Hands off single desk

29 Mar, 2006 08:45 PM
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MORE than 200 growers turned up at the Morawa Town Hall last week to show their support for a single wheat export system.

Their support was shown in a vote at the end of the meeting when convener and local grower Rod Madden asked for a show of hands for those people who supported a deregulated system or a single desk system of some form.

The show of hands was overwhelmingly in favour of a single desk system, with only six hands raised in support of a free trade arrangement for bulk wheat exports out of Australia.

There also was ample support for a motion requesting the Federal Government maintain its position - indicated after the 2004 Wheat Marketing Review - that there would be no further reviews of the single desk until 2010.

There were no dissenters in a final motion requesting AWB Ltd start procedures to ensure good corporate governance was put in place in light of what was being revealed at the Cole oil-for-food (OFF) inquiry.

The Morawa meeting provided growers with a chance to hear about proposed variations to the single desk system presented by Peter Wells and Bob Iffla of the Wheat Growers Association (WGA) and O'Connor MHR Wilson Tuckey.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association grains president Leon Bradley and WAFarmers president Trevor De Landgrafft were also invited, as was AWB director and local grower Chris Moffet.

Mr Moffet outlined what the implications would be to farmers if the wheat export single desk was abolished and also responded to questions from the floor and statements from other panel members, mainly Mr Bradley and Mr Tuckey.

There were heated exchanges during the meeting with grower anger directed at Mr Tuckey for threatening to introduce a private members bill to take away the bulk export veto power of AWB International (AWBI).

Mr Tuckey was asked if he had done a deal to ensure Wheat Australia, also called the three sisters because it comprised bulk handlers GrainCorp, ABB Grain and Co-operative Bulk Handling (CBH), would take over the single desk from AWB.

Mr Tuckey said there was no deal and the Prime Minister had said he did not want to contemplate changes before the end of the Cole inquiry.

Mr Tuckey outlined five options for graingrowers in light of the Cole inquiry and the decision by Iraq not take any more wheat from AWB until the inquiry was over.

Mr Tuckey said growers could do nothing and forego wheat exports to Iraq while another option was for total deregulation, which he did not favour.

The third option was for AWBI's name as "Company B" to be replaced in the Wheat Marketing Act by another company such as Wheat Australia.

Mr Moffet said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission would object to this as it would create a monopoly.

But Mr Tuckey said AWBI was not subject to the Trade Practices Act, on which the ACCC was run, so any replacement for AWBI would also receive its monopoly powers.

He said that under this scenario AWB could be applying to Wheat Australia or another company to export wheat.

"The tables would be turned," Mr Tuckey said.

His fourth and preferred option was to remove AWBI's veto and revamp the Wheat Export Authority (WEA) to include a four-member board made up of three directors directly elected by wheat export growers.

The new WEA board would grant export licences based on areas such as price and net returns to growers.

"This would be a corporate entity controlled by law to look after growers," Mr Tuckey said.

"I oppose a corporate entity to manage the single desk."

Canna grower Richard Sasse accused Mr Tuckey of using the Cole inquiry to push his barrow of total or partial deregulation of the wheat export industry and giving the impression his wheat grower constituents supported him.

"You are telling us we must conform to the three sisters just because we have missed a tender to Iraq," Mr Sasse said.

"We have been told over the years that Iraq is a fickle market, one that also owes us $100 million.

"How dare you take us on board publicly to the point where most WA growers support changes to the Wheat Marketing Act now, years after any alleged transgression.

"Will you listen to us just once; we definitely don't want any changes under these fire sale circumstances.

"You have been a capable politician but the time has come where we don't need changes to the Wheat Marketing Act as much as we need a new politician in O'Connor."

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