AWBI won't foot Cole inquiry costs: Moffet

29 Mar, 2006 08:45 PM
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AWB International (AWBI) - the grower's national wheat pool - will not foot the bill for the Cole inquiry, AWBI and AWB Ltd (AWBL) director Chris Moffet told a single desk rally in Morawa last week.

During the meeting, Eneabba grower Kim Halbert asked Mr Moffet why AWBI should pay the inquiry costs when it had no staff and therefore should not have to bear any costs associated with the AWB oil-for-food scandal.

Mr Moffet said AWBL would pay the bills estimated to reach $16 million.

"The pool is not picking up a penny for the costs associated with the Cole inquiry," Mr Moffet said.

"All costs associated with the inquiry come from the parent body and it will not cost you, the poolers of wheat, a penny.

"The board has made that decision."

Garth Kowald, Canna, asked Mr Moffet about Iraq's decision not to import wheat from Australia until the Cole inquiry ended.

"Is it a fact that other countries have refused to deal with AWB and Iraq has refused to deal with AWB until the Cole inquiry is over?" Mr Kowald asked.

Mr Moffet said no other country had refused to deal with AWB.

"We have had letters from major trading partners in support of AWB," according to Mr Moffet, who believes economic rationale and commonsense will prevail in the Iraqi market.

"I do not believe the Iraqi market is lost to Australia at all," he said.

"The reality is that people find it very hard to deal with Iraq because it's a hard market."

Mr Moffet said shipping companies were reluctant to go to Iraq because of a high demurrage risk and false quality claims.

Meanwhile Debbie Collins, Morawa, asked O'Connor MHR Wilson Tuckey how the Wheat Export Authority (WEA) could ensure the long-term industry development in areas such as opening up new markets, crop shaping, quality assessment, segregation and standards if the single desk was abolished.

Mrs Collins also questioned how important the Iraqi market was to Australia.

"We need to play the game they are playing, which is cat and mouse, and we should just wait and see," she said.

"I believe they need our grain a lot more than we need their market."

Louise House, Watheroo, asked Mr Tuckey what WA growers had to do to get their voices heard in the halls of Federal Parliament, as most debate on the issue seemed to be running in the eastern states newspapers.

"That's what we are doing here," Mr Tuckey replied.

"I am happy to promote what you say, but that is not saying what I think is in your best interests."

Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) grains chairman Leon Bradley told the pro-single desk audience that WA growers received a raw deal from the national pool and WA's advantages and closeness to markets were not reflected in pool payments.

"WA is cross-subsidising eastern states producers and AWB margins are extravagant," Mr Bradley said.

He also blamed the single desk for the big reduction in growers from 37,810 to 22,230 since AWB was formed in 2000.

Mr Bradley said while Iraq wanted Australian wheat it would not buy any from AWB.

"I think what AWB has done for the monopoly the Titanic has done for ocean cruises," he said.

"AWB is a sinking ship."

In response to questions about PGA's graingrower membership, Mr Bradley said the association had 1300-1400 business entities and, apart from the pastoral leases, the remainder grew some grain.

Wheat Growers Association (WGA) facilitator Peter Wells said the WGA single desk option aimed to give AWBI independence from AWBL and provide the fastest way to lift pool performance.

"There is a view the performance of the national pool needs to lift right now, not next year or the year after," Mr Wells said.

He said most of the changes centred on giving the AWBI board its own chairman, providing two new grower-elected seats and having its own staff.

"This is to make the pool focus reside in its own company outside any influence from AWBL," Mr Wells said.

The WGA supports the single desk and under its proposal the veto would remain with AWBI.

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