The Cole inquiry into the AWB’s $300 million kickbacks to Saddam Hussein has been extended for another two months – but the Government is facing more immediate problems over the monopoly wheat exporter.

World Trade Organisation director-general Pascal Lamy – in Australia, ironically, for the meeting of the Cairns group of agricultural exporting countries who favour trade liberalisation – has said there can be no world deal on export subsidies without reform of Australia’s wheat exporter.

And the latest issue of the WA primary producer’s journal ProFarmer provides more details of how AWB rips off the people it’s supposed to support:

There are a number of factors that are conspiring to significantly reduce the amount of grain in the National pool this year… But due to the structure of the service agreement between AWBI and AWBL, pool participants will be forced to carry the can on pool costs…

Prior to privatisation when AWB was essentially a not-for-profit organisation, the cost of managing the pool was estimated at around $53m.

But since privatisation, fees from pool management have risen significantly to over $90m (comprising pool management and out-performance fees). This does not include a further $75m earned by AWBL from the provision of pool-related services (which we are assured are provided on a ‘commercial’ basis).

AWBL justifies the lift in pool management fees by saying this is a fair reward for its efforts in maximising pool returns for growers… but weren’t they doing this before?

AWB is a fascinating body. It trashes our international reputation and rips off the constituency it’s supposed to support through guaranteed financial management fees structures. Yet the agrarian socialist party continues to defend it.

No wonder it’s a dying political organisation – and its leader, Mark Vaile, is joshing that he’ll stay in the trade portfolio for at least another week.

Peter Fray

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