AUSTRALIAN farmers have not benefitted as a whole from 10 years of deregulation in the wheat industry.
That is the view of strident proponent of the single desk, New South Wales farmer Jock Munro.
Mr Munro, who achieved somewhat of a minor celebrity status for his impassioned defence of the retention of the single desk while the issue was up for debate in the years following the Cole Inquiry including stunts such as dragging a coffin down a busy Melbourne CBD street, said volatility in the market did not work in farmers’ favour.
“You may win once by getting your prices at a high level but overall you’re going to lose, it’s like the pokies, the odds are against you,” Mr Munro said.
“We’ve got all this volatility and instability to manage, I think most growers would appreciate a return to the greater stability we had.”
Mr Munro also said as a whole the Australian wheat ‘brand’ had been tarnished post-deregulation.
“Our reputation has suffered, our wheat is held in less regard than it used to be and that is something that has been confirmed by overseas millers, they can no longer rely on us like they used to,” he said.
Mr Munro said the lack of a national marketer promoting the interests of Australian wheat as a whole hurt.
“The marketers buying our grain are also buying wheat out of the Black Sea, it is just an Australian depot to them, they have no loyalty to our industry in specific.”
Mr Munro acknowledged the efforts of organisations such as the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC) in promoting Aussie wheat, but said without the product behind it, the promotion would never be as effective.
“They’ve got to have the wheat to back things up to show the millers what it can do,” he said.
While most within the industry, whether in favour or against deregulation at the time acknowledge now it would be difficult to see the market regulated once again, Mr Munro disagreed.
“If the industry starts to fall apart we will start wanting to have some strength in numbers, some sort of regulation in place,” he said.
“It may have already started, we are seeing the free trade mantra that dominated talks being superseded by countries seeking to look after their own interests first.
“There may well come a time where some sort of arrangement, whether it be a co-operative-based situation or whatever, is something we look at seriously.”
Looking back, Mr Munro said the industry also suffered when AWB corporatised.
“We should never have had these companies handling our grain become listed,” he said.
“The dual class share structure created when AWB was privatised set the industry up for a fall.”
Mr Munro also singled out the Liberal and Labor parties for criticism saying their bipartisan actions in abolishing the single desk was a “low point in the nation’s history”.