Wilkie floats single desk option

23 Nov, 2013 01:00 AM
Andrew Wilkie, Clive Palmer, Bob Katter and Adam Bandt speak to media about the GrainCorp sale.
Surely the time has come to have a conversation, for example, about a single wheat desk
Andrew Wilkie, Clive Palmer, Bob Katter and Adam Bandt speak to media about the GrainCorp sale.

INDEPENDENT MP Andrew Wilkie has advocated a return to single desk wheat export marketing, rather than selling Australia’s largest publicly listed agribusiness GrainCorp to US multinational Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).

On Tuesday, Mr Wilkie joined other federal crossbench MPs - Bob Katter (KAP), Adam Bandt (Greens) and Clive Palmer (PUP) - to voice strong opposition to the controversial foreign investment deal.

Mr Wilkie said instead of approving the GrainCorp sale, the Australian government should investigate ways to fund grain infrastructure improvements “without selling the farm to the Americans”.

He said the Australian government should also take a leadership role in finding ways to increase the “muscle” of Australian grain farmers in the international marketplace.

“Surely the time has come to have a conversation, for example, about a single wheat desk,” he said.

“At the moment, we have a number of players, all relatively small by global standards, all trying to get the best price for Australian wheat farmers in the global marketplace. And they just simply don’t have enough grunt, enough muscle to negotiate the best price; they’re simply not big enough.”

Referring to the bipartisan removal of AWB’s single desk monopoly powers in 2008, South Australian Liberal Senator Sean Edwards asked if Mr Wilkie had been “stuck in a time warp”.

“Remember a little thing called the AWB monopoly?” he said.

“The reality is everybody has moved on from the single desk and we now operate in a global market.”

Mr Palmer announced he would sponsor a private members bill in the House of Representatives, seconded by Mr Katter, demanding GrainCorp remains Australian owned.

He said the bill would remove the Federal Treasurer’s ability and authority to approve the $3.4 billion ADM transaction, handing those powers over to “the people of Australia” through a vote in the House of Representatives.

“We want to make the government accountable and we want to make members of the National Party accountable to what they’ve said at the election; that they’ll support rural communities and they’ll support grain growers,” Mr Palmer said.

Treasurer Joe Hockey is due to hand down his decision on the GrainCorp sale by December 17, and the Foreign Investment Review Board’s review will inform his final call.

But Mr Wilkie said the Treasurer must stop the sale of GrainCorp to ADM because it’s “not in the best interests of Australian grain farmers for the company to be sold to the Americans”.

“The fact is that the American corporate ADM will have only one priority and that is to maximise the profit for its shareholders and to achieve that it will push down the price paid to Australian grain farmers as far as those prices can possibly be pushed down,” he said.

Mr Katter said a return to orderly wheat marketing would generate an “immensely better price” for Australian wheat by having one single export seller, compared to 100 sellers.

He said if the Treasurer approved ADM’s takeover of GrainCorp, “farmers are going to be skinned alive”.

Mr Bandt said the Greens firmly believed in defending and protecting Australian agriculture and the GrainCorp sale posed “an enormous threat to Australian farmers”.

Mr Wilkie’s proposal was slammed by West Australian Liberal MP Rick Wilson, a wheat farmer and former president of the Pastoralists and Graziers’ Association Western Grain Growers Committee which lobbied for almost two decades for removal of wheat’s single desk.

His committee argued that abolition of the single desk, and growers taking control of their own marketing, would result in higher prices.

The PGA now believes the deregulated wheat market has resulted in increases of up to $35 a tonne for WA grain growers.

Mr Wilson said the ADM-GrainCorp deal wouldn’t directly affect the WA grains industry, but said there were increasing concerns from growers and industry the sale could lead to increased regulation.

“I share those fears,” he said.

“We have fought long and hard to deregulate the grains industry in WA and the last thing we want is to see more red tape that will stifle investment in the supply chain.

“A deal that imposes additional red tape would have an adverse impact on development of the industry.”

Victorian rural independent Cathy McGowan said unlike her four crossbench colleagues she’s not opposed to the sale of Graincorp to ADM, but she does support strong conditions on the sale.

Ms McGowan said those conditions would be designed to maximise investment to replace outdated infrastructure, such as old silos and an inadequate rail network and ageing rolling stock.

She said the sale was an opportunity to create better economies of scale to benefit grain growers and boost Australia’s capacity to compete internationally.

“I’m with GrainCorp’s CEO, Alison Watkins, on this one – investment is needed to grow our agricultural sector and increase our status as a global player,” she said.

“I’m all for growing Australia’s agricultural sector and to do that we need investment.

“Australian grain growers are very effective farmers we need to ensure the infrastructure and supply chain is world’s best practice.”

Ms McGowan said she believed access issues were best dealt with by the ACCC.

“Concerns about access for smaller players do need to be addressed, regardless of who owns the ports.

“I strongly favour compliance mechanisms to ensure fair access to the infrastructure, rather than a complete stop on the sale.”

(In a statement Ms McGowan also declared she was a shareholder in GrainCorp, with 475 shares worth $5500.)

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23/11/2013 4:48:28 AM

I have to eat my thoughts because I never thought I would be praising Andrew Wilkie for anything, but I am now. Same goes for Bob Katter. However it is more a case of praising sensible ideas. The ideas of Katter, Wilkiie, Palmer and Bandt on this issue just happen to be sensible for Australia. As for Rick Wilson, how come his new NSW Liberal MP mate Taylor and he disagree? Wilson's claim that single desk removal has lifted WA wheat prices by $35/tonne puts him immediately into the la la land category. Anything he says from now on means nothing if he is ready to pedal BS. 74% want no ADM.
leon tanner
23/11/2013 5:01:13 AM

The claims of WA Lib Rick Wilson about infrastructure and WA wheat prices are unsubstantiated garbage and are in line with PGA garbage. He can not prove any lift in WA wheat prices has been due to deregulation of exports. He also forgets that virtually all the storage and rail infrastructure in Aust was built during the years of single desk marketing or pooling and farmer co-operative arrangements. The ADM purchase seeks to takeover some of that infrastructure with no guarantee of increasing the rate of new infrastructure. Your BS is wafer thin and fools no one Mr Wilson. Back in your box.
23/11/2013 5:30:13 AM

Do we still live in a democracy? Every farmer survey ever done about single desk showed a clear majority support for it. We put Governments in place with a majority of 50.01% V 49.99%. Interesting then that farmer votes of 75 - 90% in favor of single desk were ignored. Who gives that right to the community to do that to an industry? Clearly, world powers like USA, EU, and China have policies and subsidies to ensure their farming industries prosper in local hands. Why do we want to give away all our hard won assets to people from those countries, when even without subsidies we could keep them.
23/11/2013 6:16:22 AM

Here is an array of opportunistic nincompoops.The idiot fringe of the Australian parliament.Idiot in the dictionary_ a stupid person; an utter fool; a person deficient in mind and permanently incapable of rational conduct.Says it all about this lot.
Philip Downie
23/11/2013 6:20:52 AM

So Senator Edwards thinks we have just started operating in a global market. Where were we selling our wheat before that? I think he has dropped in from another planet. Wilson believes they are getting more money does he have proof who has done the work to prove this, nobody, it is too embarrassing to see how far down growers are. AWB as a Govt run co op was the only thing that worked, making it public was when the s+*t hit the fan they didn't know who they were working for, at some levels themselves and shareholders NOT farmers or the markets that supplied the money.
Philip Downie
23/11/2013 6:26:29 AM

Further and this is going to upset the Dereg (it will never go back to what it was 30 yrs ago so calm down) but there is legislation needed to fix certain aspects for industry good functions because now they are voluntary and have no teeth. If things don't suit one of the players they can just pull the pin and do their own thing and nothing can be done, these functions need to be free of vested interests as well i.e. GTA and WQA. The most critical areas to ensure we get the balance between the market and the farmers right.
23/11/2013 6:35:47 AM

We just grow more barley, canola, and export hay then ... honestly poiticians like these treasonous independents have neither a track record of running a business let alone an industry. Where were the halts on foreign investment when the mining boom begun? Australia is the next Greece without foreign investment!
Ted O'Brien.
23/11/2013 7:15:58 AM

It is not proper for a private firm to hold a monopoly in the market for a major commodity. Or to manage a monopoly either. The single desk was doomed when they privatised the Wheat Board. It was quite improper that it should have been maintained, and it was an exercise in dishonesty by the Howard government that it was maintained. That was a sham, to temporarily placate growers opposed to the privatisation. The obvious is true. That the Wheat Board delivered to growers the profits that privateers take for rendering the services. That is how we got by without subsidies on production.
23/11/2013 9:07:10 AM

jock to the rescue
23/11/2013 3:09:21 PM

the number of single desk supporters, well you could fit them around a single desk
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