Wednesday, 10 June 2009

A win for Wilson


t is a rare backbench member of parliament these days who actually achieves anything of substance. Apart from participating in an occasional leadership ballot and reading out a Dorothy Dix question or two most of them spend their time as little more than glorified social workers. So when one does play a major part in a significant change for the better, that backbencher deserves acknowledgement. Hence these words of praise for the West Australian Liberal Wilson Tuckey.
For many years, both when his team was in government and more recently when in opposition, the member for O'Connor fought the good fight on behalf of the wheat growers of his state to get the monopoly of the Australian Wheat Board removed. But no matter how persuasively Mr Tuckey argued the financial benefit of introducing competition, the National Party component of the conservative coalition would not listen and his Liberal colleagues were not prepared to risk upsetting them by forcing the matter.
With the advent of a Labor Government, and the AWB's fall from favour because of its participation in sanction busting sales to Iraq, the sentiment within the Liberal Party changed and legislation to abolish the monopoly finally became law. This was a surprising enough show of independence by the senior coalition member party for the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke, to actually say something nice about the Liberals while answering a question in the House of Representatives.
On this issue they voted against the Nationals. That was the compliment. That will be as good as it gets. But on this issue it was a real compliment, because the National Party, for the sake of the local agripolitics that they get involved with, were willing to see the AWB monopoly continue to behave as it was and see Australian farmers suffer lower prices as a result. And yet, time and again, that judgment is the judgment that the Liberal Party is willing to defer to. But they were not willing to defer when this bill came up, and that is why, when they are willing to exercise a judgment independent of the National Party, we end up with a situation where we get decent legislation and Australian farmers get a premium.
That Wilson Tuckey was right all along about the economic benefit to grain growers was shown by figures from Wheat Exports Australia that Tony Burke quoted. Before the reforms were introduced, the international Chicago price for wheat was consistently above what farmers were getting on the east coast of Australia or the west coast of Australia. But since growers were given a choice as to whom they wanted to sell to, the east coast of Australia prices have gone up to close to parity with the Chicago price and in Western Australia there has been a $35 a tonne premium above what farmers were previously getting.
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