Tension mounts on wheat reform

Andrew Probyn and Claire TyrrellCountryman
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As WA's harvest ramps up with the first 1500 tonnes of wheat delivered to Geraldton Port on Tuesday, the debate over the deregulation of wheat exports continues to rage.

On Tuesday, Tony Abbott sought to prevent WA Liberals from staging a revolt on wheat industry reform by promising to extract a commitment to full deregulation from The Nationals leader Warren Truss.

But it was unclear whether this would be enough to stop some WA Liberal MPs following the lead of NSW Liberal Alby Schultz in abstaining from the vote when the Government presents its Bill to abolish Wheat Exports Australia (WEA).

Dennis Jensen, Ken Wyatt and Mal Washer, all of whom want the Government's wheat deregulation plan to succeed, are believed to be keeping their options open. They will be guided, in part, by the chances of the Bill passing the Senate.

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WA Liberal senators Alan Eggleston and Dean Smith have indicated they would cross the floor in support of the Bill but their support would not be enough to guarantee its passage.

The Government already has the support of WA Nationals MP Tony Crook in the Lower House on the Wheat Bill and is hopeful it can get the support of NSW independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott.

At a meeting of Liberal MPs and senators on Tuesday, Mr Abbott and 14 others spoke on the Wheat Deregulation Bill.

WA MPs Steve Irons and Judi Moylan commended Deputy Opposition leader Julie Bishop's handling of the issue and Don Randall declared he would "not be intimidated by people who have left this place", in reference to Wilson Tuckey.

Dr Jensen, Dr Washer and senators Eggleston and Smith made clear their preference for full deregulation under the Government's timetable.

Senator Smith said deregulation, by his definition, meant the abolition of the WEA and the 22 cent a tonne levy that funded it, a remark directed at the coalition's official position to amend the WEA or replace it with another body.

At the end of the debate on wheat, Mr Abbott said he and Mr Truss would release a joint statement later in the week to guarantee "full deregulation" of the wheat industry under a future coalition Government.

He told reporters: "We support deregulation but there's got to be a managed transition and there are three very important issues that need to be properly addressed by the industry and by the Government before full deregulation can take place.

"There's the issue of access to ports, there's the issue of market information, there's the issue of quality control. We support deregulation."

With nearly 700 hectares of wheat already harvested, having started on October 1, Mullewa growers Mark and John Flannagan said they shared the views of the majority of WA growers.

"We have dealt with all the main exporters in the market and I don't see any need for regulation," Mark Flannagan said.

"Most people in WA would like it to be deregulated. WA's wheat is mostly export-oriented. We haven't got the domestic market the eastern states have."

He added that yields were sitting about 1.1-1.2 tonnes per hectare for wheat, with the "poorer stuff a bit under a tonne and the better stuff slightly above".

CBH Esperance zone manager Mick Daw said grain was coming in from Yuna, Northampton, Binnu and east of Mullewa with the Mingenew bin due to open this week.

Growers in the southern and eastern parts of the State will also start to deliver grain this week.

"We should start to see some canola in the Esperance zone on Wednesday and some grain from the Kwinana and Albany zones in about a week," Mr Daw said.

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