Tensions brew on full wheat deregulation

Countryman (Western Australia)

Liberal and National Party tensions are set to reignite over wheat, as State battle lines are drawn.

In July, Agriculture Minister and Nationals deputy leader Barnaby Joyce released a draft port access code of conduct to industry, in which the Government sought feedback on a range of national options, including continuing with current access arrangements, introducing a one-size-fits-all mandatory code of conduct, creating a mandatory code of conduct that accounted for competition levels and vertical integration, or repealing the Wheat Export Marketing Act by September 30.

In 2012, a stoush broke out between the Liberal and National parties when former shadow Federal minister for agriculture John Cobb influenced a group of NSW, SA and WA Liberals to vote against the former Gillard Government's legislation to fully deregulate the wheat export industry by 2014.

The coalition's blocking of the legislation meant Labor had to do a deal with the Greens to have the Bill passed, which included a mandatory code of conduct for grain export terminals.

Other tensions between the conservative parties over grain marketing have also been well documented, with the bodies at loggerheads over the export single desk in 1999 and the refusal of Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey to allow a $3 billion bid by Archer Daniels Midland to buy GrainCorp in 2013, which resulted in public tension between Mr Joyce and Mr Hockey.

Speaking at the PGA convention last week, WA Liberal Senator Dean Smith warned that WA agriculture had to remain extra vigilant to ensure wheat exports remained fully deregulated in Australia.

Mr Smith said the politics of the deregulation of wheat export marketing arrangements were similar to the carbon tax debate, except it involved people in the same party room.

Many of you will remember at the time of the debate in Parliament I took a different view to the view that was adopted by my own party, he said.

But at the time it was the right decision and to this day I have no regrets about the position I took.

Mr Smith said he expected revisionist thinking would again emerge in the debate.

Do not think the opponents of full deregulation on the East Coast to have given up, he said.

We will need to work together to protect the hard-won victory and re-demonstrate that deregulation produces better results for producers.

As a Liberal it is incumbent on me to pursue policies that lead to smaller government, remove red tape and bureaucracy, and remove taxes and charges.

PGA spokesman Leon Bradley said he expected Mr Joyce would favour the imposition of a mandatory code, with a view to implementing expanding powers.

I'd expect Mr Joyce to favour further measures which would allow domestic growers power over the entire supply chain, which would be from the farm to the cargo ship, he said.

A CBH spokesman said the organisation was waiting for the design of the mandatory code to be revealed.

In the meantime we are pushing forward on our proposed access undertaking, in case the code doesn't make it through parliament, he said.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said he could not comprehend why there seemed to be an appetite in the Eastern States to reintroduce regulation.

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