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Australian grain: AWB sees review as little threat
SYDNEY ,An independent review of Australia's monopoly wheat exporter AWB Ltd, required by legislation passed in the hours of Friday, would not drag it over the same hot coals as a major inquiry in 2000, AWB's chairman said on Friday.
An independent panel, which the government will appoint to oversee a scheduled annual review of AWB's operation, was not expected to threaten the monopoly powers, Brendan Stewart said.
AWB was confident that it could demonstrate its success at operating the single desk, he told Reuters after the Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill 2003 was passed by parliament.
Critics of AWB and its export monopoly, which broadened a routine funding bill for statutory export controller the Wheat Export Authority into the requirement for an independent review, would not de-stabilise AWB with the investigation, Stewart said.
Agriculture Minister Warren Truss, who has already strongly supported AWB's monopoly and attacked its critics, will appoint the three-person panel.
"The opportunity for political appointments or industry representatives or vested interests is minimised and that's certainly something that we welcome," Stewart said.
Crucially, the legislation leaves intact AWB's right to be consulted by WEA over export applications by private traders for containerised or bagged wheat.
"The legislation recognises that the bags and container markets could be used by those people who wished to undermine the single desk, if there wasn't some consultation," Stewart said.
The appointment of independent panel members would help overcome "perception issues" that AWB had a conflict of interest between a shareholder-owned Stock Exchange listed company and a monopoly exporter of wheat in the national interest, he said.
"The rest of it (new requirements) really is putting into legislation those things which have been done voluntarily between AWB and WEA," he said.
These include legal powers by WEA to demand information of AWB and tougher provisions for AWB accountability to growers.
The independent panel would have a broad term of reference including wheat export arrangements, including niche marketing, AWB export rights and its role in export consents, Truss said in a statement late on Friday.
However, the panel would not deal with continuation of the single desk itself.
"The government has reasserted its support for the single desk while ever it delivers benefits to growers," he said, describing the Senate inquiry, which preceded the legislation as "a divisive time for the wheat industry".
Grower body and AWB supporter the Grains Council of Australia said on Friday it was relieved by the legislation, which on balance was positive for the industry.
MGR Archive 30.6.2003
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