PGA and CBH in war of words

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association has hit back at accusations by CBH chairman Wally Newman that the State's second largest farm lobby group has cost growers millions of dollars.

More than a fortnight ago, Mr Newman informed the PGA he wouldn't be renewing his membership and the _Countryman _understands he may have been put under some internal pressure from the CBH board to relinquish his association with the group.

Last week, Mr Newman accused the PGA of an ongoing campaign to undermine the $3 billion co-operative and lobbying for its corporatisation, which was unrepresentative of the vast majority of growers' views.

Mr Newman said although the PGA only represented about 3 per cent of the throughput in grain, it had 50 per cent say in the press.

He accused the PGA of "untold damage" to WA growers over the port access code, tax exemptions and other associated areas.

At the time of the accusations, PGA president and long-time friend of Mr Newman, Tony Seabrook, said it was not fair to assert that the PGA was responsible for costing growers millions of dollars.

"Mr Newman is happy to throw rocks at PGA but it's not our fault CBH lost its tax exemption or that they've been hit with a port access code," he said at the time.

"The PGA has always been about putting dollars back into growers' pockets. And the PGA has also helped growers by lobbying hard to deregulate the wheat market that has only ever benefited growers. Wally Newman should back up his statement with some fact about how the PGA has cost growers millions of dollars."

This week, Mr Seabrook sent a letter to the _Countryman _ stating his concerns in more detail.

Mr Seabrook said he and the PGA remained at a loss to understand why the chairman of the co-operative was of the opinion that such opposition and support of competition was costing growers money.

"As every PGA member, and detractor, knows, the primary role of the PGA is to protect the financial interests of our members and the industry that it represents. This we do exceptionally well," Mr Seabrook said.

"It is our members' dedication to the principles of the free market that has seen the PGA emerge as the most influential agricultural lobby group in the State and it is unassailable that the successes attained by the PGA have brought benefits to all producers worth hundreds of millions of dollars every year."

Mr Seabrook said PGA had a good track record of wins for the industry. He also defended the PGA's stance on tax exemptions and deregulation, calling it "beneficial to the industry".

"Whilst the PGA is not supportive of CBH's current exemption from the port access code, as it is our long term position that the introduction of a mandatory code of conduct is not necessary in today's open market, we remain at a loss to understand why Mr Newman is of the opinion that such opposition to tax exemptions and deregulation is costing growers money.

"In fact we believe unequivocally that the opposite is true," he said.

"As well, CBH's recent losses of its exemption from payroll tax and stamp duty, and the recent investigation by the ACCC over CBH's port access arrangements are solely the product of CBH management, and have nothing to do with the PGA.

"In fact, the PGA remains one of the loudest voices calling for the removal of payroll tax, and we are supported in our position by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA."

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