Deregulation of wheat marketing now a near certainty

CSIRO scientists are hunting down and exploiting a number of wheat's key genetic traits in a bid to substantially boost its grain yield.
CSIRO scientists are hunting down and exploiting a number of wheat's key genetic traits in a bid to substantially boost its grain yield. Contributed

THE deregulation of the Australian wheat industry is now close to a certainty.

In the House of Representatives last night, members voted 70-67 in favour of deregulation, with West Australian National Tony Crook crossing the floor and two Coalition MPs, Dr Dennis Jensen and Mal Washer, abstaining.

The Bill now only needs to pass through the Senate where it is likely to receive little opposition before becoming law.

According to The Australian newspaper, the vote occurred only hours after Labor approved a deal with the Greens to create a new quality standards body and port access code of conduct for exporters to ensure the bill's passage through the upper house.

Mr Crook told parliament he had received a lot of criticism because of his support for the bill.

"I am not supporting a Labor bill; I am supporting Western Australian wheat growers and the Western Australian wheat industry," he said.

"Many MPs have also criticised me for crossing the floor in a minority parliament. To those MPs, I say: as a member of parliament I have an obligation to stand up for my constituents, and this obligation to my constituents must come before any obligation to any party room.

"What are we doing as elected representatives if we are not brave enough to stand up for the interests of the good people who had the faith to put us in these positions?"

He said the Western Australian Farmers Federation, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia, CBH, the bulk handlers in WA and most non-aligned growers supported the bill.

"What I have found baffling, and somewhat depressing, is the inability of Western Australian MPs to stand up for their state," he said.

"This is the time: as this debate ends and the bells ring, that will be your litmus test. Regardless of all the public grandstanding, WA MPs will be forced to choose between the interests of their state and their east coast dominated party room. WA Liberal MPs will have to choose: they can either meekly fall into line or stand up and represent Western Australian wheat growers."

But it was the former Speaker, Peter Slipper, who had the strongest criticism of his former Coalition colleagues, particularly Deputy Opposition Leader, Julie Bishop.

"Why is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition urging her Western Australian Liberal colleagues to vote against the interests of the wheat producers of Western Australia and, I would put it more broadly, the wheat producers of Australia?," he asked.

"What is wrong with a person who grows wheat being able to sell wheat to whomsoever they want?

"The Deputy Leader of the Opposition says she supports deregulation, but not while Labor is in office. So if deregulation is good, if and when the opposition is elected to office, why isn't it good now?

"I suppose you have to admire the Deputy Leader of the Opposition because she is supporting her leader.

"After all, she supported-how many leaders has she been deputy to?

"Sadly, I find it quite abhorrent that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is prepared to say to the wheat industry of her home state that it is important to defeat the government legislation not on any matter of principle, not to assist producers, but simply to assist the continued leadership of the Leader of the Opposition - and I presume that she would anticipate that, if the Leader of the Opposition remains in office, she is likely to continue to remain in position as Deputy Leader of the Opposition."

Minister for Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Bourke, said that at its core, the wheat deregulation bill would allow farmers to sell their produce anywhere they wanted, where now they couldn't.

Under current legislation, growers might be offered a higher price, but could not take it.

"I do not think that is fair," he said.

"I do not think that is a reasonable position.

"It is the opposite of free enterprise.

"It is the opposite of an open market and it is the opposite of the direction this parliament ought to go in."

Topics:  agripolitics

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