An open letter to all State MPs and broadacre businesses

An open letter to all State MPs and broadacre businesses

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Tony Seabrook, PGA president.

Tony Seabrook, PGA president.

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Last week the PGA came under attack from WAFarmers over a series of ads we have run highlighting that they are the only WA farming group supporting the Agriculture Produce Commission Amendment Bill 2019, which includes a provision to remove the existing broadacre cropping and grazing exemption under the APC.

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Last week the PGA came under attack from WAFarmers over a series of ads we have run highlighting that they are the only WA farming group supporting the Agriculture Produce Commission Amendment Bill 2019, which includes a provision to remove the existing broadacre cropping and grazing exemption under the APC.

Central to their attack is that, negative commentary around an APC for broadacre farmers has centred on the fear of imposition of a mandatory tax or levy.

They also claim that the PGA's campaign is deliberately misleading as it fails to acknowledge that industry will only support an APC with an opt-out clause included.

Like most broadacre producers and pastoralists throughout Western Australia, with the sole exception of WAFarmers, our position is very clear.

We remain opposed to the introduction of needless regulation and levies on primary producers, which is what the APC Amendment Bill will do.

This is because the inclusion of broadacre industries under the APC will allow for the establishment of a new commodity or region specific committee, which includes a compulsory financial impost on broadacre producers under a Fee For Service (FFS) model.

For a committee to be established, the act requires a poll of producers in the industry to determine whether producers are in favour of the proposal.

The poll is conducted by the commission which also makes the decision on who is an eligible producer.

If a committee is formed, then it is compulsory for all producers of the product, or in a recognised area to pay a FFS.

The commission, which, under direction of the minister, controls all funds received and will not release any unless there is a proper business case provided.

The commission, not the producer committee must approve and agree on any release of funds.

The commission is also responsible for the budget and there is also a prohibition on funding industry good programs and all funding proposals must be submitted to the commission.

The commission decides how many members there shall be on the producers' committee and determines whether a person is qualified to be a member.

For the first three years of a committee's operations the chairperson will be an eligible producer appointed by the commission in its sole discretion after which committee members shall nominate one member for consideration by the commission for appointment as chairperson.

This is nothing more than the creation of another level of bureaucracy, funded by a compulsory levy on producers.

The commission acquires any number of powers that would impact on farming businesses.

Further the introduction of a FFS will only duplicate existing industry good services already paid for and provided to broadacre farmers, including statutory levies under the Commonwealth Primary Industries Research and Development Act 1989 to cover research, development, marketing, biosecurity, product assurance and food safety functions, as well as State biosecurity industry funding schemes.

We also do not support the inclusion of broadacre industries under the APC with an opt out provision, because there is no provision under the bill that will allow a proper opt out provision to be included.

In fact Section 14(5) of the bill states; The regulations may provide for the circumstances in which a charge imposed under this section may be waived, refunded or reduced, in whole or in part.

To be perfectly clear, this is not an opt out provision.

It only allows for the possibility that the regulations may allow for under certain circumstances for a fee to be waived, refunded or reduced, and not as WAFarmers claim allow dissenting growers to not participate or contribute if that is their choice.

It is the commission, not the producer, that has the final say over whether any fee will be waived or reduced.

And as for WAFarmers' other claim that under the current APC rules the grower majority threshold required under the act to establish an APC committee is already an opt-in for growers, given that there is no grower majority threshold mentioned in neither the act, nor the polling regulations, nor the bill raises serious questions about WAFarmers' understanding of how the APC actually operates.

The same can be said for the minister's assurance that, should the exclusion on broadacre cropping and grazing be removed, the wording of the relevant regulations will be phrased in such a way as to exclude pastoralism.

Despite that there is no exclusion clause in the bill, only an assurance made by the minister responding to a question on notice, we would like to point out that the ministers comments are not as simple as drawing lines on a map.

Many pastoral lease holders own freehold land in the agricultural areas, and there is a significant inter-regional trade between properties in the north and south of the State owned by the same person.

Unlike WAFarmers, we at the PGA strongly believe that it is up to individual producers to decide which, if any farm organisation they wish to join.

The proposal to introduce a FFS on broadacre producers to fund a new State-based compulsory commodity committee is archaic and reflects the glory days of the single desk, the Grains Licensing Authority and the reserve price scheme for wool.

Western Australia's broadacre agricultural and pastoral industries continue to strive.

We do not need to be shackled to a 30 year old Agricultural Produce Commission that has little or any relevance to the complexities of our broadacre industries, and large scale commercial farming and pastoralism.

Tony Seabrook, PGA president, Locky McTaggart, PGA pastoral committee chairman, Gary McGill, PGA grain growers committee chairman and Chris Patmore, PGA livestock committee chairman.

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