Premier fires up debate over CBH

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
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Premier Colin Barnett has re-ignited the debate over the future of CBH by supporting calls to corporatise the grain industry giant.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association has said that corporatising CBH would unlock about $4 billion for its 4300 grower members and help ease debt levels in the Wheatbelt.

Mr Barnett backed the PGA position in a move that puts him at odds with peak lobby group WAFarmers and the CBH board, which has repeatedly said it is committed to the co-operative structure.

"I think there is a lot of merit, I've got to say," Mr Barnett told ABC Radio yesterday.

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"I think a lot of capital is tied up there and CBH, if it goes down that path, can probably become more active in a whole range of different agricultural areas."

WAFarmers grains section president Kim Simpson said he was disappointed with the comments, which did not reflect the view of the vast majority of grain growers.

The PGA has argued that CBH's value might have reached a peak as it braces for competition in grain accumulation, storage and transport after operating as a virtual monopoly for the past 80 years.

New York Stock Exchange-listed Bunge and Chinese-backed interests are setting up supply chains from Bunbury and Albany ports respectively.

With US-based Archer Daniels Midland set to complete a $3 billion takeover of GrainCorp this year, CBH will become the last big player in the Australian grains industry not in multinational hands.

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