Greens and Government do wheat deregulation deal

By Anna Vidot ABC – Wednesday, 31/10/2012

The Greens have done a deal with Labor that could see the last vestiges of wheat export regulation dismantled by the end of the year.

The Federal Government wants to shut down the wheat licensing authority, Wheat Exports Australia, in line with a Productivity Commission recommendation. The 22 cents per tonne grower levy that pays for WEA would also be abolished.

WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says her party and the Government have agreed on amendments that will make the port access code of conduct an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) mandatory code.

The code of conduct is currently being developed by an industry working group.

The Greens amendments, agreed to by Labor, also set up a taskforce to advise the minister on ways to address concerns around the availability of grain stocks information and wheat quality oversight, which have been two of the major concerns for eastern states growers.

“This process that the [Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig] will put in place, working with industry, will set up a process to look at [those stocks information and quality issues],” Senator Siewert said.

“Anything they come up with will be funded out of the special account, which is the left-over money from the levy that funded WEA, [which is between] $2 million and $4 million.

“We think this is a win for all farmers, particularly farmers in my home state of Western Australia, who have been pushing very strongly for deregulation.

“However, there are a number of farmers, particularly in the eastern states, who were worried about some of the aspects of deregulation and that some of the issues around information about grain stocks and wheat quality were still not [resolved].

“We reached the conclusion that WEA was not the appropriate body to be handling that information, so we are comfortable that WEA goes, but that these issues are still dealt with.”

The Agriculture Minister released a statement saying he “will consult with industry on members of the taskforce and its terms of reference.”

Senator Ludwig says the Fderal Government “reiterates its support for the industry code of conduct development committee who are currently developing the code”, and that “the committee will provide a draft code to Government in the near future.”

Mr Ludwig says the Government will consult with industry before the mandatory code on port access arrangements is finalised.

The Greens’ Senator Siewert says the amendments should be enough to ensure the passage of the Bill through the parliament, completing the deregulation of Australia’s wheat export marketing arrangements, which began in July 2008 when the single desk was abolished.

The issue has caused tensions in the Coalition party room, with West Australian Liberal senators coming under extreme pressure from grain growers in that state to support the Government’s Bill.

Meanwhile, the National Party in the east wanted to continue WEA for a further 12 months until the concerns identified by primarily eastern states growers could be resolved.

WA Nationals MP Tony Crook had previously expressed his intention to cross the floor to support the Government’s Bill, and NSW Liberal Alby Schultz had indicated he would abstain from voting rather than vote against deregulation.