Rice Marketing Amendment (Prevention of National Competition Policy Penalties) Bill
The Hon. HENRY TSANG (Parliamentary Secretary) [5.00 p.m.], on behalf of the Hon. Ian Macdonald: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.
Leave not granted.
I refer honourable members to the second reading speech on this bill that was given in the other place.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [5.00 p.m.]: The Minister is not in attendance for this important bill. The House had to adjourn for five minutes until the Minister's speech arrived. The Parliamentary Secretary sought to incorporate into Hansard the Minister's speech. Interestingly, the title of this bill is the Rice Marketing Amendment (Prevention of National Competition Policy Penalties) Bill. A strange title for a bill, one might think. It is certainly a title put forward by someone who likes to play politics, someone who believes that politics and spin are adequate substitutes for doing the job properly. Had the Minister for Primary Industries done his job and established a case to the Federal Government on the agreement that was signed by all State governments, the bill would not have been introduced. The House was delayed for some time waiting for the Minister who has the carriage of this bill to show up, but he still has not shown up.
The Opposition will move two amendments to the bill. The first will amend the title to delete the "Prevention of National Competition Policy Penalties" to show it up for what it really is—a deregulation bill. It has been brought on because of the ineptitude of the Minister for Primary Industries, who swans around the State rejoicing in the name "Biggles" as he charters aircraft to take him from one wine event to another, yet fails to do the serious grunt work when it comes to his responsibilities.
I lead for the Opposition on this extremely contentious bill. The Opposition opposes any moves by the State Government to deregulate the New South Wales domestic rice market. More than 98 per cent of Australia's rice is grown in New South Wales. The industry supports more than 8,000 jobs and contributes some $800 million to the economy. The domestic rice industry is one of the most successful of this State's industries, and it is the major employer in the Riverina region of New South Wales.
Rice was first grown in Australia in the early 1920s near the townships of Leeton and Griffith. Today the industry supports 63 regional towns. For every $1 in rice production, $60 is generated in associated activity, and four jobs are created for each person directly employed in the rice industry. Some visitors to the gallery would agree with everything I am saying. Last month when the Hon. Ian Macdonald announced what he was going to do, the President of Rice Growers Association of Australia, Laurie Arthur, issued the following press release:
Why anyone would want to change arrangements that have made our industry one of the nation's most successful and one that benefits all Australians is beyond me.
He went on further to say:
This decision to chip away at the foundations of our great industry will anger all rice growers.
That press release was aimed at the comments of the Minister and I will address them again later. This view is held by the majority of New South Wales rice growers, and I ask honourable members on the crossbench not to be fooled by the fluff of Country Labor members, who will try to say that rice growers believe the opposite to be the case. In their hearts they know what is true. Furthermore, SunRice, which processes and markets Australian rice food products in Australia and overseas, shares the view of the Rice Growers Association. SunRice's long-serving chairman, Gerry Lawson, was reported in the Rural as saying that he could not believe the State Government would want to undermine the fourth-largest Australian food company. He added:
SunRice is one of Australia's biggest exporters of branded products and the fifth-largest food company in the world. Why would anyone risk that?
That is a good point. Who but the Minister for Primary Industries would risk that? In the Riverine Grazier Mr Lawson expressed concern that Australia's export market could be eroded by interstate rice finding its way into the international market if deregulation occurred. I have clearly outlined the views held by New South Wales rice growers and industry representatives, SunRice and the Rice Growers Association of Australia. I state again the Opposition will oppose the bill, which, according to the overview, proposes to amend the Marketing of Primary Products Act 1983:
(a) to provide that, with limited exceptions, any person is entitled to be appointed as an authorised buyer of rice, subject to a condition prohibiting the person from selling or supplying rice in the export market except with the Board's written approval, and
(b) to allow a person to apply to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal for a review of the Board's decision in relation to an appointment or application for appointment, other than a decision with respect to a condition referred to in paragraph (a), and
(c) to provide that the existing appointment of the Co-operative as an authorised buyer of rice is not to be construed as an exclusive appointment in relation to the sale or supply of rice within Australia, and
(d) To make other provision of a minor, consequential and ancillary nature.
Under current marketing arrangements all rice grown in New South Wales is vested in the Rice Marketing Board of New South Wales. This provides a single marketing desk for rice irrespective of whether it is sold for domestic or export consumption. In 1995 New South Wales was the first State to sign on for the national competition policy, and the State at that time was governed by the Labor Party. It might try to blame the Federal Government for this, but there was no roadblock on the way to Canberra as Bob Carr went beep, beep, beep down the highway to sign the paper. Bob Carr said, "Give us the money and we will do whatever you want." Labor now blames the Federal Government for having signed this document.
As I said in 1995, the New South Wales Carr Labor Government—we still have the same mob but just a little more inept than it was—was the first State to sign on to national competition policy, which was signed by all governments. Governments were asked to review legislation that could be considered anti-competitive. If such a review showed that there was not a public benefit in the retention of the legislation, then governments were obliged to end the anti-competitive arrangements. The New South Wales Government recently completed the third review in 10 years, which again demonstrated the net public benefits of current marketing arrangements.
The public interest in having a single desk for exports was adequately demonstrated. However, aspects of domestic control were found to be unnecessary. Two reviews had previously concluded that the arrangements as they stand deliver economic benefits for growers and for the community as a whole. Given that there are many adverse impacts associated with domestic deregulation, it is the Opposition's view that the New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries, the Hon. Ian Macdonald, who has still not shown up in the House, has failed in his duties to adequately demonstrate the public interest of the current domestic arrangements. In fact, he did worse than that: while negotiations were continuing on 18 October he issued a press release headed "Commonwealth bullies force domestic deregulation of rice". He said that the Federal Government had forced him into a situation in which he had no choice but to deregulate the rice industry.
The Hon. Tony Catanzariti: That was what you wanted.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: It is interesting to note the comments made by Laurie Arthur, President of the Rice Growers Association of Australia on the same day. I can quote the whole of it but I will go to the third paragraph.
The Hon. Tony Catanzariti: Quote what Gerry Lawson said.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: I am happy to quote the whole of it. When it came out Macca had a bit of a whinge. His Country Labor mate who is about to sell out the industry and vote for deregulation asked me to read the whole of the press release. I will read it and he may weep:
DISBELIEF AT DECISION TO DEREGULATE RICE INDUSTRY
"The President of the Rice Growers Association of Australia (RGA), Laurie Arthur, today expressed his disbelief at the decision to deregulate the domestic market for rice.
"Two inquiries have found that Australia is substantially better off under the current arrangements. In fact the most recent independent report found a $45 million public benefit in to the Australian consumer," he said.
This is the crucial bit, the bit that the inept member from down in the Riverina asked me to read:
"I accept that the NSW Government was under enormous pressure from the Federal Government which was threatening to withhold payments as part of their competition policy. But it is disappointing that the NSW Government chose to act now as the rice industry is still in negotiations with the Federal Government, having proven our arrangements meet the NCC's net benefit requirements. We therefore believe that this action is premature.
The Rice Growers Association was disappointed that the Government took the action while negotiations were still in progress. The Minister shows his absolute contempt for the Parliament and for the bill being considered by not showing up until halfway through the debate. Instead of doing his job he has proved to be the same as all his predecessors and failed to do his job properly. He wanted to play politics by putting out a press release while the negotiations were continuing. And it worked, because as soon as he issued the press release the negotiations ceased. He has the support of Peter Black and Tony Catanzariti. They knew exactly what he was doing and they supported him every inch of the way. They will vote for the bill. People in the Riverina or in Cowra know that this is a problem that the Government has itself created. All other Ministers were unable, through goodwill, to negotiate their way out of the problem. But this bloke could not do it. Even Country Labor member Tony Catanzariti in a sober moment of reflection—which he can have but which his colleague in the lower House, Peter Black, cannot—has admitted deregulation of the domestic rice market is bad news. He told the Griffith paper, the Area News that the State Government's decision would result in hundreds of job losses in the region.
The Hon. Tony Catanzariti: It is your Federal Government—
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: You have been misquoted, have you? He said, "We will lose jobs, make no mistake of that... it's just a shemozzle." But I ask the Country Labor member, a member who purports to represent the Riverina region, whether he will commit to opposing his Government's deregulation bill. The comments in the newspaper would certainly lead constituents to believe that he plans to oppose the bill. Frankly, his constituents would be gravely disappointed to know that, no matter what, the cynical so-called Country Labor faction never votes against the Labor position in this House. They do not like me to say there are no Country Labor members in this House. When it came to putting their name on the ticket they forgot to put the word "Country" in front of it. Every one of these shonks has been elected on the Australian Labor Party ticket, not on the so-called Country Labor ticket—further chicanery, further smoke and mirrors. They peddle themselves under the name of Country Labor. I invite the Hon. Tony Catanzariti to take a point of order to correct my remarks if I am wrong, instead of sitting there spitting like some demented barfly. The quality of the State Government's latest submission to the National Competition—
The Hon. Tony Catanzariti: They did not listen to you, Duncan. You just were not good enough.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: Stand up and show us that you have got some ticker and vote with us. The Hon. Tony Catanzariti is a hero in the electorate when he is talking to the local paper but in the Parliament he has no ticker. The quality of the State Government's latest submission to the National Competition Council has to be questioned. An entire industry was relying on the Government's submission but the State Government has clearly let them down by not doing its job properly. The State Government should have prosecuted its case to retain the current marketing arrangements as delivering a net interest benefit but has failed to do so. Minister Macdonald failed to sell the benefits of the current arrangements. In fact, on previous occasions when the Hon. Ian Macdonald played his deregulation card we found out that the so-called strong-on-the-detail submissions that he put to the Federal Government in many cases resulted in less than a page and a half, and in one case it was even less than one page. We have asked him on numerous occasions to detail what he said in Canberra and so far he has refused to tell us what he said. I am told that a letter is on the web site for this one, but on previous occasions when he has pulled the deregulation rein, it has been pretty pathetic.
The Hon. Tony Catanzariti: Who created the problem.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: Sorry?
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: As The Nationals did with milk
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: It takes two to sign an agreement. One was the Federal Government and the other was the State Government—this State Government.
The Hon. Tony Catanzariti: Where was Duncan?
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: I had nothing to do with this agreement. This was signed by your Government, cobber. You do not like it, do you? You sit there and grin like an idiot. You cannot take the fact that your Government signed off on this thing that you are giving a hammering to. There is a strong case to support the domestic rice market and yet Minister Macdonald has failed to fight for its survival and then has the cheek to blame the Commonwealth Government. This Minister has simply used the deregulation card to once again cover his personal lack of action.
Anyone that cannot turn up on time for legislation obviously would not be doing his job properly. Contrary to the Minister's claims, the State Government has not done everything in its power to protect the industry. The benefits of our domestic rice marketing arrangements far outweigh any disadvantages. It is not in any way difficult to argue in favour of the current arrangements. The State Government is blaming someone else once again for its own sins.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: Are you going to watch the soccer now, Duncan? Why was it brought on early, Duncan? For you to watch the soccer!
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: The Minister for Primary Industries indicated that this matter was brought on at this time so I could watch the soccer.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: That is what you wanted.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: Everyone in this House knows, except the Minister, that I do not follow soccer; I follow Rugby Union.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: Yes, but that does not mean you will not watch the soccer. Are you going to watch the soccer, Duncan?
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: This legislation was brought on at this stage because this is where it is in the list.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: It was meant to be on tonight.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: Once again the Minister is telling lies. The bill introduced before this one was the TAFE Commission, and the one before that was vocational education and training. On the Government's own list, provided to us by your staff, the next bill was to be rice marketing, so it has come on in the order the Government told us it would come on. The Minister is so desperate that he is once again now lying to the House, having lied to the people of New South Wales, saying that we wanted it brought on now so I could watch the soccer.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: Are you going to watch the soccer?
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: When the soccer is on I am going to be here, arguing this case with you. If the Minister wants to interrupt the House to go and watch the soccer, and put the soccer match ahead of the rice growers in this State, he can. He can play the soccer card if he wants to, but the rest of us will be trying to stick up for the rice industry. I have been informed that the State Government has also failed to be open to suggestions to improve the legislation and make it slightly workable for the industry. The Minister's second reading speech clearly stipulated that the State Government would be happy to make refinements, but it appears that that is absolutely not the case. Once again we have a tale of the State Minister saying one thing and then doing another—as we saw a moment ago.
The industry, although furious with the possibility of deregulation, would like a three-year moratorium on deregulation, but the State Government flatly refused. So not only is the State Government forcing deregulation on an industry that does not want it, it will not even discuss possible changes to the legislation. Frankly, this State Government will go down in the record books as the most inadequate Government ever seen in this State, so far as sticking up for rural industries is concerned. Therefore, in Committee the Opposition will move a vital amendment to ensure that the deregulation of the domestic rice market does not happen before 1 July 2009. This deregulation that we do not want should not be rushed. In the short time I have been able to consult on this matter, because the Government is intent on being hasty with the legislation, industry has indicated to me that deregulation cannot simply occur overnight, because existing contracts run until 2009.