues that are significant to many in the industry group should be significant to all of us. We have seen the fiasco with the live cattle export: the way in which that has impacted on, not only people who breed those sorts of cattle, but others as well—(Time expired)


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