QUEENSLAND Nationals senate leader Ron Boswell has described his speech to the Queensland Rural Pres

30 Mar, 2007 08:45 PM
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³This is the first real defence of the single desk where someone has actually gone out and analysed wheat marketing from all points of view,² he said of his speech.

³This was a complete defence of the single desk and puts the whole thing in a nutshell.²

Senator Boswell¹s speech backed a transitional arrangement that involved returning the power of veto to AWB until another independent, grower-owned body could be established.

He said the only model likely to get widespread industry support was the de-merger of AWBI and AWB Ltd.

³I have been in daily contact with wheat growers all over Australia and there really doesn¹t seem to be a viable alternative to a grower owned single desk,² Senator Boswell said.

³It¹s a bit like the Australian Constitution ‹ it would make a lot of people feel better if we were a republic, but when you look at the constitutional changes involved it is hard to come up with a model that works anywhere near as well as the current one - because it is so integral to the processes of our democracy.

³The only alternative seems to be to hand back the power of veto to the AWB for a transition period while further changes are negotiated to come up with a detailed, workable model that is accep-table to industry and government and builds on the work of the consultative committee.

³This is not a populist position or a political one but a pragmatic one.

³There is simply no time left to put an alternative in for this year¹s crop.²

Senator Boswell said the situation facing wheatgrowers had de-generated, and traditional AWB functions like hedging and supply chain logistics were not being undertaken.

He warned the situation had become extre-mely serious.

³We are losing markets overseas and growers are unable to make informed decisions on planting, budgeting and finance,² Senator Boswell said.

³This year is a big year for wheatgrowers, not only because of a forecast of a large harvest of some 27 million tonnes but because it is a make or break year for wheat marketing arrangements.

³The Federal Government¹s wheat export marketing consultative committee is due to report by the end of this month.

³Growers understand that the actions of some AWB personnel have sown a hostile harvest of opposition to AWB¹s very existence.

³But the most important question is where do we go from here now the damage has been done?

³What is the best way forward to recognise the needs of wheatgrowers?

³This question sometimes gets confused with the desire to punish everything associated with the AWB or a deregulate-at-all-costs ideology.

³But for the Nationals, it is simply a question of helping the growers.

³I have attended rallies and meetings and I know that without question there is an overwhelming majority support for the single desk, basically because it works in the growers¹ long-term favour.

³We are up against powerful vested interests in multinational grain traders, and American wheat.

³They have done a good job in currying favour and public relations with the minority deregulation supporters in the industry and outside.²

Senator Boswell said Labor¹s policy on wheat marketing would be laughable if it wasn¹t so serious.

He said the Labor Party¹s policy was to review wheat marketing again after the federal election but warned that situation would be untenable.

³Is Labor seriously proposing that they would undo any reform of wheat marketing the year after it is implemented?² he said.

³That uncertainty would have a catastrophic impact on wheatgrowers and their industry.

³Wheatgrowers need to be able to plan, finance and hedge their crops well before a post-election productivity commission could repeat the work of other commissions of inquiry including the current one.

³Growers and their international customers urgently need greater certainty and security.

³It is not wise for AWB to start a hedging program whilst there is no certainty as to the nature of future pool arrangements and therefore the underlying exposures that need to be managed.

³Currency hedging should be underway now but has not begun.

³While the power of veto stays with the minister, neither the AWB nor any other company can sell grain on the international market.

³Grain cannot be procured until the rules are known and harvesting starts in October.²

Senator Boswell said the in marketing arrangements had turned loyal customers towards alternative suppliers, such as the US.

He said customers were naturally shopping elsewhere with Australian wheat effectively landlocked by the review process and the federal minister¹s veto powers.

³The stocks to use ratio is at an all time low, which exacerbates the need for buyers to source grain elsewhere,² Senator Boswell said.

³Two floors at the AWB head office in Melbourne effectively now stand empty where once they were occupied by staff looking after grower interests in international sales and marketing, technical support, future modelling, pool management, stakeholder relations and shareholder relations.

³Some 170 staff have been lost, with their expertise and grower servicing functions.

³The longer this reduction in services continues while grain cannot be bought or sold, hedged or shipped, the longer it will take to replace the required staff and expertise to maximise net returns to growers.

³Policy makers, including some within the wheat industry, have to move beyond the disgust at the actions of a few to save the infrastructure of wheat marketing because it benefits the whole.

³A de-merger proposal needs time to be worked on because of the complexities involved ‹ and time is what the wheat industry at present does not have.

³Therefore there needs to be a transitional process put in place first.²

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