Despite Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile
nailing his colours so fast to the future of the wheat export monopoly,
there are whispers from the other side of the Coalition that not everyone is
stuck on agrarian socialism.

There are suggestions that after Terence
Cole delivers his load, there might be some sort of task force set up to have a
little look at the single desk business itself. Such task forces of course tend
to find what their masters want, so the battle over who might get appointed to
the body would be fierce.

On the surface at least, the Nats would be
desperate to anoint a few worthy members of the single desk farmer faithful,
but the Liberals who actually believe in some of the Golden Decade celebration
rhetoric about free markets would be keen to find a brave economic rationalist
or two. After suffering so much embarrassment at the hands of the somnambulant
Wheat Export Authority and the agri-politicians of AWB, there just might be a
taste for ginger.

And perhaps if the Nats were really smart,
they would be keen to have a genuine examination too. I presumed to remind Mr Vaile of the sorry
story of John Kerin giving the wool farmers what they wanted with the floor
price scheme. Kerin knew it was wrong, but let it happen anyway with disastrous
results for the wool farmers, the industry and the nation. I wondered if Mark
Vaile’s single desk pledge was a case of giving the wheat farmers what they
wanted even if it’s not good for them.

The Minister responded that the single desk
was somehow a wonderful equalising force against all those American and
European grain subsidies.

No, it didn’t make much sense to me either.
There is a chant that goes up from the single desk faithful that it somehow
delivers growers a premium of $13 a
tonne, which doesn’t make sense to me when the only sustainable advantage of the
thing is the scale gained in handling and postage. Self-justifying propaganda
from the WEA or AWB has lost all credibility.

What does make sense is that the best and
brightest wheat farmers would probably be better off without the monopolist
interference – and the future of the industry rests with its top quartile.

Peter Fray

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