Thursday, 29 November 2012
Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012; Second Reading
I resume talking about the draft voluntary code of conduct proposed for the Australian wheat industry. The draft code is flawed in that it is not binding, it is not independent, it does not have a sustainable source of funding via the arbitration act and it may further circumvent the ACCC. In short, the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 as proposed fails to achieve its competition objectives, hence the reason we now have amendments on the floor, because even the Greens know that any real oversight will only happen if the code is mandatory.
That code should broadly contain, firstly, the adequate provision of grain stock information to enable efficient operation of the market; and, secondly, an enforceable mechanism to ensure fair access to port facilities for non-handling exporters. That means the people who sought to come into this business to compete and to provide an international marketplace, are not prejudiced because they do not own the infrastructure, ports or the up-country rail hubs that have in the past led to a closed market. Thirdly, the code should contain an effective mechanism to provide confidence in cargo integrity, especially in relation to the Australian wheat variety classification system.
The final report of the South Australian Select Committee on the Grain Handling Industry called for the federal government to:
… ensure the benefits of deregulation are fully realised within a competitive and innovative framework that provides the basis for a viable and successful industry.
It is my contention that, unless we ensure that at least those three aforementioned elements are contained within the reform, all of the findings of this inquiry conducted recently, and the many others I have been involved in, will be ignored.
To ensure this actually occurs, the federal government should establish an independent body to maintain this deregulation momentum. I cannot stress enough the importance of the minister appointing a truly representative panel to the proposed advisory body, which is flagged in the amendments to this bill before us. The board should have representatives comprised of grain grower representative bodies, non-bulk handling traders and bulk handlers—and they should all be in equal numbers. This would prevent one interest group from dominating the final code agreement to the detriment of one of the other stakeholders in this very important Australian industry.
The importance of this industry cannot be understated. Not only is wheat growing part of this country's DNA, but also, if demand rises, as everybody expects it will during the much-lauded Asian century, it should be set now to succeed and be the success story for decades to come that it deserves to be. We must get this right now and with the appropriate oversight framework in place—the kind of oversight that the majority of wheat growers of this nation are expecting from the minister. I urge the minister to listen to them. Many of us from this side of the chamber will be working to ensure that the reform required is implemented.
I will be supporting an amended bill. Senator Xenophon, I have some sympathy with a number of your proposed amendments and I will look to talk those through in the committee stage of this bill. I would underline the fact that the minister has a great responsibility to ensure that the proposed advisory body has—if we adopt the amendments to this bill—a mandatory code of conduct so that it functions properly and so that we may look forward to a fair and prosperous wheat industry from this day forward.
There have been a lot of discussions about the deregulation of the wheat industry, and it is a great tragedy that we have reached this stage without significant and sufficient safeguards in place for producers. The last thing anyone wants to see is the wheat industry turn out like the supermarket industry: controlled by monopolies and with the growers under pressure.
There have been several inquiries in the past to determine how best to deregulate the wheat industry in Australia and what the best arrangements are. Most recently, the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee conducted an inquiry into the operation of grain networks in Australia. That was a very worthwhile inquiry, which I was a part of. The information provided to the committee exposed significant flaws in the grain export networks that must be addressed before complete deregulation can go ahead. Essentially, natural monopolies exist in every state. These companies control grain handling and export from purchasing and storing, to movement, to shipping. That is simply not good enough.
The committee inquiry recommended that Wheat Exports Australia needed a continuing and expanded role in the industry, acting as a combination of ombudsman, accreditor and quality assurance. The committee also recommended that a mechanism to publicise wheat stockpile information should be available to all participants in the bulk export industry, and that the upcoming inquiry into this bill should consider this further. I also made several more recommendations in my additional comments to that report. These recommendations included the establishment of an oversight body for the industry, as well as a mandatory code of conduct relating to the publication of grain storage information, assessment and grading of grain, and access to port and rail transport facilities. My further recommendations related to reviews and investigations that needed to be undertaken by the ACCC or other bodies in relation to specific practices on the part of some bulk grain handlers.
The inquiry into this bill, the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012, by the rural and regional affairs and transport committee also recommended that the government assist the industry in developing measures relating to the publication of information on wheat stock information. There is a clear and compelling narrative running through these recommendations. In the first instance, a lack of clear and complete information on grain stocks that is available to the entire industry is severely disadvantaging producers. This information asymmetry is simply unacceptable. These producers cannot determine when and where they might get the best prices for their product. In fact, this lack of information could be putting the whole industry at risk. In the case of a drought or a crop shortage, the government and other organisations do not have the necessary complete picture of what grain is being held where. The implications of this are obvious.
The other major concern is that there is no oversight of the industry to enforce a code of conduct or to deal with disputes or competition issues. To this end, I will be moving several amendments to strengthen this bill. I note Senator Edwards' sympathy for them; I hope I can have more than Senator Edwards' sympathy. I am grateful for his comments in relation to that, but I hope I can actually have his vote on some of these amendments, particularly on the review mechanism. There must be a review mechanism. I would urge my colleagues in the Australian Greens to consider a review mechanism in relation to this bill, because the implications of this bill are huge for the industry. We need to get it right. If this bill does go ahead in its current form there will be a lack of sufficient safeguards for the industry.
These amendments are designed to build on the agreement with the government reached by the Greens. However, they will go further and insert certain requirements in relation to the structure of the Wheat Industry Advisory Board, the code of conduct—it must be mandatory—and the outline of the act. I will be expanding on these amendments in the committee stage.
Finally, I would like to thank the representatives of Grain Producers Australia, and in particular Pete Mailler and Darren Arney. They have been strong, tireless and articulate advocates for their members. I thank them for the advice and guidance they have given me on this issue.
I want to make it clear that without some form of amendment to strengthen this bill I cannot and will not be supporting this bill. It does not offer enough support and protection for our producers, and I believe it will lead to further market concentration, a severe lack of competition in the market and it will disadvantage our grain producers.
I rise to speak on the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012, which is before the Senate today. I was one of those who worked with the former member for O'Connor, Wilson Tuckey, and the late Senator Judith Adams towards ending the single-desk marketing system. According to all accounts, deregulation has brought great benefits to the West Australian wheat growers, whose properties are generally larger than those in the eastern states and whose wheat is largely exported. The experience so far in WA has been that deregulation and open marketing has brought great financial benefits to WA growers.
According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, the gross value of the Australian wheat crop during the period 2011-12 increased by seven per cent to $7.5 billion. In my home state of WA, again according to the ABS, the value of the wheat crop doubled to $2.8 billion in 2011-12 over the previous year. This period followed the abolition of the single-desk marketing operation in 2008 and surely demonstrates that the strong support by the WA farming organisations in WA for deregulation was proved to have been well worthwhile and in the interests of the Western Australian industry.
The single desk was a monopoly marketing body for wheat overseen by the Australian Wheat Board—AWB. By this process, returns from growers for the sale of wheat, both domestically and internationally, were pooled together on a national scale, the prices were averaged by the Australian Wheat Board and farmers were paid that average price for their wheat. As I mentioned, this covered both domestic and international sales until 1989, after which it focused exclusively on exports before being limited in scope again to bulk exports in its final year of operation.
However, over the years the winds of change for a different wheat marketing system gathered momentum. There was a National Competition Policy review of the Wheat Marketing Act in 1989 which ultimately found no clear benefit to Australian growers from the single-desk arrangements then in place for the export of wheat. Importantly, increasing dissatisfaction with the operation of the single desk mounted, especially in Western Australia. As I have said, farmers in WA have experienced improved financial returns since deregulation was introduced with the abolition of the single desk. Those improved financial returns have in fact been quite substantial. It is therefore unsurprising that WA growers have been very vocal in support of the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012, which, if passed, will complete wheat marketing deregulation following the process set out by the Productivity Commission in an orderly way, albeit with a slight delay from the recommendations of the Productivity Commission.
I acknowledge, as home to the largest grain producers, who are staunch supporters of deregulation, WA and its growers do stand to benefit most by the enactment of this legislation. While not always united in their views in the past, WA's largest and second-largest farm lobby groups, the WA Farmers Federation and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia, respectively, are now united in their support for the process which will lead to the full deregulation of wheat marketing that will follow the passage of this bill.
Farmers in WA have been pleased with the significant increase in sales and the broadening of the market which deregulation has brought so far. Similarly, the Co-operative Bulk Handling Group, one of Australia's leading grain bodies based in Western Australia, with more than 4,500 grain grower members, also supports this bill. Simply put, WA wheat growers not only are pleased with the deregulated environment in which they work now but also have overwhelmingly benefited from it and wish to see that situation maintained and continued.
I do recognise in saying that that some growers in the eastern states have a different view to those in WA about how wheat is marketed. This is a reflection of the fact that the circumstances and form of the wheat industry differ from state to state. While Western Australian farmers have large acreages and their wheat is mostly exported, by contrast most farms in the eastern states are smaller in acreage and the wheat is largely sold domestically.
I believe it is high time these differences in the form of the wheat industry across Australia were recognised and it was accepted that a 'one size fits all' approach to marketing wheat is just not appropriate. Because of these differences, I believe the growers in each state should have the right to decide their own marketing arrangements and should have local control over how that is done. In other words, I believe wheat marketing should be devolved to the states to organise and run. There are many precedents for this: in the past, the states had marketing boards for products such as eggs, potatoes, rice and so on. There is not a national iron ore or coal marketing board dictating to Western Australia or Queensland the terms and conditions under which iron ore and coal are marketed respectively. Instead, the sale of these commodities is left to the WA and Queensland governments to arrange themselves.
Similarly, I do not believe that the federal government should have an overall role in legislating for the marketing of wheat given the differences between the states, and the facts are that most wheat produced, as I said already, in the eastern states is sold on the domestic market whereas the grain produced in WA is exported to world markets. As I have also said, this legislation will enable the completion of the process of deregulation of wheat marketing by following the steps recommended by the Productivity Commission, albeit with a slightly delayed time frame of about a year for each of the steps.
Australia is a large island continent, and, as I have said, it has to be acknowledged that there are significant differences across the country and one size does not fit all. This legislation embodies the preferred outcome of the majority of the WA wheat industry participants, as expressed by the WA Farmers Federation, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association and Cooperative Bulk Handling. In addition, the WA Liberal Party has supported this legislation and has been consistent with its support for market deregulation. As a Liberal senator for Western Australia, I support the objectives of this legislation.
I rise to support the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012, which will bring to fruition in Australia a truly deregulated wheat export marketing regime—a bill that brings to completion a process that was commenced by the Howard government. I support the path to full deregulation of Australia's wheat export marketing arrangements in the time frame first prescribed in the Productivity Commission's inquiry into wheat export marketing arrangements and now contained—with some minor adjustments—in this bill. I believe strongly that the evidence points to the fact that Australia's wheat export marketing arrangements are sufficiently matured and competitive to allow for the abolition of both Wheat Exports Australia and the wheat export charge—a charge, it must be remembered, that is levied on farmers and their families. This charge hits WA farmers and their families the hardest because, of all the wheat produced in Western Australia, around 90 per cent is exported. It is also worth noting that wheat growers in WA are the nation's largest, with over 75 per cent of them amongst the largest 50 per cent of wheat growers nationally. I have travelled around parts of regional Western Australia, talking with farmers at public meetings and one-on-one in places like Katanning, Wagin, Bruce Rock, Quairading and Gnowangerup—amongst others. In WA, these remain challenging times for wheat growers. It is important to remember that this debate is not occurring in a vacuum; we are talking about people's livelihoods and the viability of regional communities.
Some in this debate have said that the wheat export charge is a small thing and continuing to levy it will make little difference. However, I contend that removing the charge sends a powerful signal that we in this place understand that farming is often a difficult task. By removing the charge, we explicitly acknowledge this fact. We are showing that we understand that the last thing growers need is another government impost on their activities, especially for those growers who may not be experiencing the harvest they had hoped for.
It is also my considered judgement, a judgement formed after years in both the insurance and telecommunications industries dealing with competition related issues, that matters such as port access arrangements, transparency regarding stock information and quality standards for wheat exports can be appropriately overseen by existing competition law, by a code of conduct and by the industry themselves. I believe that a core component of maintaining Australia's international competitiveness is to embrace free and open markets, to abandon regulation and red-tape when the opportunity arises and at every step to reduce the tax burden on Australian businesses and families—especially on its agricultural businesses and farming families.
After careful consideration, robust debate and many discussions with wheat growers and their representatives, I can find no defensible justification for not actively supporting the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012. At its core, this bill is an economic one as much as it is an agricultural one. As a coalition senator, I believe that I have a responsibility to stand up for those policies that I consider will lead to smaller government, removing unnecessary bureaucracy and reducing taxes and charges. I do not believe that the path that was agreed to many years ago should be delayed or deviated from.
Long before I came to this place, I did not believe the proposition that Australia's single-desk wheat export regime was a successful mechanism to extract a premium wheat price in global markets for the benefit of Australia's wheat exporters. The very idea runs against every economic and political principle I hold dear. Every monopoly should be treated with suspicion, and I do not believe that there should be any sacred cows in Australia's economic landscape, no matter how cherished the institution or longstanding its contribution to our economic prosperity. The Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 is a simple one: it will transition Australia's wheat export marketing arrangements to a truly, fully deregulated market—a process that was first begun in 2008.
The story is well known but worth briefly recapping: in 2008, Australia's single-desk wheat export marketing arrangements were abolished and a system for regulating the export of bulk wheat through the accreditation of bulk wheat exporters under the Wheat Export Accreditation Scheme was established and administered by the body Wheat Exports Australia.
The new regime was to be funded by the wheat export charge. These were always intended to be transitional arrangements—transitional arrangements which were found by the Productivity Commission in 2010 to be unnecessary for a maturing wheat export market. The editorial of the Australian Financial Reviewof 3 October 2012 was correct in identifying that an accreditation system had some uses in transition to a free market but there was no reason to put off full deregulation.
I agree this bill will bring the bulk wheat export market into line with other agricultural commodity markets. It will promote further competition in the wheat industry and will be a driver for increased productivity and profitability. It will mean more buyers of wheat will be competing for wheat, ensuring growers can attract and get prices that reflect the true market value of their product. We can have every confidence that it will drive further market innovation and improve the services that marketers provide to secure wheat supplies. Importantly, it will remove costs for industry.
I support the bill because it will bring significant economic benefits to WA wheat farmers, their families and their communities. I support the bill because, uniquely, it has the united endorsement of WA farming organisations: the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA, the WA Farmers Federation and the Co-operative Bulk Handling Group. Given the enormous sensitivity this issue has traditionally invoked amongst WA's agricultural community, a common position is remarkable.
Western Australia's wheat growers support the bill because they believe in themselves and in their product and have confidence that they are best able to make decisions about their own future. In the words of the PGA, the wheat industry has made 'remarkable progress' since 2008. Of course there are challenges, but the PGA's firm view is that these can be addressed using current means without further direct government interference. The PGA has said, 'Abolishing the scheme will ensure that the benefits to industry provided by accreditation during the transition to full deregulation are not undermined in the longer term by the direct and indirect costs of continuing with a scheme that has served its purpose.' The PGA identified these costs as being 'the WEC and the administrative and regulatory burden of accreditation, as well as the necessary regulation on efficiency and competition in the wheat industry'. This attitude was echoed by WA's CBH Group when it said:
… there is no need to continue with any partial regulation of wheat exports …
… … …
The CBH Group incurred costs in excess of $1.2million … These costs are ultimately borne by Western Australian growers with no net benefit to them.
… … …
The CBH Group supports the view that the role of Government is to provide necessary services and safeguards to support industry without distorting the economic environment.
… … …
It is now time to allow Australia’s wheat export industry the flexibility to take advantage of the opportunities that await it, free from any additional layers of regulation.
I should also note for the record that both the PGA and the CBH Group have advised me that, although they do not believe the mandatory industry code proposed in amendments to the bill are necessary, they are nonetheless satisfied that the amendments put forward by the Greens will not disadvantage WA growers. The CBH Group advises, 'This outcome remains favourable for WA growers and the industry more generally.' The WA Farmers Federation has also added its voice, saying: 'WA Farmers position in respect to the deregulation issue is that we do not see value for growers in WEA and hence agree with the proposed wind up and call on all WA federal politicians to support the proposed Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012. However, great caution should be exercised over other amendments that specifically seek to address stocks information and quality issues. These will have a disproportionately adverse on WA growers. In practice, they would be unworkable and add costs to growers.'
The bill is also strongly supported by the Premier of Western Australia, the WA Liberal Party's state council and the many, many people living and working across WA's farming communities. The view of many West Australians has been best expressed by the West Australian newspaper. It said, 'Wheat Exports Australia is the last vestige of centralised marketing bureaucracies in Australia' and pointed to the fact that 'Pointless delay will cost wheat growers money and traps the industry in an early-20th-century mindset of protectionism and closed-shop marketing.'
This bill deserves the support of the Senate because the facts speak for themselves. The facts are most accurately presented in the ACIL Tasman report Continuing the reforms of the Australian export wheat market: why the WEMA Amendment Bill 2012 should be passed into law. It was released in July this year. The ACIL Tasman report makes the case that significant investment has occurred in Australia's wheat export market both as a result of the 2008 reforms and, more importantly, in anticipation of their conclusion in 2014. The report makes it clear. It states: 'Since 2008 a number of large mergers have occurred together with significant levels of infrastructure investment, to unlock scale and scope economies in bulk handling, marketing and grain transport. Grain is now exported to more countries than was previously the case under the single desk operator. Growers have been the main beneficiaries of these reforms through improved services and more competition for their grain. Export dependent WA grain growers in particular have in recent seasons experienced improved prices for their wheat exports when compared with Australian east coast growers. These recommendations, which have little if any apparent industry support in WA, Australia's largest wheat export state, will, if implemented, be a significant departure from the industry's current and generally accepted course and would reverse many of the reforms already implemented.'
I am conscious that as a result of the government's guillotine there are restricted times available to us. I will not go through the entirety of my speech—as much as I would like to—out of courtesy for those other coalition senators who I know have a different point of view, and I do believe that their view should be recorded in this debate. Out of respect for their positions, I will keep my last remaining comments brief.
This place, in deliberating on this issue should not be ignorant to the sovereign risk and disincentive to invest that arises from delaying—even stalling—the passage of these final deregulation initiatives.
Deviation and delay from our publicly stated intentions acts as a powerful disincentive to invest and diminishes the confidence of exporters and international buyers in our wheat export arrangements. This point was echoed and has been made very clear by CBH Group and GrainCorp in their presentations to the Senate inquiry. The clear intention of Wheat Exports Australia was always to act as a transition mechanism. Its role is to merely accredit exporters to give growers confidence that new exporters were 'fit and proper' and would reduce the business risk to wheat growers. This legislation is supported by a long and impressive list of organisations and people, many of whom I have referred to in the course of my contribution and many of whom, I might say, I trust.
Having weighed the evidence, I have concluded there is no rational reason to delay the abolition of Wheat Exports Australia and the wheat export charge. The national interest and the interest of wheat growers and exporters across Australia is best served by supporting this legislation. I am aware that others in my party have reached a different conclusion, giving weight to other considerations and evidence. I respect the difference of view. However, in preparing for this debate, I have been deeply conscious of my responsibilities to Western Australia—to the united position of WA's farming groups, the position of the WA Liberal Party and, most significantly, the regional people of WA, who have taken time to share their strong opinion with regard to this important and meaningful step in our agricultural policies.
I celebrate the fact that my own political party, unlike the one opposite, permits me to faithfully represent my constituents in this place. In explaining my decision to the Senate to support this bill, I return to the words of my first speech, which I made in this place six months ago:
I regard the Senate as the first child of Federation and the most significant of our democratic institutions, and I challenge the view that its creation was a compromise. In prescribing how Australia's representative government would operate, our founding fathers took a deliberate and conscious step—our democratic style would consist of two separate and distinct mandates: one representing the people as a whole and one representing the people voting by their states. In every deliberation I will sanctify this historic fact.
In supporting this bill, I have chosen to remain faithful to that promise to stand up for WA and its wheat growers, their families and communities, and to be an active champion for the benefits of free enterprise and competition in our country.
I acknowledge that a lot of people want to speak in this debate on the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012, so I will try to limit my remarks to around five minutes. If there is one good thing that comes out of this, it will be that the Senate is actually going to operate as a Senate and that the people from the different states who have different views will express those views—and that is how the Senate is supposed to work.
I concur with the remarks that there is a circumstance in Western Australia that is more evident towards a larger grower. I do not understand why—and I am agreeing here with Senator Eggleston—we would be moving in a direction to change the outcome with this legislation beyond Western Australia. We are changing it for the whole nation. The reality on the eastern coast—and I am there and I have grown wheat; I have a grain place—is that we are getting ripped off.
If people want to talk about access to markets, let us make sure that we bring into the chamber right now legislation for the ACCC, because it has had no chance against the regional based monopolies which have taken the place of a regulator. We acknowledge that the single desk was a regulated monopoly, but it was regulated. It worked on behalf of the best return to the growers. What it has been replaced with is regionally based monopolies for which we are definitely at a strategic disadvantage, and that is reflected in the price that we get for our product. But no-one seems to be suggesting changes to the ACCC, to bring in laws so that we can get fairness for these people and a better price—a price that is a better reflection on the market price. The multinational monopolies now dominate so many sections of regional New South Wales and regional Queensland. The latest one is Archer Daniels looking to buy GrainCorp, in which case we will be completely and utterly over a barrel and exploited. All of a sudden the bells are starting to ring.
In the east, we are in a different circumstance. I concur with Senator Eggleston that maybe the time has come to have a different regulations on this for the different states. If growers in Western Australia are certain that their situation works for them, then we are absolutely certain that it does not work for us. Western Australia has an advantage because it is the cooperative bulk handler. It is a monopoly owned by the growers; it is owned by individuals. We do not have a cooperative bulk handler. We have Viterra. We are going to have Archer Daniels. We have Cargill. They are doing what monopolies do. Once they dominate the marketplace, they work to exploit the people who supply them the product to try and get the best return for them, not for the grower.
It is incumbent upon this parliament, if we believe that all controls should be removed and we acknowledge that farmers are being exploited, that we move towards a broader and more instructive process in the ACCC so that fairness can be brought back to the farm gate. With access arrangements and quality arrangements, it is a one-size-fits-all approach. I think we all agree on this now: the one-size-fits-all approach across the nation is just not working.
I heard mention of the Productivity Commission. The Productivity Commission study went over one year. That is hardly the time frame required to get a proper assessment when there are variant seasons from droughts to bumper seasons and everything in between. You cannot do an assessment on the wheat industry on an examination of one year. The process that we ask for, especially in the National Party, is not a position that is driven by philosophy.
It is driven by experience. It is driven by pragmatism. It is driven by a desire to deal with an issue which is completely and abundantly apparent to us now—that there is exploitation in the new arrangements that have come as we predicted to the people predominantly in the eastern states.
We are not supporting this, because the issue has not been resolved. We will not walk away from people that are being exploited on the premise of a philosophy when the reality for them is clear and apparent. I acknowledge that they are the small growers but we, especially in the National Party, look out for those small growers because, if we do not look after them, then who on earth will?
I rise to make some comments regarding this Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012. Like Senator Joyce in front of me, I am a wheat farmer. While I am a senator for New South Wales, I am also a wheat farmer. Senator Joyce and I have some skin in the game in this. Senator Joyce could not have been more right when he talked about those with a philosophical view. I completely understand that and acknowledge absolutely the right of my colleagues to have a philosophical view on this. They do not have the practical experience of being on the ground, day in and day out, knowing how this affects wheat growers and rural communities across the country.
I have not changed my position one bit from 2008 when I thought that getting rid of the single desk for wheat was singularly one of the most stupid things a government has ever done in this nation. I stand by that now and I have seen nothing in the last four years to change my view on that. Interestingly, at the time when we looked into the legislation that was going to get rid of the single desk for wheat through the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee, the committee as a whole had serious concerns about the fact that if we removed the single desk we would end up with regional monopolies. Remember, colleagues, this was 2008. Indeed, in the dissenting report put forward by me, Senator Joyce and Senator Scullion, we said:
The draft bills as proposed clearly do not satisfy the requirements necessary to ensure a wheat marketing system that would deliver the best outcomes for wheat growers. More dangerously, the draft bills lack sufficient safeguards to prevent regional monopolies from arising.
Madam Acting Deputy President, it is a really sad thing to say I told you so in this place, but we told you so.
Four years ago we could see exactly what was going to happen, that we would end up with regional monopolies in place of a single monopoly that served wheat growers very well, replaced with regional monopolies whose instincts at heart are to serve their own interests. I excuse CBH from that in that they do operate on the notion of returning to growers. I do see that they are different and, indeed, as Senator Joyce said earlier, perhaps there is a case for having different arrangements in different places across the nation.
What we had with the cessation of the single desk for wheat was for the Wheat Export Authority to put in place transitional arrangements—I do acknowledge they were transitional arrangements—to a fully deregulated system. What that Wheat Export Authority has done is accredit wheat growers and also put in place some requirements on the bulk handlers for continuous disclosure to oversight what those bulk handlers were doing and, of course, the access undertakings for those bulk handlers who also had port operations.
What we now see from the government is complete dismantling of the Wheat Export Authority as well. On this side of the chamber, we recognise that the industry has said, 'We are not yet ready to transition to complete deregulation, because there are a number of industry good functions that need to be performed since the cessation of the single desk.' It has become increasingly apparent that these industry good functions need to be performed to ensure the optimum running of the wheat industry, particularly for those wheat growers. It has become increasingly clear that the most appropriate way to deal with that is, as we have reflected in the coalition amendment, through continuing the Wheat Export Authority and then appropriately reconfiguring it to be able to provide the proper processes for those industry good functions to be performed. It is sensible; it is a no brainer. We already have an industry body that is funded by growers at a 22c a tonne levy that is already in place that could easily be reconfigured to do those industry good functions that the industry itself wants to see performed.
Colleagues, we had a Senate inquiry into this and it was abundantly clear that the great majority—again notwithstanding some industry voices in Western Australia—saw that as the appropriate mechanism to provide these functions: primarily access to stocks information and equal and fair opportunity access to ports and quality assurance. Those are very simple, practical, sensible things that the industry and those of us actually out there on the ground understand need to be addressed, so much so that the majority of the state organisations came before the Senate committee to put their collective voice about the fact that the WEA should not be disbanded until these issues were addressed and resolved.
I will just place on the record that AgForce Queensland, Grain Producers South Australia, New South Wales Farmers and the Victorian Farmers Federation all joined forces to reject the bill. They believed that rules were needed if Australian grain was to retain a premium on the world market, if fair access to port terminal services was to be maintained and if the market supply chain was going to be transparent. How sensible and practical is that? Grain Producers South Australia chairman Garry Hansen said:
… we join together to support an evolution of the existing regulation to better facilitate competition for our members' grain.
New South Wales Farmers Grains Chairman, Mark Hoskinson, said:
We are concerned that the removal of specialised wheat regulation in the present market will see the influence held by the three major bulk handlers inhibit competition. This would ultimately be to the detriment of the grain farmers our four organisations represent …