Michael Pascoe writes:

Despite the logic and the Liberal
Party’s free market pretensions, it looks like the National Party tail
is wagging the government dog as John Howard reportedly sticks with the
wheat export monopoly.

The AFR‘s John Breusch (not online) writes that Howard is playing down the prospect of dismantling AWB’s monopoly “in the near future”:

Government sources said that though Mr Howard raised the
future of the single desk in his remarks to the Coalition’s joint party
room meeting in Canberra, he warned that the regime was unlikely to be
completely unwound after AWB’s involvement in the oil-for-food scandal.

And
while AWB’s share price was nose-diving yet again yesterday on
analysts’ projections as to what losing the monopoly would mean,
Macquarie Equities was telling clients that the single desk would stay
as long as most wheat farmers want it, albeit in a curtailed form.
That’s pretty much what Wilson Tuckey is pushing – watering down the
AWB monopoly by stripping it of its veto power over rivals’ export
applications.

In a rational world, that would seem the
absolute minimum required change, but the monopoly corruption is
enmeshed in the current bout of National/Liberal squabbling and thus
dodgy alternatives remain possible as a trade off for burying the
McGauran defection hatchet.

If the Government wants to try a
little honest policy consideration, it should ask how much of the
Nationals’ lobbying to let the AWB keep the monopoly is based on
protecting AWB shareholders from the consequences of their company’s
behaviour?

However much the AWB apologists might like to dress
it up, there’s not much principle involved in this exercise. The
reality is that the majority of AWB shareholders are wheat farmers who
aren’t enjoying watching their investment shrink.

Peter Fray

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