Change in Australia

by Teresa Acklin
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New Australian minister outlines proposals for Wheat Board restructure.

   The Australian Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, John Anderson, told grain growers that the recently elected coalition government supported the continuation of the Australian Wheat Board's single-desk export authority. The A.W.B., the statutory wheat marketing authority, reports to and is accountable to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy.

   In addressing the annual Grains Week Conference of the Grains Council of Australia in May, Mr. Anderson said that the Australian wheat industry should be restructured under a four-point, five-year reform plan.

   "There is a need to plan for the wheat industry when the government (A.W.B.) guarantee ends in 1999 — maintaining the status quo is not an option," he said.

   Mr. Anderson said the A.W.B.'s future structure should be based on four key elements:

   • re-affirmation of the government's support for the continuation of the Australian Wheat Board's single-desk export control;

   • adoption of measures to enhance commercialism of the A.W.B. in 1996-97 — either through corporatization or another variant, preferably based on the grower model for A.W.B. restructuring;

   • on the basis of grower advice in 1998-99, settle the structure of the A.W.B. and ownership of WIF (grower-financed Wheat Industry Fund that supports a capital base for the Board) to apply after 1999, when the government guarantee of borrowings ends; and

   • implementation of the new structure in 1999-2000 so that it can be immediately effective when government guarantees cease, with the industry adopting its own non-statutory financing arrangements from that time.

   The government, Mr. Anderson concluded, "has already provided fundamental support by pledging that the A.W.B.'s export monopoly would continue, so as to guarantee a high degree of certainty to the industry and to allow it to plan for the future with confidence.

   After the meeting, Mr. Anderson announced an accelerated process of change to move the A.W.B.'s activities towards a more commercial focus. As part of the effort, management of WIF investments will be transferred from the A.W.B. to a commercial subsidiary "as soon as possible" to allow more time for evaluation of commercial management.

   Mr. Anderson was named federal Minister for Primary Industries and Energy as part of a complete ministerial alignment following the defeat in March of the Labor Party by a new political coalition. Mr. Anderson replaced Bob Collins as minister. A former farmer and cattleman, Mr. Anderson, 39, is a member of parliament for Gwydir, a rural seat in northern New South Wales, which produces wool, beef, pork, wheat, cotton and oilseed crops.