Purely by Chance

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

There is no mistaking the deep, rich gravel tones of former agriculture minister Kim Chance.

Even down a telephone line you can't miss the obvious passion he still has for WA agriculture, despite being out of the limelight for almost 10 years.

Only a few minutes into the conversation, it's easy to understand why this heavyweight of WA's political fabric is so well-known and liked throughout the State.

Back on the land again after years spent negotiating, bargaining and making a hip-pocket difference for WA farmers in the hallowed halls of power, Mr Chance is now spearheading a new business venture that he's clearly very excited about.

But more on that later.

Beginning life as a farmer's son in the political hot bed of Doodlakine, Mr Chance's interest in politics was solidified by his association with high-profile mentors - former senators Peter Walsh and Edgar Prowse.

He light-heartedly remembers his left-wing views being influenced when his dad, a long-time Country Party member, had the opportunity to meet an up and coming Malcolm Fraser in 1961.

"Dad was told Malcolm Fraser was to the be the new leader of the Liberal Party, and dad said then and there he would be changing his allegiance to the Labor Party," he said. But all quips aside, Mr Chance has never hid from his unbending belief that orderly marketing structures, in all agricultural industries, better serve farmers in the longer term.

"I believed farming needed orderly marketing systems, and that the free market was a system designed to exploit farmers rather than to help them; and I still have that view," he said.

Mr Chance began his agri-political career with the Farmers Union (now WAFarmers), as part of the general executive and then treasurer under eccentric president Wolfe Boetcher.

He recalls the many lobbying triumphs and the well-known faces of the organisation in the 1970s and 1980s, and he remembers a time, when travelling with former president Sir Donald Eckerlsey and then-president Beotcher, Gough Whitlam wandered down the aisle of the plane just to give his regards.

"We had a membership of 8000 farmers back then; we were a significant political force," he said.

After selling his farm in 1991, Mr Chance worked for a year at Kellerberrin-based Moylan Silos before being elected to the Legislative Council for the Agricultural Region in 1992.

A backbencher for only a year in the fast-dying Lawrence government, Mr Chance admits it was the worst year of his life.

"Being a backbencher is no fun - basically you are in the mushroom club and required to sit there and get bored and vote the way you are told too," he said.

But the next 16 years would prove to be dramatically different.

"When Richard Court came into Government in 1993, I went to the front bench in opposition and that's when life started to get really interesting," he said.

Appointed minister for agriculture in the Gallop government, Mr Chance is well known throughout the industry for his hard stance against the National Competition Policy review board and his repeated and successful attempts to keep both the WA Potato Marketing Board and the Grain Pool of WA, off the competition table.

Freight rate negotiations were also pivotal to his long term and successful political career, giving him the opportunity to branch out from the eastern Wheatbelt and ensure his name and face became well known.

"People in the eastern Wheatbelt were going to be badly affected by the (Liberal government's) proposed rail freight increase in the order of 30 per cent," he said.

"This issue had lots of parallels with today's Tier 3 campaign, although at the time we were primarily representing farmers along the standard gauge.

"If the rate rise was successful it would have meant farmers in Southern Cross would end up paying $30 for freight while only receiving $110 a tonne for their wheat.

"So we started this separate movement and although we had the support of the Farmers Union, we ran it independently of them.

"Then Yilgarn Shire president Romolo Patroni and I stalked all over the Wheatbelt with this campaign and it ended up being very embarrassing for then-premier Charles Court and transport minister Cyril Rushton at the time, being three weeks away from the election.

"As a result we formed the first grain freight contract and in essence that contract system still exists.

"Over the years that would have equated to millions in freight savings, but in that first year it probably saved eastern Wheatbelt growers in the order of $5 a tonne."

Retiring from politics in 2008, Mr Chance has since been further afield looking for the next challenge, including working as a consultant in the Middle East.

But it's his newest venture that he appears most excited about.

"I'm now the chairman of the board of Dandaragan Camel Dairies Pty Ltd, which is an innovative partnership with an Israeli migrant, based on my newly purchased property in Dandaragan," he said.

"Australia's wild camel population is the biggest and the healthiest in the world. There are no known camel diseases in Australia and that's partly because of very good biosecurity practices employed when the camels were brought into Australia in the 1860s.

"They have had more than 100 years isolation in the Australian outback and that pretty much sorted out any other genetic issue they might have had."

Mr Chance said camel milk had significant health benefits and while comparable in nutritional value to human milk, was similar in taste and texture to cows' milk.

"Probably the most surprising of them all has been the anecdotal evidence and some clinical observations, of the positive impact of this milk on children suffering with autism," he said.

"It has also health benefits for those with type 1 and 2 diabetes, and is an alternative milk for those suffering lactose intolerance."

At 69, Mr Chance doesn't look like retiring any time soon and was recently elected independent chairman of the WA Fishing Industries Council.

Life for him is now about surrounding himself with interesting and dynamic people.

"I like being around people who are pro-development, pro-jobs," he said. "I like people who want to get things done," he said.

"Most of all, I want to help create opportunities for people in the regions; which I guess is where I started from back in 1992."

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails