THE Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) of Western Australia has hit back at “derogatory” comments from federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce suggesting the free market-driven farm lobby group is obsessed with corporatising grower-owned CBH.
PGA president Tony Seabrook wrote to Mr Joyce this week objecting to comments he made in an article by Fairfax Agricultural Media on finalisation of the controversial mandatory code of conduct overseeing port access for bulk wheat exports.
Asked whether PGA would be happy with the final code, which contains an exemption for WA co-operative CBH and no sunset clause as demanded by WA Liberals, Mr Joyce said: “PGA was never going to be happy”.
“PGA will be happy when you corporatise CBH and a big fat cheque turns up in a few of their wallets,” he said.
However, in a copy of the letter seen by Fairfax Agricultural Media, Mr Seabrook said the push for equity in CBH was a commercial matter between the co-op's members “and should not be used as political fodder in an attempt to justify what many in the grains industry consider to be a poor policy decision”.
“Such comments are derogatory not only to the members of the PGA but to all grain growers in Western Australia whose interests, despite growing the largest amount of export wheat in the country, are still considered by many in Canberra to be of less importance than their eastern states counterparts,” he said.
Mr Joyce invited to visit PGA
To remedy the situation, Mr Seabrook extended an invitation for Mr Joyce to visit the PGA and meet the group’s grain growing members “who remain supportive of a deregulated wheat export industry”.
Mr Seabrook said PGA members had also been instrumental in passing legislation to amend the Wheat Export Marketing Act which instigated the code’s development and were involved on the committee overseeing its development.
He said at no time had PGA placed a submission or made any statement regarding wheat export deregulation where the issue of corporatising CBH was raised or inferred.
“Whilst the PGA remains critical of your proposal to grant an exemption to the code to co-operatives, as we consider this to raise unnecessary barrier to new industry participants, this has nothing to do with the push from many growers in Western Australia for the corporatisation of CBH,” he wrote.
“All grain growing members of the PGA are members of CBH, and as such are entitled to challenge the conduct of their co-operative, especially over the issue that CBH remains a non-distributing co-operative where the only financial return a grower receives for decades of loyalty is a share worth $2.”
PGA has expressed strong dissatisfaction with Mr Joyce giving co-operatives an exemption from the code which he has justified by saying the co-op is able to return profits to growers, unlike a publicly listed entity.
“But all this is driven with the farmers’ views at the forefront because we need to work on the key principle of fair return to the farmgate and you can’t have a fair return without transparency,” he said in discussing the final code.
“Any monopoly position, whether it’s a monopoly in telecommunications or in poles and wires or at the ports, inherently needs regulations, otherwise you’ll get exploitation in that market segment.
“We’re not going to work for a better return for the farmer to see it legally and appropriately consumed by a monopoly operator, because that’s just inherently counterproductive.”
Mr Joyce was contacted for comment by Fairfax Agricultural Media regarding the PGA’s letter.