GRAIN grower lobby groups are delighted with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) response to a Department of Agriculture review into the nation’s Port Access Code for wheat.
The Port Access Code applies to access to ports operated by GrainCorp, Viterra and CBH, the nation’s big three in terms of grain bulk handling and the owners of the vast majority of the country’s grain exporting ports.
The ACCC has made some strong recommendations to the department, including widening the code to apply to all grain exports and the implementation of baseline regulatory requirements for access to upcountry networks.
The ACCC response is in line with grower views.
Grain Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann said it was good to see the ACCC involved in issues such as port access.
“You would have to say it is a reflection of the decision of the government to appoint a specialist agricultural commission to the ACCC,” Mr Weidemann said.
“Reading through their submission it appears they get a lot of the issues surrounding port access and what we are looking to achieve.”
ACCC agricultural commissioner Mick Keogh said his organisation felt the advent of significant on-farm storage capacity was not enough to be deemed a substitute to the bulk handlers’ upcountry networks.
Mr Keogh said the changing landscape of the Australian grains industry meant more grain types needed to be covered under the port access code.
“We’ve seen the explosion of pulse exports in recent years, canola and barley are also massive export crops,” he said.
Mr Keogh said the ACCC felt the grain industry needed a separate code.
“There has been talk that port access could be governed under Section 46, the broader competition and consumer act, but to deal with the specifics of the grains industry in a timely manner we feel the port access code is required,” he said.
The bulk handlers have also weighed into the debate with GrainCorp slamming the ACCC’s view.
“It would be a significant backward step if the ACCC’s recommendations were adopted,” said GrainCorp corporate affairs director Angus Trigg.
“There has been hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in port facilities but further regulation would effectively freeze further investment,” he said.
Mr Trigg also said on the east coast, where GrainCorp operated, there was significant competition, both upcountry and at port.
Viterra said it wanted the code to be applied to all port terminal operators equally.