Deregulation Turmoil

Shane Wright, Andrew Probyn and Claire TyrrellCountryman

WA's grain growers have slammed a decision by WA Federal Liberal MPs not to support full deregulation of Australia's wheat export market.

At a meeting on Tuesday, WA Federal Liberal MPs abandoned their long-standing commitment to deregulate the wheat market after being told an open brawl on the issue could destabilise Tony Abbott's leadership and threaten a coalition election win.

The WA Federal Liberals agreed to support a Nationals move to delay the winding up of the Wheat Export Authority for two years.

It is understood Deputy Opposition leader Julie Bishop told WA MPs and senators that Mr Abbott's leadership was "on the line" over this issue and that any coalition disunity could be disastrous.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) condemned the WA Liberals for having "sold out" on the State and the industry.

"I am disgusted and appalled," PGA Western Grain Growers chairman John Snooke said.

PGA spokesman Sheldon Mumby said the decision not to pass the Federal Government's Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 would hurt growers and leave the industry in limbo.

Further, he said there was the possibility of the industry being re-regulated in two years' time.

"So it makes it very hard to make commercial decisions if you are a grain handler because you don't know what will happen," Mr Mumby said.

WAFarmers grains section president Kim Simpson added that Wheat Exports Australia (WEA) was an unnecessary cost to growers.

"It is costing growers 22 cents a tonne and it isn't value for money anymore," he said.

"It has served its purpose and we would be happy to see it abolished."

Mr Simpson said the WA politicians should listen to growers and support the abolition of WEA.

Ms Bishop, who with other Federal Liberals is bracing for a fierce backlash from party members at the State Council meeting on Saturday, defended the backdown.

She said the Liberal Party would achieve its aim "but we recognise that there are segments of the industry that have issues that must be addressed on the path to full deregulation".

"If it were merely an issue between the Liberal Party and the National party, we would vote separately as we did on wheat in 2008, but there are concerns from Liberal members from South Australia and NSW."

She said WA Nationals MP Tony Crook had told her last Thursday he would back the Nationals' position to have a two-year "transition" to full deregulation.

But Mr Crook said that until the Bill was in its final form, he could not make a "final comment".

The Government's only chance of getting its legislation through relies on striking a deal with the crossbench independents and the Greens.

NSW independent MP Tony Windsor, who is holding talks with Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, said he wanted oversight of exporters and protections, possibly through an ombudsman.

"Everyone thinks I want to go back to the single desk, but that's just not correct," Mr Windsor said. "I'm just looking for some protection for growers."

In WA's Wheatbelt, Watheroo farmer Alex Keamy said he firmly supported the Federal Government's stance on wheat export deregulation.

"It needs to be fully deregulated," he said.

"We need an open market because it will give us access to all available markets and all options."

Mr Keamy called on WA politicians to stand up for growers on this issue. "WA is the major wheat exporting State in Australia so they need to listen to our views," he said.

He said the Nationals were "not doing growers any good" on the issue of wheat exports and supported a break in coalition ranks.

Dalwallinu producer Harry Hyde also urged the Federal Liberals not to provide a road block for deregulation of the wheat industry.

Mr Hyde said he was happy to have deregulation and was concerned that a decision to delay the passage of the Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill would create uncertainty in the market place.

WA grain handler and marketer CBH said failure to pass the Bill would dent investor confidence in the industry.

"We support the Bill and the removal of what are now unnecessary costs and regulation of wheat marketing arrangements," a CBH spokesman said.

"CBH, like other major participants in an increasingly competitive grains sector, requires legislative certainty to continue to invest in key assets that will maintain and drive economic efficiencies to ensure WA grain remains competitive in world markets."

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