FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig wants the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill to pass through parliament this year as a priority, after months of protracted delays.
However, Grain Producers Australia (GPA) is fighting for an extension amid concerns at the lack of clarity around late amendments to the Bill raised by the Australian Greens last month.
In particular, GPA’s key concern is an amendment that would see port access rules managed through a mandatory code of conduct and overseen by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), rather than a voluntary one.
The Bill passed the House of Representatives earlier this month but will need to be presented again after passing the Senate to include the Green’s amendments.
A spokesperson for Labor Victorian Senator and manager of government business in the Senate Jacinta Collins said the wheat legislation was a priority to be passed this year.
The Bill was introduced into the Senate on Monday and could be debated and voted on next week, with a short turnaround likely to see it pass the House of Representatives.
Speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media this week, Minister Ludwig said there was a “high probability” the legislation would be passed this year, to remove Wheat Exports Australia (WEA) and repeal the Wheat Export Marketing Act 2008.
“The Greens are supportive of the Bill and they’ll also want to see it pass through the parliament this year,” he said.
“I think it’s important that we then remove the red tape for exporters as soon as possible.
“And for the people in the WEA, the employees, I think it gives them certainty too.
“It’s very important to… make sure the argument doesn’t carry on into the new year.”
Minister Ludwig said according to the legislation’s original schedule the WEA was due to expire in October, but its operations - and 22 cents a tonne levy - have been extended, until the Bill is finally passed.
He said the delays were caused by Coalition infighting and the National Party’s attitude in trying to extend and expand WEA’s operations, in taking on industry’s concerns for port access, grain stock information and grain export quality controls.
In contrast, WA Liberal MPs were urged to back the legislation and support the State’s growers and bulk grain handler CBH, who demanded they support the government’s deregulation plans and remove the unnecessary red tape.
The Green’s support for abolishing the WEA is conditional upon the federal government establishing a new body by July 1, 2013.
The Greens also support repealing the Wheat Export Marketing Act 2008 in its entirety, which is conditional on implementing a mandatory industry Code of Conduct overseen by the ACCC through the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, by October 1, 2014.
GPA chairman Pete Mailler said GPA was arguing for a delay in passing the legislation to provide more time to put more “rigour” in the deregulation process and examine the mandatory code of conduct’s ramifications.
“Once you remove the WEA and the Wheat Marketing Act there’s no assurance of what the outcome is going to be for growers,” he said.
“We understand the intent of what people are trying to achieve here and we understand the Greens support for the government in trying to break an impasse and look after growers with a useful framework.
“But there’s still not enough detail to make a proper assessment.”