The scandal over AWB’s major breaches of UN sanctions on Iraq has understandably led to major questions about the future of the single desk system used for all wheat exported from Australia. Like all political parties, the Democrats have supported the single desk arrangement, but I don’t believe it can be justified any longer. It is hard to see how the current arrangements can continue to deliver the best price for the average grower, and it is clearly disadvantaging some at present
That means that on this occasion, if the government decided on a course of action to reform the system, Barnaby Joyce would be unlikely to be to able block the changes, as I and other Democrats are prepared to support modifications in the Senate. Indeed the situation facing some growers in WA at the moment is fairly urgent, and I think there needs to be at least an interim solution found for their predicament.
There is a lot of tension within the Coalition at the moment over this question. Some Liberal Senators are proposing to introduce their own Private Senators Bill seeking to immediately allow AWB’s veto to be able overridden in West Australia, while Barnaby Joyce has said he will oppose moves to abolish the single desk in the Senate. This media release spells out our position a bit more fully.
At the moment, AWB has a veto right over any proposal to export wheat. The rationale is that a single seller is seen as being able to deliver the best price for the average wheat grower. This may well have been the case in the past, but frankly the evidence I’ve seen suggesting it is still the case is pretty thin, and there are certainly specific examples where growers who could have sold their wheat for a higher price were prevented from doing so by AWB. Whilst I don’t support moving to a totally unregulated market overnight, it is clear that the single desk cannot survive in its current form.
I don’t have any specific model I’m promoting. I am just acknowledging that there needs to be prompt reform, which should be done in consultation with grassroots growers. There are many different views amongst growers, including some who still believe the single desk is best. The nature of changes could be negotiated in conjunction with ongoing trade arrangements, so it doesn’t make sense to be too prescriptive.