Michael Pascoe writes:

Mark Vaile flew back to Canberra this
morning and straight to ABARE’s Outlook conference to nail the government’s
colours to the single desk wheat export monopoly in a speech that neatly
reflected the thoughts of most wheat farmers. He also demonstrated exactly
what’s wrong with those farmers’ thinking, but I guess that was unintentional.


The deputy prime minister – and the farmers holding the National
Party captive – are rooted in the Great Depression. After quickly assuring the
audience his trip to Iraq had been successful, Vaile launched into a fulsome defence of the
monopoly by noting Commissioner Cole is not investigating the single desk:

It
is not on trial. The single desk has served Australia
well since 1939. The 1930s were years of overproduction and dumping by the United
States, Canada
and Argentina.
Australian wheat growers were the ones who suffered.

In
1931, wheat was less than 2 shillings and sixpence a bushel: the lowest price
since Queen Elizabeth the First was on the throne in the 16th
century. During the entire 1930s, many wheat growers only succeeded in making a
profit in 1936 and 1937. The rest of the time, they worked long hours, suffered
through poverty and hoped for better times to come. There were several attempts
at stabilisation plans; none of them worked.

Finally,
the Australian Government used the war powers that it gained in 1939 to
establish the single desk and the Australian Wheat Board to manage and market
the Australian wheat crop.

And, hallelujah brother, the farmers were saved and apparently nothing
has changed in three quarters of a century. After running through the standard
and dubious AWB justifications of the monopoly, the deputy PM returned to the
Great Depression:

We
will defend the single desk because it is the only equalising mechanism we have
for wheat growers. Without it they would be no better off than the wheat
growers of the 1930s. We know what they went through, because there was a Royal
Commission into the wheat industry in 1934.

And he proceeded to read two letters to that Royal Commission, “I am
ashamed of being in debt..…my position is hopeless…”, “…this way of living
must cease as it is pure slavery.”

The
Government’s aim is to make sure that those are voices from our past and not
voices from Australia’s
future.

So there you have it: the single desk is all that’s standing between
Australia and another Great Depression. Keep an eye out for any flappers.

Peter Fray

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