Among the
bemusing sidelights of Wheatgate is John Howard repeatedly claiming the AWB has,
or at least had, an outstanding reputation. That, of course, is according to
AWB. Just ask them. See the suggested Southpark script above.

The reality is
that AWB has long had as dodgy a reputation as everyone else in the
international wheat trade. The actual Australian wheat is of a high standard,
but according to an experienced international grains trader of my acquaintance,
no-one outside Australia has been under any delusions about what AWB was prepared to do.

My source
suggests further possible fertile grounds for inquiry could be the history of
our trade with Indonesia, Mexico and Egypt, as well as the other countries already mentioned in dispatches.

The reality of
what’s been happening takes the calls for scrapping the export monopoly a step
further. John Quiggan had sound economic arguments for
abandoning the single desk on Friday and I’ve previously voiced the suspicion that the
monopoly itself is a corrupting influence on AWB culture, but the national
embarrassment of this scandal should be the final blow.

The monopoly
makes AWB “our AWB.” Its majority
ownership by Australia’s wheat farmers pretty much makes it “the Australian wheat
industry.” If independent international wheat traders are doing naughty things,
they don’t have to be “ours.”

To take
Quiggan’s arguments a step further, the majority of wheat farmers who presently
support the monopoly must believe AWB can magically produce better-than-market
prices. Maybe corrupt dealing is an understood part of that magic.

Allowing
competition into the Australian export wheat market would make life more
difficult for farmers – they would actually have to make decisions about what
they sell to whom and when. They would have to run their businesses like most
business people do.

The good ones
will profit from that and could improve their profits. The ones that aren’t so
wise might do a little worse. That’s what business is like.

Peter Fray

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