PGA renews call for AWB audit

25 Jun, 2008 11:04 AM
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THE Pastoralists and Graziers Association turned back the clock last week, in a bid to place pressure on the Wheat Export Marketing Act as it made its way through the Senate, by renewing calls for a full forensic audit of AWB's management of the National Wheat Pool over the past eight years.

PGA Western Graingrowers chairman Leon Bradley led the charge from WA, holding several media interviews during the week urging the audit.

But the issue raised barely more than a ripple in Canberra as the legislation made its way safely through Parliament with the National Party's last-ditch efforts to save the single desk providing the only resistance to it becoming law.

Mr Bradley said Federal Agriculture Minister Tony Burke had said in Parliament that the Export Wheat Commission (EWC) had been directed to further investigate chartering costs imposed on growers by AWB Limited (AWBL).

Mr Bradley said he believed the claims were serious but declined to expand on where the EWC's investigation may lead, how much the costs were, or if criminal charges could be laid in the future.

He said he was not calling for a Royal Commission on the issue but suggested that if there was one, it would be a good way to reveal the whole story and gather evidence and witnesses "piece by piece".

He said the net needed to be cast wider than over just AWB's chartering activities.

"Excessive costs have been systematically deducted from grower's funds in the National Pool since privatisation, with the deductions benefiting AWBL, its management, and other parties," Mr Bradley said.

"The recently released addendum to the 2007 Growers Report cites a $260 million loss incurred by AWB (from the 2005-06 Pool) in what we would regard as pure speculative hedging, as there was no offset in a higher sales price for growers.

"Nevertheless, AWB recovered this loss from the National Pool, in a typical example of the one sided heads AWB wins, tails growers lose, 'arrangement' that typified the circumvention of a system that was supposed to protect growers' interests.

"These issues and the AWB's business practices demand a full forensic examination of the single desk operations since 1999."

On Monday, Mr Bradley praised the passing of the new wheat marketing legislation.

Mr Bradley said the ALP had not deviated from its pre-election promise to bring in the changes before next harvest.

"It is almost 70 years since freely traded wheat left the shores of Australia, but all that is about to change on July 1 following the passing of the new wheat legislation through Parliament," he said.

"This change came about following a collapse in the credibility of the previous system," Mr Bradley said.

"The grain growers of WA are looking forward to marketing choice, competition between buyers, and competition in the provision of services.

"PGA Western Graingrowers anticipate a new era in wheat marketing, and growers are freed from the shackles of monopoly marketing, and innovation and invest flow into the industry."

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