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GRAIN exporters will lobby the Howard Government to strip AWB of its export monopoly this week
GRAIN exporters will lobby the Howard Government to strip AWB of its export monopoly this week, arguing that too much power rests in the hands of one organisation.

The Australian Grain Exporters Association will propose the $3.5 billion wheat export trade be opened up, with a regulatory body set up to register bulk exporters.

AWB is the subject of the Cole commission's inquiry into the payment of $290million to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

Association president Philip Hughes said he felt the Government had no choice but to deregulate the sector.

''The circumstances show the current wheat marketing legislation is flawed, due to the power that gives to one organisation,'' Mr Hughes said.

''What we have seen is that AWB has not been disclosing its activities to either the Wheat Export Authority or, it appears, to the Government. So really we have this company that has incredible power, that has been in a position to do whatever it wants.''

John Howard, Peter Costello and Opposition Leader Kim Beazley have all said AWB's export monopoly over Australian wheat -- the so-called single desk -- should be reviewed.

But the Nationals, with the exception of federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran, are rallying behind the single desk and oppose the deregulation of AWB's operations.

This could lead to the Liberals voting in parliament with the ALP, which deregulated the domestic wheat market in 1989, to end AWB's single desk.

Mr Hughes said a system with more checks and balances, and open to other exporters ''is going to give the best possible returns to the Australian grower, and the public as a whole''.

Under the Wheat Marketing Act, AWB International, a subsidiary of AWB, can veto all bulk exports of wheat.

Only one bulk export of wheat by a company other than AWB has been allowed since AWB was privatised in 1999, and that is widely regarded as a slip-up by the company.

The National Competition Council said in December the federal Government had failed to show that restricting competition in the export of wheat was in the public interest.

Mr Hughes said several grower-owned companies, including Western Australia's CBH and the east coast company GrainCorp, were already exporting other grains, while private companies such as Cargill were trading huge tonnages of wheat on the domestic market.

''They have firmly established functions to trade those grains, and customer relationships overseas, so they would very quickly fill the void,'' he said.
MGR Archive 7.2.2006
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