Wheat Bill has date with Senate

Kate PollardCountryman

Farmers and industry groups across the grain belt are celebrating a win, after the Gillard Government's Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill was passed in the Lower House last week.

The Bill had been at a standstill but was passed 70 votes to 67 with the support of Labor, the Greens, independents and WA Nationals MP Tony Crook.

Coalition MPs Dennis Jensen and Mal Washer refused to tow the Liberal Party line and abstained from voting.

The Bill is expected to pass in the Senate when debated later this month, resulting in Australia's wheat market moving to full deregulation as recommended by the Productivity Commission.

The Bill abolishes the Wheat Export Accreditation Scheme and wheat export charge, winds up Wheat Exports Australia (WEA) from December 31 and removes the access test for grain port terminal operators from September 2014. It also repeals the Wheat Export Marketing Act 2008 from October 1, 2014.

WAFarmers grain section president Kim Simpson said it would save growers 22 cents per tonne as well as fees associated with accreditation and port access.

Amendments to the Bill by the Greens included a mandatory code of conduct overseen by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and a wheat export advisory taskforce.

Discussions for a code of conduct around port access are being negotiated by industry participants, with the Greens wanting the amendments to the code made mandatory and enforceable rather than voluntary as contained in the initial legislation.

Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the taskforce would use funds left over from WEA to provide advice to Government and industry on areas including the development of grain quality standards and mechanisms for timely grain stock information.

The funds are estimated to be between $2 million and $4 million.

The taskforce will comprise a panel of experts from across the wheat export supply chain and will be supported by a secretariat within the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

But industry players, including CBH, believe a voluntary code overseen by an independent committee would have been more efficient and transparent for port terminal access services.

CBH group chief executive Andy Crane said there was a risk a mandatory code overseen by the ACCC could mean more costs for growers and restrict the ability to respond quickly to changing conditions.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) has campaigned for deregulation for 20 years and Western Grain Growers chairman John Snooke said he was confident the Bill would be passed.

"We have a great and exciting grains industry in WA. It has its ups and downs but we can now look to the future without unnecessary statutory oversight," Mr Snooke said.

However, the passing of the Bill in the Lower House prompted a mixed reaction from the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF).

The VFF fears control of essential infrastructure will be handed to multinationals and remove independent government insight.

Cranbrook grain grower John Tuckett said he just wanted the issue resolved once and for all.

"The industry needs to either be fully deregulated or fully regulated," Mr Tuckett said.

"There is no point having government control when we export in a free market and I think we have to be fully deregulated but as farmers, we have far greater issues."

Ben Sprigg, who farms not far from Mr Tuckett, believes the WEA was unnecessary as an organisation.

"The freer the better," he said.

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