Opposition split over wheat bill

LONG-HELD divisions between eastern sea-board and Western Australian wheat farmers have reached the halls of power, with Coalition MPs pledging to cross the floor on a bill to deregulate the wheat trade.

The Labor Government has been pushing the Wheat Export and Marketing Bill for several years. It would abolish Wheat Export Australia, which replaced the single-desk Australian Wheat Board after the wheat-for-weapons scandal.

But while eastern grain farmers largely support the deregulation of the industry, several farmer groups across New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia again voiced their concern on Friday about the lack of a suitable replacement for the WEA and did not support the bill in its current form.

Farmers on the other side of the country in WA, which face more restricted marketing and export arrangements in that state, have largely supported the bill as it stands, looking forward to the expected increase in competition in the market as a result of the bill.

But in parliament the Coalition has refused to support the Government's bill, despite its free-market ideals, on the grounds the Government has not consulted with the industry, especially with eastern growers.

This week, with parliament out of session, Coalition WA Senators and MPs returned to their electorate, with some deciding to cross the floor.

Leading the charge was regional WA MP Tony Crook, a move followed by new Liberal Senator Dean Smith, who vowed to back the Government.

With independent MP Tony Windsor to oppose the bill, a vote will come down to the decisions of other key independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie.

Topics:  opposition parliament

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