WA digs in on potato control

Brad Thompson, Andrew Probyn and Shane WrightThe West Australian
Rebel: Tony Galati wants potato regulation scrapped.
Camera IconRebel: Tony Galati wants potato regulation scrapped. Credit: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

The State Government is digging in over the future of WA's potato industry, saying it won't be bullied into bringing down the curtain overnight on more than 60 years of regulated marketing.

Agriculture Minister Ken Baston met Spud Shed owner Tony Galati yesterday and spelt out the State's position on retaining the Potato Marketing Corporation until at least 2017.

"While I won't be forced by big business operators to shut down 60 years of controlled marketing overnight, I have made it clear that over the next two years the Government will be moving the industry to a position of being able to compete in a free market," Mr Baston said.

"In the meantime, I would like the retailers like Mr Galati to be telling their shoppers what a great range of quality local potatoes are available year-round in WA at competitive prices."

Mr Galati wants the State to scrap the PMC now or at least order the "spud cop" to leave him alone to go about growing more potatoes.

He has the backing of the Abbott Government after Small Business Minister Bruce Billson branded WA's potato marketing laws a $3.8 million drag on the economy.

Potato Growers Association of WA president Dean Ryan rejected claims that regulation resulted in higher prices and reduced choice.

"Instead of a Federal minister, whose job it is to look after small businesses, attacking almost 100 farming families in WA via the media, maybe he should get off his Canberra chair and come here and meet us," Mr Ryan said. "The reason why the market is dominated by WA produce is simple - the quality is first-class, the availability is constant and the price, at an average of between $2.50 and $3.80 per kilo, makes WA spuds among the cheapest in Australia."

Mr Ryan said there were about 36 varieties of potatoes grown in WA and potatoes regularly entered the local market from interstate.

The Commonwealth's competition supremo Ian Harper said the PMC was outdated. Professor Harper said the PMC rules were regarded as anti-competitive and "prima facie not in the public interest".

The PMC and Mr Galati are in talks aimed at averting a legal fight over claims he is manipulating the market by overplanting at the expense of smaller growers.

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