House debates

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill 2006

Consideration in Detail

Bill—by leave—taken as a whole.

7:50 pm

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move amendments (1) and (2) together:

(1)    Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 4), before item 1, insert:

1A  Paragraph 5(1)(b)

Omit “and examine and report on the benefits to growers that result from that performance”.

(2)   Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 9), after item 1, insert:

1B  After subsection 57(7)


     (7A)    Before 1 April 2007, the Minister must cause an independent review to be conducted of the following matters:

             (a)    the operation of subsection (1A) in relation to nominated company B;

             (b)    the conduct of nominated company B in relation to:

                   (i)    consultations for the purposes of subsection (3A); and

                  (ii)    the granting or withholding of approvals for the purposes of subsection (3B); and

                 (iii)    returns to growers;

             (c)    the economic impact of export wheat control arrangements on Australia’s domestic wheat market;

             (d)    the benefit of maintaining export wheat control arrangements;

             (e)    recommended changes to export wheat control arrangements;

              (f)    recommended changes to monitoring and reporting arrangements.

      (7B)    The review conducted in accordance with subsection (7A) is to have the same powers, procedures and protections of an inquiry conducted by the Productivity Commission in accordance with the Productivity Commission Act 1998.

      (7C)    A review under subsection (7A) is to be conducted by a panel nominated by the Minister by a written instrument.

     (7D)    An instrument prepared under subsection (7C) is a legislative instrument for the purposes of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003.

      (7E)    The Minister must cause a copy of the report of the review prepared in accordance with subsection (7A) to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 25 sitting days of that House after the day on which the Minister receives the report.

                   (i)    consultations for the purposes of subsection (3A); and

                  (ii)    the granting or withholding of approvals for the purposes of subsection (3B); and

                 (iii)    returns to growers;

These amendments will ensure the government, in consideration of where it goes in the future, does what it so dismally failed to do over recent months. It has had no regard to the way in which the Wheat Board has been conducting its single desk operations. That is why we have ended up with the scandal that we have. Despite all of the warnings it did not lift a finger to intervene and now it wants us to believe that leaving it to it and it alone will sort the direction out for the future. It will not. It has been negligent, it has been hopeless, they have maladministered it functions and a string of ministers for agriculture on the other side of the House have been totally failing in their duties and responsibilities to the wheat growers of Australia.

We need the sort of comprehensive review that was set up in periods in which Labor was in office. I remember setting reviews up into the wool industry, for example, and into the grains industries, the dairy industry and the sugar industry. We need independent assessment. We need to put the spotlight on the key issues that need to be addressed. The amendments that are proposed here talk about returns to growers being part of the review, along with the economic impact of export wheat control arrangements in this country, the benefit of maintaining export wheat control, the changes—if any—that are recommended to export wheat control and the putting in place for the future of appropriate monitoring and reporting arrangements. I do not know where the member for Gwydir got off in terms of the Wheat Export Authority, but it was totally negligent in its monitoring role and totally negligent in its reporting role—in fact, it made a virtue of the fact that it could not publicly report. No wonder that we got into the mess that we did.

I will not take any more time on this issue. We support these amendments. They are essential to go forward. I understand the circumstance in which this interim measure needs to be put in place, but the government has given no indication as to what its thinking is and is still without a clue as to the future. Let us put an independent body in place—something like the Productivity Commission—so at least they can get some decent input, because so far they have not had a clue. I commend the amendments to the House.

Very briefly, and so I do not have to get up again, I should address—as I said I would—the member for New England’s amendment. I understand the point, and it is essential in this process that there be full and proper consultation. At the end of it, I am not too sure that the member for New England’s proposition does not make sense; I am just not prepared at this stage of the game to, on behalf of the opposition, commit to that course of action. Let us get the review up. I would urge the House to support it. Let us make a judgement at the end of that as to how we take it out to the growers and consult with them. But at this stage we will not be supporting the amendment to be moved by the member for New England, even though I understand fully the intent and the goodwill with which he puts it forward.

Question put:

That the amendments (Mr Crean’s) be agreed to.

8:07 pm

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

I move:

        Schedule 1, after item 2, page 5 (after line 7) add

3  After Part 4


Part 6 – Registered wheat growers to be given opportunity to vote on options for change

This amendment ensures that growers are asked their views. We have had a debate in which all the speakers have spoken about how the growers are the important people in this debate. But in all cases the growers are not going to be consulted. The only effective way to consult the growers in relation to these changes to the veto rights and the wheat marketing arrangements into the future is to put the options by way of letter to the growers so that they can vote on how they feel. That does not bind the government to anything. It gives the minister, the government and the cabinet a clear view of the judgement of the wheat growers on the options that are being presented by way of letter to those growers. The minister said in the parliament about 10 minutes ago that he intends to write to every wheat grower letting them know that there are going to be some changes and that if they feel they would like to voice their views they should do so. I think there has to be a much better structured system than that.

The other point that I made earlier was that if the minister and the Deputy Prime Minister trust the National Farmers Federation and the Grains Council of Australia on this issue then they run the risk of divorcing the interests of the growers. We have seen what the National Farmers Federation have done in the past in the Telstra debate, where they have gone against the wishes of their constituents. We have seen what the Grains Council of Australia have done in the biofuels debate, where they have actually been more concerned about the cattle producers and the motorists of Australia than the grain growers of Australia. That is a fatal trap if the debate about what growers want is left solely to the representatives in the National Farmers Federation and the Grains Council of Australia.

Some National Party members a moment ago suggested that the way to do this is for the backbenchers to consult with their growers in their various regions and bring those issues back to the parliament. That is great in theory. I say to those backbenchers: look at the political process. Look at how the numbers work in terms of the debate. Look at how many members are actually in the country. And also look at what happened in the Telstra debate, where those very same backbenchers went out and listened, heard and then voted against their constituents. This debate is crucial to the wheat growers of Australia. They must be embraced in the process by way of a poll; they must be given the right to give an indication to the government of which way they would lean. As I said, the government does not have to take that on board, but it would give a clear indication of where the growers are on this. I am very disappointed in the Labor Party’s view on this. I think they have taken a very short-sighted view, and I think it indicates to growers out there that they are not too interested in the outcome either.

If we are really interested in the future of export wheat marketing arrangements, which are going to impact on something like 22,000 wheat growers across Australia, the only way is to develop the arguments. Mr Tuckey had one argument about the Wheat Export Authority taking the veto and determining who would be the various exporters or whether there would be a single desk or whether that desk would have several chairs around it. No doubt there will be other options as well, and so there should be. We should be debating those options. But in the end it should be the growers of Australia who determine the outcome—not the minister, not some debate in a party room somewhere where city majorities and business interests can probably outweigh the grower interests, not the National Farmers Federation or the Grains Council who have divorced themselves from the process. (Extension of time granted)

Honourable Members:

Honourable members interjecting

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

This is a very important debate. The argument I have just put is being supported by the reaction of some of these people who could not care less about the future of wheat growers. Well, I do, and I think the debate needs to be put in a context where those growers can have some say. That is exactly the reaction that growers are going to get if they are not consulted about this process. So I urge the minister and the government to consult with growers by way of a poll. If you are sending them a letter, send them some substance. As I said earlier in the debate, I intend to poll them anyway. If the government will not do it and the Labor Party are not supportive, I will do it, and that will become part of the political process. We have to make sure that the wheat growers of Australia are protected in this process and not carted away in some sort of political sideshow that could occur if those interests are seen to be in second place.

Photo of David HawkerDavid Hawker (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the amendment moved by the member for New England be agreed to. Is a division required? Ring the bells for four minutes.

A division having been called and the bells having been rung—

As there are fewer than five members on the side for the ayes in this division, I declare the question negatived. In accordance with standing order 127, the names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings. The question now is that the bill be agreed to.

Question agreed to.

Bill agreed to.