Rice Marketing Amendment (Prevention of National Competition Policy Penalties) Bill



About this Item
SubjectsFederal State Relations; Rural Industry; Trade Practices; Wheat and Grain
SpeakersGay The Hon Duncan; Chesterfield-Evans The Hon Dr Arthur; Sharpe The Hon Penny; Catanzariti The Hon Tony; Nile Reverend The Hon Fred; Colless The Hon Rick; Cohen The Hon Ian; Macdonald The Hon Ian; Chairman; Gardiner The Hon Jennifer
BusinessBill, Division, Inaugural Speech, Second Reading, Third Reading, In Committee, Motion


    RICE MARKETING AMENDMENT (PREVENTION OF NATIONAL COMPETITION POLICY PENALTIES) BILL
Page: 19761


    Second Reading
    [Debate resumed.]

    The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: Hear! Hear! May I also acknowledge former colleagues in this House, good Labor people who would not have allowed this to happen—not like the current chardonnay socialists that are in charge at the moment. As I said, there are contracts until 2009 between SunRice and the Rice Marketing Board of New South Wales, there is cross-ownership of land and buildings, boards are shared between SunRice and the Rice Marketing Board, and the schemes are co-operative—all of which creates a problem if the State Government intends that the legislation commence next year. Although the Opposition is clearly and strongly opposed to this disastrous bill that is being forced onto the rice industry, we are determined to improve it. The Opposition proposes that a three-year moratorium be placed on the starting date of this legislation.

    A temporary postponement would allow industry, SunRice and the Rice Marketing Board of New South Wales to properly prepare, and ensure a smooth transition. In the second reading speech delivered on the Minister's behalf in the other place, Minister Nori went so far as to admit that there has been lack of consultation on the bill. The Government has admitted that industry has not been adequately consulted on it and yet it is determined to go ahead with the bill.
    Industry has not been consulted; that is a fact. How can the Government justify rushing the bill through when it has admitted to not consulting adequately? The key concern continues to be the likelihood that domestic deregulation will open the way to interstate trade, hence to rice being resold from other States in competition with New South Wales. That would undercut the export price premiums obtained by growers and exporters in New South Wales.

    This ridiculous bill also comes at a difficult time for New South Wales rice growers, who have suffered four years of the worst drought on record. That is one reason the Opposition opposes it. These people have just gone through a period of drought and many of them have not had a crop for four years. If you have not had water, you have not had a crop. It has been pretty damned tough. The Opposition will oppose the deregulation of the domestic rice market because we do not believe it is in the best interests of the industry, the rice growers, or the people of this State.

    In the other place my Nationals colleague the Member for Murrumbidgee, Adrian Piccoli, raised a very good point. He pointed out that the current State Government has sent the New South Wales budget well into the red and has virtually sent New South Wales broke. The State Government is scampering around trying to forage all the money it can get its hands on to fill its budget hole, at whatever cost. In this instance, the cost of $23 million—which is a major amount of money—will be a cost to the New South Wales rice industry.

    Under National Competition Policy rules, if New South Wales deregulates its domestic rice industry, the State will receive $26 million as compensation, which should go back into the industry. The chances are it will not! More than likely, the State Government will simply pocket this money, given its massive $1 billion debt to prop up Sydney's rail system—put in place by Mr Sparkles—and build Sydney's new desalination plant. It will be great solace to the rice growers of southern New South Wales to have their industry deregulated so the Government can get its hands on $23 million to cover up its ineptitude on Sydney's trains and buses and build the desalination plant that no-one wants.

    When Government members vote for this, we will remember the reasons why they are doing so. They want to deregulate an industry to get $23 million to put into Sydney to fix up the mess they have made and/or to fund a desalination plant. Once again, the State Government will sacrifice an important rural industry for the sake of Sydney, and probably Sydney greens. The State Government only has eyes for Sydney. It has also been brought to my attention that deregulation of the State's domestic rice industry will benefit the giant supermarket chains and their generic brands. More power will be delivered to the supermarkets—at a time when they do not need more power—and our local rice growers will join a whole raft of other rural industries that have been flattened by the big end of town.

    I wonder how the Hon. Tony Catanzariti will tell the people in Griffith that the bill, which he supports, will ultimately help the giant supermarket chains. When you knock out SunRice and domestic regulation, you are giving power to the big end of town. The generic brands would undercut others and grab control of the market. A recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers reveals that in the next five years supermarkets will at least double the shelf space dedicated to their own brand products. We should support local brands and local producers over generic brands. The Government's deregulation legislation will do the complete opposite: it will, instead, support generic brands over local brands.

    I have made it abundantly clear why deregulation is not in the best interests of the domestic rice industry. The industry does not want this, the rice growers do not want it, and even the State Government says it does not want it. The Hon. Tony Catanzariti has put on record that he is against deregulation. So I say to him, "Tony, don't do it." Even the Premier, in a letter to Prime Minister John Howard, indicated he is against the deregulation of the domestic rice industry. So to the other members of the Labor Party, I say, "Don't do it." The State Government must get the message being delivered to it: nobody wants this deregulation.

    The deregulation of the State's domestic rice industry could lead to Australia's export market eroding because interstate rice could easily find its way into the international market. It will also lead to interstate trade, and hence to rice being resold from other States in competition with New South Wales. The entire success of the State's rice industry could be jeopardised by the State Government's forced deregulation. If the deregulation goes ahead, it will be a clear indication of Minister Macdonald's extreme failures. This is a Minister who has allowed the State's primary industries to crumble at their foundations. Minister Macdonald has once again failed to fight for an industry that well and truly deserves saving. We are talking about an $800 million industry.

    The Opposition opposes the bill, which will deregulate New South Wales' domestic rice industry. We believe that the $23 million—which is a large amount of money—should be spent on protecting the industry. That money will otherwise go to Sydney to fund a desalination plant and other Government promises. This is a government that can find $20 million to $30 million at the drop of a hat to buy Yanga Station, yet it has no idea about standing up and fighting for an industry.

    The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [5.34 p.m.]: I remember the apocryphal story that when a sermon was being delivered with great volume and energy, someone wondering about the origin of the story looked across at the sermon notes and saw that a note in the margin said, "Argument weak. Yell like hell." I must confess that, having listened to the contribution of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, I thought exactly that. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said this is bad legislation and he does not support the deregulation of the domestic rice industry. I agree with him. But who, we ask, is responsible for this? None other than the Federal Government. The Federal Government is pushing this national competition policy on all of us.

    Deregulation completely wrecked the milk producers of New South Wales: the price of milk fell dramatically. What did The Nationals do? Very little. If we had done as little on that issue, we would have been laughed at as being weak. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has some pathetic letter saying that it would be reviewed in six months. If we had rolled over with the Government by saying something like that, the Opposition would have laughed at us. But now it is attacking the Government for the bill.

    I do not have a lot of time for this Government, as I have said many times in this House. But the fact of the matter is that the Federal Government said to the Minister, "You are going to lose $26 million if you don't sign here." The Opposition criticises the Minister for signing the document. I criticise him for signing it as well, because I believe that sometimes you have to look people in the eye and say, "I am not going to do what you tell me to do." That is what politics is about: it is about having a bit of backbone and a bit of courage. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition complains about the timing of the bill when his colleagues in Canberra are causing the trouble. It is just humbug.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: If you had been listening, you would know we are voting against this. Wake up!

    The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: Everyone is against this. The people involved in the rice industry are against it. What we have with the National Competition Council is the triumph of dogma over reality. If you pick up an economics textbook—I did Economics I—the first chapter talks about perfect markets and wonderful competition. Later chapters talk about how you can make money by vertically integrating, by keeping the markets limited, by going into niches, and so on—in short: anti-competitive practices. But it seems that the Federal Government never gets beyond the first chapter. The Government has this idea that deregulation will fix everything. It never seems to do the things it ought to do—like deregulate the taxi industry. We have done a lot of harm to the milk industry, to pharmacies, and so on.

    There are approximately 2,500 rice growers in New South Wales, sowing around 150,000 to 160,000 hectares each year, producing 1.2 million tonnes of rice a year, generating $800 million per annum. The industry has a farm gate value of around $350 million. Rice is Australia's third-largest cereal grain export and its ninth-largest agricultural export. The rice growers-owned and operated co-operative, SunRice, exports 85 per cent of Australia's rice—and attracts a premium price for its quality and cleanliness—to more than 70 major international destinations, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Japan and Hong Kong, and the domestic market receives the remaining 15 per cent.

    Although Australian rice only represents around 0.2 per cent of world rice production, our exports represent more than 4 per cent of world trade. Under the Marketing of Primary Products Act 1983, most rice grown in New South Wales is vested in the Rice Marketing Board for marketing. Only authorised buyers may purchase rice that is not vested in the board. The board has appointed Rice Growers Co-operative Ltd, trading as SunRice, as the board's agent to market the rice vested in the board, and as an authorised buyer to purchase all other rice. There are no other authorised agents or buyers. However, national competition policy requires that other persons be entitled to be appointed as authorised buyers for the sale or supply of rice in Australia.

    The bill amends the principal Acts so the State will avoid paying a $26 million penalty. Specifically, it enables any person to be appointed as an authorised buyer of rice, subject to the condition prohibiting the person from selling or supplying rice in the export market except with the board's written approval. Thus the bill will effectively deregulate the domestic rice industry. The bill allows the Administrative Decisions Tribunal to review decisions of the board in relation to an application for, or an appointment as, a buyer, other than a decision with respect to a condition prohibiting the person from selling or supplying rice in the export market except with the board's written approval.

    I have visited Leeton on numerous occasions since I was elected in 1999, the last visit being in August 2004, when I met with the Rice Growers Association and inspected the SunRice mill with Geoff Sorrell of the New South Wales Farmers Association. I was very impressed with the high-tech milling operation and the member-driven co-operative. The President of the Rice Growers Association of Australia, Laurie Arthur, issued a press release on 18 October this year expressing disbelief at the decision to deregulate the domestic New South Wales rice market. He said:

    Two inquiries have found that Australia is substantially better off under the current arrangements. In fact the most recent independent report found a $45 million net public benefit to the Australian consumer.

    Mr Arthur accepts that:

    the NSW Government was under enormous pressure from the Federal Government which was threatening to withhold payments as part of their competition policy. But it is disappointing that the NSW Government chose to act now as the rice industry is still in negotiations with the Federal Government, having proven our arrangements meet the NCC's net benefit requirements. We therefore believe this action is premature.

    But this decision to chip away at the foundations of our great industry will anger all rice growers and we call on the Federal Government to ensure they act to protect our single desk for exports.

    Which is exactly what I said before. The Act will commence on 1 July 2006, and this will cause many problems. Current arrangements have been in place for 20 years. As the industry in New South Wales is vertically integrated, with growers owning the production, milling processing and marketing process, it will take longer than seven months to sort through and unravel the legal complexities associated with $400 million of plant and equipment, mill storage and infrastructure through the Rice Growers Co-operative Limited, trading as SunRice, and the Rice Marketing Board of NSW [RMB].

    Legal problems associated with the cross-ownership of assets still have to be finalised within six months. For example, the RMB owns sheds on land owned by SunRice, and vice versa; and rice growers have equity in sheds run by the RMB, and a regime for who can have access to those sheds will be a long and complicated venture. The Rice Growers Association has admitted to me that the bill will not destroy the industry, but that it is unnecessary. In that sense they are a little better off than the poor old dairy farmers in New South Wales. The Keating Federal Labor Government established national competition policy and the National Competition Council, and the Howard Coalition Government happily endorsed the NCC's recommendations regardless of detrimental economic and social effects that will flow on to the community's reliance on the local industry.

    The rice growers have control of their product and they can take on the large retailers, such as Woolworths and Coles, and negotiate retail prices—unlike the dairy farmers who were done over when the so-called Opposition rolled over and supported deregulation of that industry. As far as the Australian Democrats are concerned, the primary producers of New South Wales need all the support and muscle they can get to take on the major retailers and get a fair price for their produce. It is all very well for the Opposition to oppose the bill here, but its Federal colleagues are not helping. The people of the Riverina have to learn that if they keep voting for the Coalition they are going to cop this sort of thing. I will oppose the bill and I will support the Coalition amendment, which I agree is mitigating.

    I think the bill fundamentally has to be delayed and the New South Wales Government has to look the Federal Government in the eye. If the New South Wales Government simply rolls over every time the Federal Government says, "You will do this or you will lose money," the States may as well not exist. The Federal Government is dictating on this issue as a sole government for Australia as if the States do not exist. It is Australian Democrat policy to abolish the States, of course, but not in this fashion with the State Government capitulating to the economic dogma of the Howard Government.

    The Hon. PENNY SHARPE [5.43 p.m.] (Inaugural speech): I support the Rice Marketing Authority (Prevention of National Competition Council Penalties) Amendment Bill. As this is my first speech in this place I wish to formally acknowledge that we hold our deliberations on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. I pay my respects to elders past and present and to the Aboriginal people present here today. I thank the members of the House for their courtesy and indulgence as I take this opportunity to talk about the path that has brought me to this place, the values I have gained on the way, and what I hope to achieve as a member of Parliament.

    I joined the Labor Party when I was 19 for the very simple reason that I wanted to change the world—immediately. It is taking a little longer than I expected. But although I know now that commitment to change must be matched with patience and perseverance, I still believe in the principles and values I held as a young woman at her first Labor Party branch meeting. Australia is a nation of abundant wealth—in our environment, in our people, in our diversity and in our spirit. We are able to care for all of our citizens. That we do not is a burning injustice. I could not and cannot accept that in a wealthy nation like Australia we tolerate the poverty, the violence and the plain unfairness that too many Australians experience day after day. We all deserve the opportunity to live with dignity. We all deserve to be treated with respect. None of our citizens should be shut out of our nation's prosperity.

    In the Australian Labor Party [ALP] I recognised a similar commitment to the dignity and security of all Australians, to prosperity built on equity rather than exploitation. The belief that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and with respect was instilled in me by my parents. My family was very typical—some might say "traditional". My parents raised me and my two sisters, Angela and Julia, in Canberra and did everything they could to give us a strong start in life. My parents worked hard to make sure we had all the advantages they could give us. My parents, John and Desley Sharpe, are here today and I want to take this opportunity to thank them. I would also like to thank my sisters, Angela and Julia, who are not able to be here today, but I forgive them anyway.

    One of the advantages my parents gave me was a quality education. They sent me to public schools. I was taught by dedicated teachers who pushed me to consider options that I had not previously imagined, and challenged me to examine critically the world around me. It was my late grandmother Linda Sharpe who quietly encouraged me to pursue political activity. Influenced by her father, William Doc Howey, who was the president of the Dubbo ALP Branch in the early 1900s, Grandma taught me that only Labor would make sure that working people got a fair go. And she told me that it was better to act than to talk. So when I stopped talking and started acting, and when I joined the Labor Party, she was one of the first people I told. My grandmother passed away many years ago and I am sorry that she is not here to share this with me today.

    I was a student at the University of New South Wales when I joined, first the campus ALP Club and then the Labor Party. I became involved in campaigns for better income and housing support for students, for increased childcare, and for access to welfare and legal services that students could afford. It was through the work of student representatives in student unions that these campaigns were transformed into tangible services for students. To my great anger and dismay, these services are likely to disappear as a result of John Howard's voluntary student unionism legislation.

    For many on this side of the House, the legacy of Gough Whitlam was an important political influence. While Gough always looms large, it was Paul Keating who was at the forefront of my political and, indirectly, my work experience. It was Paul Keating's Working Nation that set up the Australian Student Traineeship Foundation [ASTF]. The ASTF was charged with improving the transition of students in years 11 and 12 from school to work. Working with local schools, employers and communities, the foundation supported local partnerships that trained young people in real workplaces with real employers. The ASTF gave me the opportunity to travel to over 100 communities in NSW and work with these partnerships to provide work training for their young people.

    The partnerships delivered much, including a permaculture food forest in Wilcannia; pathways into sustainable timber jobs in Oberon, Kyogle, Bombala and Tumut; aquaculture in Ballina; and a focus on design and visual arts in Dulwich Hill. It was a model where each community drew on its own strengths and worked together to find solutions. It showed me that good ideas, backed by responsive government programs can make a real difference to people's lives and their communities. It also confirmed my view of the value of education in its ability to transform lives. Education is one of the most effective tools governments have to improve the life chances of individuals. Access to preschool for every child, public schools that are the best in the world, second chance education opportunities, and a public training system to provide the skills to keep our economy strong are the issues that I want to pursue during my time in this place. In another first speech made by a woman from Marrickville, in September 1944 Lillian Fowler told fellow members of Parliament:

    I have always thought that government meant action by elected representatives and the formulation of ideals for the benefit of the people. My ideal government would frown on anything not to the ultimate good of all.

    She believed that "the more democratic the Government, the closer it is to the people". Lillian Fowler was the first woman elected to a local council in New South Wales in 1928. She was elected to the New South Wales Parliament in 1944. In between she became the first woman mayor in Australia in 1938. She is an example of what women can achieve when they are given the chance. All women should be given the opportunity to fulfil their potential. I commit myself to pursuing full equality for women in our society. I will defend the rights of women to be free to control their own lives and I will support the choices that they make in their quest for freedom. Lillian Fowler was the mayor of Newtown, a suburb that is now part of the Marrickville Council area. The 15 square kilometres of Marrickville takes in the suburbs of Camperdown, Dulwich Hill, Enmore, Lewisham, Marrickville, Newtown, Petersham, St Peters, Stanmore, Sydenham and Tempe.

    Like Lillian Fowler I am very fortunate to have been elected by the residents of Marrickville to be a local councillor. Marrickville is home to young and old, rich and poor, straight and gay. Some in our community have come from around the corner and some have come from across the world to make Marrickville their home. Marrickville exemplifies the working class and multicultural traditions of urban Australia. It is a living example of what a diverse, inclusive and creative community looks like. Marrickville Council demonstrates also what good Labor Government means for local communities. In 1928 Lillian Fowler established playgrounds for local children and instituted a 40-hour week for council employees. Since that time Labor representatives on Marrickville Council have continued that tradition by providing quality local services and programs and an unashamed commitment to inclusion and social justice. I would like to recognise the work of those councillors and, in particular, mention my current council colleagues Rae Owen, Sam Iskandar and Barry Cotter.

    I am here today because I have filled the vacancy created by the successful election of Carmel Tebbutt to the Legislative Assembly as member for Marrickville. Like Lillian Fowler, Carmel Tebbutt is a strong Labor woman, who worked in local government and then chose the New South Wales State Parliament as another way to work for change. All members would respect Carmel Tebbutt's integrity, honesty and intelligence. Carmel's dedication, compassion and hard work have been an example and an inspiration. Like her, I want to spend my time in this place working to make sure that our citizens have the chance to share the opportunities and prosperity of our State. In filling Carmel's place, I am honoured to become a Labor representative in this place. I thank the unions and the ordinary members of the Labor Party, whose collective strength has given me this opportunity.

    I also wish to thank the people of New South Wales who voted for the Labor Party to represent their interests within government and this Parliament. It has always been the Labor way to work to improve the lives of working Australians and their families through better wages and social conditions. That goal has remained unchanged for over a century. Labor recognises that industrial rights and social conditions together bring dignity and security. Unionists and community activists have found that in unity is strength. I believe in a collectivism based on compulsory voting, union solidarity and democratic decision making. Only through such collectivism can our society protect the weak from the strong. The many different voices in the Labor Party can be as broad and as diverse as they are because of our commitment to collective action. Yesterday I inadvertently caused some controversy by wearing a "Your rights at work" sticker into the House. A lesson learnt for a new member in this place.

    Unions are fighting the fight of their lives—it is more than just a fight for workers and their families—this fight is about the values of unity and social justice that are the foundations of Australian society. It is a fight that, as a Labor party member, I will keep fighting long after the Howard Government has passed this unfair law. It is unfair laws such as the Howard WorkChoices bill that contribute to the community distrust of politicians and politics itself. When half a million people down tools and come to protest across the country, something is not right. When they are met with derision and closed minds from their elected government it confirms their worst belief—that politicians do not listen and do not care what their citizens think. As a result, many turn their backs on the very processes and practices that could help them change their circumstances and change their lives.

    The disconnection between citizens and Parliament is made worse when members of our community look at the ranks of parliamentarians and cannot see anyone they recognise, anyone like them. We should expect our Parliament to look like our people. The men and women of our parliaments need to bring as wide as possible a range of experience to their deliberations and they need to reflect as accurately as possible the face of our community. Today, this State and this nation face many challenges. We must draw on all of our strengths, our talents and our qualities to meet these challenges. I take pride in Labor's record on improving the diversity in this House but also note that we have a way to go. I hope that in my time in this place I will be able to welcome many new members from all parties, representing many aspects of our community. The experience that I have gained along the way to be standing here today has taught me that you cannot change the world overnight and that you cannot do it on your own.

    I would like to record my appreciation of the following people who have shared my ambition for a better world and have given me good advice, support and friendship whenever required: Alanna Clohesy, Antony Sachs, Alan Kirkland, Adrian Lovney, Ann Symonds, Ashley Hogan, Alison Peters, Anthony Albanese, Carmel Tebbutt, Cecilia Anthony, Cheryl Baume, Claudine Lyons, Dascia Bennett, Damian Smith, Edwina Hanlon, Emanuel Tsardoulias, Feyi Akindoyeni, Jackie Trad, Jacinta Bunfield, Jan Primrose, Julian Hill, Jeannette McHugh, Ken Fowlie, Kate Deverall, Luke Foley, Louise Pratt, Matthew Chesher, Meredith Burgmann, Nareen Young, Phillip O'Donoghue, Paul Murphy, Peter Primrose, Tim Gartrell, Trent Kear and Verity Firth, to name just a few.

    I hope that my time in Parliament will give me the opportunity to build the broadest possible coalition of people committed to changing the world for the better. Technology is revolutionising the way in which people connect and communicate in our society. For parliaments to remain relevant in the digital world I believe we need to look at new ways to engage people in the political process. I am committed to exploring the opportunities of new media that moves beyond simply information provision. Through technology I hope to create space for the free exchange of ideas, the building of coalitions and go some way to demystifying the political process.

    I said earlier that I grew up in a so-called typical or traditional family. By that I meant kids, a mum and a dad, all related by blood. That might have made us traditional, but it is not what made us a family. Families are formed by blood or by choice, by love and by circumstance. Family are the people who, when you go to them, have to take you in. Family are the people you can turn to, the people you will turn to when things get tough. There are two-parent, one-parent, gay-parent and foster-parent families. There are families that do not have children at all. There are families that fit stereotypes and families that break moulds. We know who our families are and we love them regardless of how they are formed. It is this love and connection that makes them the foundation of our society. To the kids who are growing up in lesbian and gay families: your parents have thought very hard and overcome many challenges to bring you into the world. You are fortunate to live in families that understand the values of love, diversity, and acceptance. I hope that one day—one day soon—you will be living in a community that shows the same commitment to those values as your families do.

    That is another of the things I want to work towards in my time here. I would like to thank my family today. I thank my parents. I thank my partner, Jo Tilly. I thank you for your support and love. I also thank you for ensuring that I never take myself or the mechanics and business of politics too seriously. I also thank Jo's family—my in-law equivalents—the Cooks and the Hollingdales, who have welcomed me as part of their clan. To my children, Jemima and Red, who are here today I say: I hope that as you grow up you believe that the work I have undertaken in this place has made a difference and that in doing this work I have also managed to be there for you whenever you have needed me. Finally, I would like to thank the members and staff of the Parliament who made me feel welcome and have been prepared to assist me in every way possible as I have settled in. I know that there are many discussions and disagreements to come in my time here. I look forward to working with colleagues, with all of you. I particularly look forward to working with colleagues on all sides of the House who share a commitment to embracing the diversity of our community and who, in the words of Lillian Fowler, will "frown on anything not to the ultimate good of all".

    The Hon. TONY CATANZARITI [6.01 p.m.]: As honourable members would be aware, I am a proud supporter of the rice industry, which is one of this country's great success stories. It continues to be recognised worldwide for its high quality, and is demanded by higher priced international markets. Each year the industry earns about $800 million in revenue, including close to $5 million from value-added exports. Australia produces approximately 1.3 million tonnes of rice annually, 98 per cent of which is grown in southern New South Wales and the remaining 2 per cent in northern Victoria. There are approximately 2,500 rice farms in these regions of New South Wales and Victoria, the majority of which are owned by Australian families. The rice industry is an important industry responsible for employing more than 8,000 people. In fact, the industry delivers up to 20 per cent of all job opportunities in the Riverina, supporting 63 regional towns, and has more than $2 billion invested in land, plant and equipment. The industry has still managed to bring in good returns for growers despite the long-running drought, and is committed to operating in an environmentally sustainable manner.

    The Hon. Melinda Pavey: World's best practice!

    The Hon. TONY CATANZARITI: I agree. Interestingly, I have never heard a consumer say that a bag of rice in our supermarkets costs too much; nor, I can safely assume, has anyone else. It makes me sad to have to talk on the Rice Marketing Amendment (Prevention of National Competition Policy Penalties) Bill because I firmly believe, as does the New South Wales Government, that the existing arrangements are totally justified. I am disappointed that, while the National Competition Council [NCC] could see the value of the industry, it chose to attack the industry in any way. I am even more disappointed that, despite numerous requests from this Government, the Howard Government revealed its true colours by doing absolutely nothing to protect this Australian icon. However, I reserve my most extreme disappointment for the members of The Nationals, who have not lifted a finger to help the Government and the rice industry in this completely unnecessary fight.

    It is time The Nationals did their homework about the demands being placed on the State Government to deregulate the domestic market. Their laziness is outstanding. Let me put some facts on the table to assist them with their task. First, deregulating the rice industry is the last thing the New South Wales Labor Government wants to do. Secondly, three reviews into the current marketing arrangements have been carried out in 10 years, and each time it has been proven that there is a net public benefit from the current arrangements. Thirdly, it is the Howard Coalition Government that does not support the existing rice marketing arrangements. Fourthly, members of the New South Wales Nationals, such as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Adrian Piccoli, have been well aware of the threat posed by the NCC to the rice industry since at least 2003—a threat that has been supported by correspondence from their Federal colleagues. Yet incredibly they claim that the New South Wales Government acted hastily.

    Fifthly, not one member of The Nationals has denounced the NCC's attitude or the inaction of the Federal Coalition, or offered their support in our fight. Can their resounding silence be a sign of support? Sixthly, not one member of the New South Wales Nationals has tabled any evidence whatsoever to show that they have made representations to their Federal colleagues—John Howard, Peter Costello or their Federal leader Mark Vaile. They are unable to produce a single document urging the Federal Government to allow the current marketing arrangements for rice to continue without penalty to the farmers and families of the Riverina.

    Seventhly, despite the contentious suggestions by The Nationals, the New South Wales State Government has worked closely with the rice industry throughout this process. Indeed, for most of this year both the Rice Marketing Board and SunRice were in contact with the Office of the Minister for Primary Industries almost on a weekly basis. They have also been closely consulted in the drafting of this bill to ensure that we offer them as much support as possible without breaching the demands of the NCC. Eighthly, the Prime Minister and Peter Costello have refused to meet with representatives of the rice industry to allow them to put their case. Ninthly, John Howard has written to the Premier confirming the NCC's view that the people of New South Wales will be penalised $26 million unless deregulation occurs.

    Tenth, the NCC is insisting that the legislation is put through to avoid penalties being incurred. And the NCC, not the New South Wales Government, has nominated the date of 30 November. Eleventh, the New South Wales Government is keen to see a three-year transitional period be allowed for the industry to have time to adjust to the changes, but the New South Wales Nationals have done nothing to support this push. Without an assurance from the Federal Government, which is not forthcoming, we cannot afford the fine. What is the point of making these claims if The Nationals are unwilling to do something about it? By working closely with the industry, the New South Wales Government has put together the following plan, which has been deemed acceptable by the NCC.

    A single desk arrangement for rice exports from New South Wales will be retained. An authorised buyer scheme will be introduced for domestic trade in rice. The Rice Marketing Board will administer the scheme, subject to appeals to the New South Wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal. The single desk will be protected through the sanction on any person or corporation found to have breached the conditions of their licence—that is, exported rice—of the loss of their authorised buyer permit for a stipulated period of time. These arrangements will commence in 2006, after the current crop has been harvested. Despite repeated requests by the New South Wales Government, the Federal Coalition Government has refused to override the NCC's recommendations. The New South Wales Government requested the Federal Government's assistance in establishing a national rice export desk. However, John Howard, in a belated response to the Premier, received on 7 November, stated:

    I understand you are concerned that as a result of the payment penalty recommendation by the NCC you are being compelled to deregulate domestic rice marketing, which you claim will adversely impact on NSW growers and exporters and may be detrimental to the export industry …

    You also expressed disappointment that the Australian Government has not committed to establishing a national rice export …

    What a ridiculous statement when, as previously mentioned, 98 per cent of Australia's rice is grown in New South Wales. Apart from Victoria, the other States and Territories have very little interest whatsoever in the marketing of rice as, quite simply, they do not produce any. The national competition policy commitments require that legislation restricting competition is reviewed in order to prove such legislation is in the public interest. As I mentioned before, the net public benefit of the current arrangements has been proved time and again. If anyone can produce evidence to show that a number of people are complaining about the current price of rice on the supermarket shelf, I urge them to step forward immediately.

    It is little wonder that the people of the Murrumbidgee electorate are questioning Adrian Piccoli's commitment to represent them. Is he sincere when he says that he is there to represent them? I for one would like him to table representations he has made to his Federal colleagues on behalf of the region's rice growers. I challenge members of the Opposition to join with us and push for a three-year transitional period for the rice industry. The award-winning Australian rice industry is the most efficient in the world and we have not heard a peep from members opposite. That is a disgrace.

    It is not too late for the New South Wales Nationals to approach their Federal colleagues. If I were a cynical person, I could be forgiven for thinking that all this has come about because The Nationals are desperate for votes and their Federal colleagues have undertaken to do this so that the New South Wales Nationals can try to lay the blame on the New South Wales Government. Unfortunately for them, this has not worked. People in the bush are not stupid and they know who has pushed for deregulation of the domestic market. They know John Howard, Peter Costello and Mark Vaile have pushed for this legislation to be introduced. They know that people who claim to represent them have sat there and done absolutely nothing about it. They know that the only time they have been moved into action was to grandstand once the fight was over. The people of the Riverina know, and they will not forget.

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [6.13 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party reluctantly supports the Rice Marketing Amendment (Prevention of National Competition Policy Penalties) Bill. As other honourable members have stated, this bill is a result of decisions made by the National Competition Council in implementing the national competition policy, which aims at deregulating every aspect of our society. As we know, it has made controversial decisions in other areas. The one that particularly concerned me was alcohol, and now we have this threat by the National Competition Council that if the State Government does not implement this bill and pass it—I understand it has been given the deadline to pass the legislation by 30 November—it will institute a penalty against New South Wales of $26 million.

    This is the way the National Competition Council forces State governments in many areas now to give in and accept its directions to deregulate—in this case—the rice industry. Many Australian industries such as rice, wheat, cotton, wool and others in our economy need support and, in the case of the rice industry, need to have a single desk exporter, being a sole agent of the Rice Marketing Board, to provide maximum financial benefit for the rice growers of New South Wales. Perhaps at some future date it may not be required—I mean in some years time—but in the current climate those arrangements are required and have helped these industries to grow and to become prosperous.

    I have said in previous debates that the National Competition Council should be abolished. I have said before that it had a limited charter and the way it was presented to State governments was to deal with government instrumentalities. Suddenly it has jumped the border and is looking at every area of Australian society. It is almost like another government. There is the Federal Government and there is the National Competition Council government, which is making major policy decisions. It seems that the Federal Coalition Government is frightened—I do not know why—to challenge the National Competition Council. It seems clear that the Federal Treasurer just rubber stamps all its decisions. Who is governing Australia?

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: Why did the State Government sign off on such a bad agreement?

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: It depends on what the State Treasurers thought were the objectives of the National Competition Council. Those objectives seem to have changed. That is what happened. This legislation has a number of key provisions that have been forced on the Labor Government. The bill will free up trade in the domestic market by making more specific provisions relating to the appointment of authorised buyers, including the conditions of appointment and grounds for refusal or revocation of appointment. It will increase the penalties for breaches of these conditions. It will provide for a right of appeal to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal. It will also provide that the existing commercial agreement between the board and SunRice is no longer to be construed as an exclusive agreement and that, accordingly, the board is not liable for any damages as a result of appointing additional authorised buyers. There will be other regulation making powers as a result of this legislation. It seems to me to be blackmail against the State Government.

    The Hon. RICK COLLESS [6.18 p.m.]: I support the position taken by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on this issue. The Marketing of Primary Products Act 1983 was originally introduced to provide for the marketing of primary production commodities and now only applies to the marketing of rice. Currently, most rice grown in New South Wales is vested in the Rice Marketing Board, and any rice not vested in the board may only be purchased by authorised buyers. Rice vested in the board is marketed by the Rice Growers Co-operative Ltd—known by its trading name "SunRice"—and SunRice is also authorised to purchase all other rice not vested in the board. That means that there are no other authorised buyers of rice in New South Wales. So even though all rice grown in the State is not vested in the board, effectively it has control of all rice grown in New South Wales.

    The purpose of the bill essentially is to allow for other potential rice buyers to be appointed as authorised buyers in relation to the sale or supply of rice within New South Wales. It also changes the name of the Marketing of Primary Products Act to the Rice Marketing Act. This is being done under the guise of national competition policy. Other authorised buyers will be able to sell or supply only within Australia except with the written approval of the board. So the board will essentially retain the export marketing of the rice crop. The Government claims that the board and SunRice are too close together to be effectively marketing the rice crop, and the National Competition Council has identified that this arrangement is anticompetitive for domestic rice. This has happened on the watch of this primary industries Minister. Yet according to the council the international arrangements for marketing remain competitive! The rice producers of New South Wales do not want their industry deregulated as it is one of the most successful industries in rural New South Wales. The Minister cannot understand that point and now wants to blame the Federal Government for forcing his hand. As has already been pointed out, the National Competition Council was signed off on by Premier Bob Carr. Not only did he sign off on it; he went down early in the morning and banged on John Howard's door while standing outside in the frost because he could not wait.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: He was the first.

    The Hon. RICK COLLESS: He was the first Premier at the door with his hand out saying, "Let me be the first to sign, because I want the money." It is absolute hypocrisy for the Government now to blame the Federal Government when this Government signed off on the national competition policy. That is why rice growers have been forced into their present situation. The State Government has failed to consult the industry. That was clearly pointed out by the Minister in the other place when she said, "Consultation on this bill has also had to comply with the time constraints." Later she said, "This bill is the best we can do in the circumstances." She admitted that there was not sufficient time to consult with the industry, to get the view of the industry and to understand how the industry operates. This action is three years too soon, as the Hon. Tony Catanzariti admitted. We will move an amendment, which he should support, to put commencement of the bill back three years to give time for all this to be sorted out. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition pointed out, Laurie Arthur stated that at least two inquiries had found that the industry was better off under the current marketing arrangements. They found that there were net public benefits in the current marketing arrangements. I do not know how Government members can criticise The Nationals when it is very clear that we have stood by the industry on this issue.

    An article in the Riverina Grazier reported that, according to local MLC Tony Catanzariti, a decision to break SunRice's stranglehold on the New South Wales rice industry could jeopardise hundreds of jobs in the region. "We will lose jobs, make no mistake of that," Tony Catanzariti is reported to have said. He should be opposing deregulation, as should Peter Black and anyone who has anything to do with the rice industry. If the Hon. Tony Catanzariti says that The Nationals are on the nose in the bush I suggest that he step up to the plate and challenge Adrian Piccoli in Murrumbidgee at the next election and let the community decide the issue. I support the amendments that will be moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in Committee to change the name of the bill by amending the long title to insert the word "Deregulation" and to delay implementation of the bill for three years. We will not support the bill in its current form; we strongly oppose deregulation. I look forward to the Committee debate.

    Mr IAN COHEN [6.26 p.m.]: Given the short time available and the lack of adequate ventilation of the issues that have generated so much heated debate, I do not feel sufficiently well informed to make a decision on a number of the finer points, particularly in view of the strong political undertones in the debate so far. I feel somewhat ill equipped to be making a decision on behalf of the Greens on the bill, and that concerns me. The purpose of the bill is to deregulate the domestic rice market in response to the national competition policy, which deems that the regulation of the industry is anti-competitive. The National Competition Council proposes to fine the New South Wales Government $26 million for non-compliance. The beginning of that situation lies in the past. It was suggested that the prime mover was the past Premier knocking on the door of the Federal Government wanting to sign up to the agreement as money was a prime factor. I am more concerned to hear what has been done to ameliorate the present situation.
    The bill seeks to free up trade in the domestic rice market by making more specific provisions relating to the appointment of authorised buyers, including the conditions of appointment and the grounds for refusal or revocation of appointment. It also increases the penalties for breaches of these conditions. The bill introduces a right of appeal in respect of decisions by the Rice Marketing Board in relation to the appointment of authorised buyers. It also provides that the existing commercial agreement between the Rice Marketing Board and SunRice is no longer to be construed as an exclusive agreement. As a result, the board will not be liable for any damages as a result of appointing additional authorised buyers. The bill confers regulation-making powers to cover the details of these provisions to ensure compliance with national competition policy. I understand that the Government has introduced this bill reluctantly, having had its hand forced by the Federal Coalition Government's ability to impose multimillion-dollar fines if the bill is not introduced. It is interesting to note that the Coalition Opposition here does not support the bill and does not support the deregulation of the rice industry in New South Wales.

    I would not like to see deregulation result in a proliferation of rice growing in the State. I have always expressed concerns that rice growing is very water intensive. Based on figures from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial and Research Organisation, every kilogram of rice grown uses between 1,550 and 2,000 litres of water—more than double that used for wheat, for example. Given our climate, we cannot afford to use water inappropriately. Perhaps it is not the wisest crop for us to be growing.

    The Hon. Ian Macdonald: Your figures are wrong. They are 10 times too high.

    Mr IAN COHEN: I take note of the comment by the Minister. I will withdraw those figures and say that I stand by the fact that the usage of water involved in rice production certainly makes one wonder about the appropriateness of that crop. On the other hand, I respect the fact that the rice industry in New South Wales is a successful one, contributing some $800 million to the economy. By some calculations, it also employs thousands of people across the State. I am also mindful of the fact that it is a co-operative organisation and has a great deal of support in the community. This is a difficult issue. On one hand we do not want to undermine a successful industry, and on the other hand we do not want a further proliferation of the rice industry.

    I believe rice is not particularly suitable for growing in New South Wales. That the New South Wales Government is paying $26 million in penalties to keep the industry regulated is not sustainable. I have concerns with this bill just as I did with the Poultry Meat Industry Amendment (Prevention of National Competition Policy Payments) Bill and other similar bills that were debated earlier this year. It is clear that the Government is having its hand forced by the Federal Government to take this action. If the New South Wales Opposition does not agree with this deregulation, perhaps it should put pressure on its Federal counterparts not to accept the advice on the National Competition Council in this case.

    I understand that the New South Wales Government made representations to the Prime Minister in this regard but to little avail. I find quite unacceptable the manner in which the bill has been rushed through the various stages, leaving inadequate time for consultation. The bill was introduced and read a second time in the lower House on 9 November but was not debated until today. Therefore, Hansard of the debates has not been available for upper House members to consult. There may have been some enlightening points made during the course of that debate that cannot be diligently considered here because of the hasty manner in which the Government has dealt with this legislation.

    I understand that, in order to avoid penalties, the bill needs to be passed by 30 November. That leaves a few sitting days in which we could have the benefit of more time to consult and delve into the issue. I acknowledge that this is a vexed issue and I will listen to further debate on it, including the Minister's reply. I apologise to an honourable member in the other place, Adrian Piccoli, for not being up to speed on the issue when he came to advise me this morning. I wish I had been in a position to engage in a more worthwhile and productive conversation with him on the matter. Too often we see important legislation passing through this Parliament without members having adequate time to properly consult and discuss the issues. As I say, at this time I will listen to the remainder of the debate on this bill.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Natural Resources, Minister for Primary Industries, and Minister for Mineral Resources) [6.33 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate.

    [The Deputy-President (The Hon. Christine Robertson) left the chair at 6.33 p.m. The House resumed at 8.15 p.m.]

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Natural Resources, Minister for Primary Industries, and Minister for Mineral Resources) [8.15 p.m.]: The New South Wales Government has done everything in its power to protect the rice industry, and I remind honourable members of the process we have undertaken over the past two years. First, I point out that the New South Wales Government had no choice but to review our regulation of rice and other industries. The Coalition does not seem to understand that New South Wales had no option but to review the New South Wales rice marketing legislation. Indeed, the national competition policy [NCP] required all State governments to review all legislation that potentially impeded competition.

    The New South Wales Labor Government's decision to retain the current arrangements was consistent with the findings of no less than two NCP reviews. Despite this, the Federal Treasurer threatened a $13 million payment penalty in 2004-05. In March 2004 I held emergency talks with the National Competition Council [NCC] and was able to convince it to recommend to the Federal Treasurer that he suspend the $13 million penalty in return for New South Wales carrying out yet another independent review of the marketing arrangements. We carried out this review—the third such review in 10 years—and consulted closely with industry throughout the process. Earlier in the debate the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that the Government's reports relating to the NCP inquiries were "just about a page". That was his expression.

    Here are the documents. The report on the poultry meat industry has 50 or 60 pages. The review of the Rice Marketing Board is a very thick document, and it is available on the web. Another review of the Poultry Meat Industry Act was conducted to try to protect the industry. I have also the final report of the review of the legislation establishing the New South Wales Marketing Board and the final report on the poultry industry. The effort of the Department of Primary Industries has been extensive in trying to beat off the National Competition Council, its ideologues and Mr Costello, who will enforce every decision to penalise this State and other States recommended by the NCC.

    As I said, in March I held emergency talks and I got the NCC to hold off imposing the penalty, to put it into the suspension pool. We carried out this review—as I said, the third such review in 10 years—and consulted with industry throughout the process. This review confirmed the benefits of the current arrangements to the New South Wales and national economies. Industry also put its case to Kate Hull, Peter McGauren and Mark Vaile, and Nick Minchin came down to see first hand what a success story the rice industry is. The concerns of industry were explained during each of these briefings with Federal Coalition members. The Premier has even written to the Prime Minister in defence of the arrangements. The Premier's correspondence to the Prime Minister, like all pleas to the Commonwealth on this matter, has been met with a deafening silence.

    Despite all our efforts, the NCC continually fails to accept the benefits of our rice marketing arrangements. Like us, the industry is flabbergasted by the NCC's continued position. We have gone to extraordinary efforts to maintain our current rice marketing arrangements and to convince the Federal Government to reverse its position. Laurie Arthur's comments were referred to in the debate. It is interesting to note that the only statement the Deputy Leader of the Opposition could come up with was a press release he issued on the day the announcement was made. Was Laurie Arthur disappointed? Absolutely! And so was I. And one would be disappointed. We had proven the value of the rice industry but it was not accepted by the NCC. How do we know this? Because that is what the NCC's report stated.

    The Hon. Rick Colless: You signed off on it.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: The Hon. Rick Colless is being ridiculous beyond belief. This report showed that there was a $45 million net benefit to New South Wales. Far from failing to demonstrate the value, we were able to document it on three separate occasions. But the truth is that The Nationals did, as they continue to do, nothing. They have not done anything anywhere to help this industry, the poultry industry or the dairy industry. The Nationals let them all go to the wall.

    The Hon. Rick Colless: No, we didn't.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: You absolutely let them go to the wall. Time and time again the Deputy Leader of the Opposition shows that he simply does not understand government. Fortunately for New South Wales he will never have the opportunity to experience it. The NCC does not negotiate with industries; it negotiates only with States. But we cannot ignore the key question: What did the Deputy Leader of the Opposition do? Absolutely nothing! He loves talking about laziness but he is not very good at action. He issued one press release but made no public statement; and he made not a single representation. Effectively, he did nothing.

    Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has been absolutely silent on whether the rice industry supports the bill. I wonder why that is the case. Members opposite know that this bill is the best result they could have hoped for. We know that they want a deferral, and we agree with them. But our stance has been entirely consistent: We will delay deregulation as long as the Federal Government waives the penalty. Over the past few weeks the Rice Marketing Board, along with Sunrice and their legal advisers, has been working closely with the Department of Primary Industries to develop this bill. While it would prefer the existing arrangements to remain, it has indicated that it appreciates the impossible position of the New South Wales Government and supports the bill.

    These efforts comprehensively refute claims made by the Opposition in the other place this morning when the honourable member for Murrumbidgee tried to assert that the New South Wales Government was somehow to blame for the intransigence of the Federal Government and the NCC in this issue.
    The honourable member also tried to blame the New South Wales Government for acting hastily on this matter. The National Competition Council demanded that the rice marketing legislation be amended by 30 November or New South Wales would face a $26 million penalty. Further, the new arrangements have to be operational by 1 July 2006. These are NCC deadlines, not ours. They are not the New South Wales Government's deadlines.

    As we have made clear to the industry, we would much prefer to provide for a reasonable transition, but can only do so if the threat of a tranche payment penalty is lifted by the NCC and the Federal Government. That is something Mr Howard has refused to do. The Opposition then tried to suggest that the New South Wales Government should simply wear the $26 million penalty. However, it should be appreciated that this would be a substantial hit on the New South Wales budget and would impact on programs. What would honourable members opposite propose we do without—nurses, schoolteachers, police—or perhaps the Opposition has a spare $26 million stashed away somewhere?

    The fundamental point remains that this is an unnecessary and unjustified imposition on New South Wales. Why should the taxpayers of New South Wales have to cop this hit? What have Opposition members done to convince their Federal colleagues to show some commonsense on this issue? Laurie Arthur of the Rice Growers Association told ABC radio last month that the industry is, "Absolutely at a loss as to why the NCC will not accept an independent inquiry as was required." I could not agree more. The New South Wales Government has done everything in its power to protect the existing marketing arrangements for the rice industry in New South Wales. These arrangements have delivered substantial benefits to rice growers and the broader community over the past 20 years.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: You put out your press release too soon.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I put out the press release under the hammer from the NCC saying that if we did not put it out saying what we were going to do on that day it would impose a penalty. Knowing Mr Costello, it was clear to me that it would impose a penalty. The NCC and the Federal Government want to dismantle these arrangements and put at risk $48 million a year in export premiums to possibly save a paltry $150,000 in efficiency costs. It is with great regret that I bring forward this bill, which is designed to deregulate the domestic market for rice in New South Wales while at the same time endeavouring to shore up as best we can the single export desk currently enjoyed by SunRice.

    I would also like to address the national competition policy issue raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. When Mr Carr, Mr Egan and every other government in Australia signed, the national competition policy was meant to consider major industry monopolies, particularly public infrastructure such as energy, water and transport. The National Competition Council and the Federal Government have chosen to apply this policy to all sorts of arrangements that were never envisaged to come under the policy. They have twisted and distorted the policy to suit their own philosophical prejudices and used it as a weapon against the States.

    The Federal Government can listen to reason when it is forced to. I remind the House that I negotiated satisfactory amendments to farm debt mediation legislation that allowed New South Wales to retain compulsory mediation—something that is in everyone's best interests. This bill does not take effect until July. In the meantime I look forward to seeing the New South Wales Nationals get off their backsides and get their Federal colleagues to change Mr Costello's position and to change Mr Howard's position to make it clear that that if we do not proceed with this on 1 July next year they will not impose a $26 million fine on New South Wales. Their obligations are absolutely clear. One only has to read the correspondence of the NCC. It does not seem to seep into the heads of members opposite. The NCC correspondence states:

    As we discussed last week, in order to meet its NCP obligations and avoid the prospect of payment deductions, NSW would need to reform regulation of rice marketing. Under such reform a single desk for export could be retained, but sale and purchase of rice for domestic use would need to be opened up to competition.

    I confirm these main elements accord with our discussions. However, I note that in our discussions I emphasised the need for reform to be implemented before decisions in relation to the Council's 2005 NCP Assessment are finally taken.

    How clear can one be? We have to put this legislation through Parliament by 30 November. The letter goes on:

    In practice, this requires that the legislation to give effect to these changes be passed by the NSW Parliament before 30 November 2005 (although as discussed the reforms could come in to effect after the current crop has been harvested).

    That is one little thing I was able to get to protect the rice growers over the next harvest. There is nothing clearer than this.

    The Hon. Rick Colless: Who signed that?

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: This is signed by David Crawford, Acting President of the NCC. It is absolutely clear-cut. If we do not put this legislation through Parliament by 30 November we will be fined $26 million. How stupid can The Nationals be? How absolutely hypocritical can they be, as they were with the dairy deregulation, when we were told if we did not support the national framework that was being imposed on us and deregulate the dairy industry, our dairy farmers in New South Wales would lose $400 million? The dairy industry told us to do it. Members opposite came into Parliament and did exactly the same thing as they are doing now: Deregulation is terrible, why are they are deregulating? What did they say about poultry? The NCC fined us $13 million. It was going to fine us more. What did members opposite do? They accused us of forcing the situation. It is the NCC, Peter Costello and John Howard who are forcing this issue, not the New South Wales Government.

    The Nationals are absolutely unable to influence the Federal Government on a major farming issue. How weak, how impotent, how poor is this once-great party? Last Monday it was fantastic walking around doing great things for this State on native vegetation with Ian Sinclair, a National Party man of substance compared with The Nationals who have deserted the rice industry. They have done nothing: no press statements, no letters to Mr McGauran, Mr Vaile or Mr Howard pleading for them not to go ahead and fine New South Wales over the rice industry and asking them to be reasonable, protect the public benefits provided by the industry, and to pull back.

    I look forward to seeing in the next nine months how many statements the Deputy Leader of the Opposition makes, how many press releases he issues to the people of New South Wales pointing out that his Federal colleagues have deserted the rice industry and left The Nationals high and dry. No wonder they are losing seats all over this State. Honourable members, do not be tricked by the duplicitous Nationals. Do not give them one iota of support in this Chamber. They are showing once more their inability to effect any change with their Federal colleagues. They have shown that they are a bit of a National party rump. At the next election they surely will lose even more members, and even their status as a party. Vote against The Nationals because they are useless and they have deserted the bush.

    Question—That this bill be now read a second time—put.

    The House divided.

    Ayes, 20
    Mr Breen
    Ms Burnswoods
    Mr Catanzariti
    Mr Costa
    Mr Della Bosca
    Mr Donnelly
    Ms Fazio
    Ms Griffin
    Mr Hatzistergos
    Mr Kelly
    Mr Macdonald
    Reverend Nile
    Mr Obeid
    Ms Robertson
    Mr Roozendaal
    Ms Sharpe
    Mr Tsang
    Dr Wong
    Tellers
    Mr Primrose
    Mr West
    Noes, 15
    Dr Chesterfield-Evans
    Mr Clarke
    Ms Cusack
    Mrs Forsythe
    Mr Gallacher
    Miss Gardiner
    Mr Gay
    Mr Lynn
    Mr Oldfield
    Ms Parker
    Mrs Pavey
    Mr Pearce
    Mr Ryan

    Tellers,
    Mr Colless
    Mr Harwin
    Question resolved in the affirmative.

    Motion agreed to.

    Bill read a second time.

    In Committee

    The Hon. DUNCAN GAY (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [8.40 p.m.], by leave: I move The Nationals amendments Nos 1 and 2:

    No. 1 Page 2, clause 1, lines 3 and 4. Omit "(Prevention of National Competition Policy Penalties)". Insert instead "(Deregulation)".

    No. 2 Page 2, clause 2, line 6. Omit "1 July 2006". Insert instead "1 July 2009".

    Although I have moved the amendments in globo I ask that the questions be put seriatim because they are very different. I will divide the Committee in respect of both amendments. The first amendment seeks to change the name of the bill from the Rice Marketing Amendment (Prevention of National Competition Policy Penalties) Bill 2005 to the Rice Marketing Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2005. The State Government claims that it has been forced to undergo this deregulation but, as I have pointed out on many occasions, that is not the case. This is a voluntary mea culpa by the Minister for Primary Industries, who did not have the ticker to do the job properly. Whilst the negotiations were continuing, he stymied those negotiations and then had the hide to try to make this a political bill by inserting the words "Prevention of National Competition Policy Penalties" in its title. We seek to substitute the word "Deregulation" because, like it or lump it—and even using the Minister's words—this is a deregulation bill. The Minister would do better to honestly describe the bill, rather than make it a political document.

    In regard to the second amendment, in the brief period available to me to consult the industry on this bill I have been informed that there are many reasons why a starting date of 1 July 2006 is totally unachievable. The rice industry is highly integrated and the current system has been in place for more than 20 years. There are technical, legal and logistical issues that will take time to resolve. For example, the cross-ownership of land and other assets exists between SunRice and the Rice Marketing Board of New South Wales, and schemes such as the Pure Seeds Scheme are co-operated. This amendment seeks to place a moratorium on this legislation so that it takes effect from 1 July 2009. Industry considers that this would allow a transitional period to enable the issues involved in the industry to be unravelled. Amendment No. 1 seeks to change the title of the bill so that it reflects exactly what this bill is: a deregulation. Amendment No. 2 seeks a moratorium for three years so that this legislation will commence on 1 July 2009. As many people in the industry, including the Hon. Tony Catanzariti, would tell you, people need time to adapt to the changes.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Natural Resources, Minister for Primary Industries, and Minister for Mineral Resources) [8.44 p.m.]: I refer to the amendment that seeks a deferral of three years before commencement of the legislation. The New South Wales Government takes no joy from deregulating the domestic rice market. As has already been said, and I repeat, the New South Wales Government faces a $26 million penalty if it fails to deregulate, and this is driven entirely by the National Competition Council [NCC], which has also imposed strict deadlines. The NCC's media release of 18 October relating to the deregulation of New South Wales rice marketing arrangements stated:

    New South Wales's delay in reforming its domestic rice marketing arrangements has been regrettable and inconsistent with its competition policy commitments.

    The media release also stated:

    On the basis that the decisions taken by the New South Wales Government are now implemented quickly, the Council will be able to recommend to the Australian Government Treasurer that the suspended payments be released and New South Wales will avoid the prospect of further penalties in relation to rice marketing.
    That statement is contained in the media release and is quite clear. Obviously the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has not bothered to read it. The deadline set by the NCC for deregulation to commence is 1 July 2006. The New South Wales Government would very much like to see a reasonable transition period to allow SunRice and the industry to adjust. In fact, our request for a reasonable transition period was rejected by the Federal Government. The New South Wales industry deserves to have the opportunity to adjust in an orderly and managed way to deregulation of the domestic market.

    The current agreement between the Rice Marketing Board and SunRice incorporates a built-in four-year buffer period should a decision be made to terminate the arrangement. This is because the industry needs that type of transition period to adjust to significant change. The New South Wales Government wants to give the rice industry that chance. However, we are being denied this opportunity by the NCC's threatened $26 million penalty unless a bill is passed by this Parliament before 30 November and deregulation is implemented by 1 July 2006.

    It is only with a commitment from the Federal Government to accept a transition period and retract its threat of a fine of $26 million that this amendment can be accepted. Rather than move this amendment, Opposition members should be lobbying their Federal colleagues to reverse their requirement to deregulate rice marketing in New South Wales. The Government does not support the amendment. In relation to the proposed change in name, in seeking to change the name of the bill the Opposition wants to waste the time of this Committee on a purely cosmetic issue. The name of the bill does not affect its content. In fact, the current title reflects the purpose of the bill, which is to implement changes demanded by the National Competition Council in its ideological pursuit of market deregulation at all costs. The Government does not support the amendment.

    The Hon. DUNCAN GAY (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [8.47 p.m.]: One could be persuaded by the Minister's argument—

    The Hon. Rick Colless: No, you wouldn't!

    The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: One could be. I would not be, but one could be, if the Minister were able to say that the $26 million would be spent on the rice industry and on schools, police and roads in the local area. However, despite repeated requests for the Government to indicate that the $26 million it will get—not what it will lose, but what it will get from this deal it signed off on—will be spent in the area, I have had absolutely no commitment from the Government. Everyone knows that that $26 million in respect of which the Government is prepared to sacrifice the rice industry, tomorrow virtually, is going to be spent in Sydney, probably to prop-up the Government's maladministration of this State. It will almost certainly find its way into the desalination plant.

    On several occasions we have asked the Government for a commitment in respect of that $26 million. The Opposition acknowledges that it is a lot of money. We have not opposed this bill lightly, but the rice industry is worth even more than $26 million. If Government members believe, as we do, that this industry is important they will support our amendment for a three-year moratorium, at the very least. The Government has said it believes there should be a delay and that the industry needs time, but when it comes to the crunch it will not accept that delay. We all know that this money is earmarked for Sydney and probably for the desalination plant.

    The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER [8.49 p.m.]: I support my colleague the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on these amendments to the bill. I note that the Minister said he does not take any joy in deregulation. I guess the word "deregulation" is so embarrassing to the Labor Party that it has had to put this piece of spin doctoring in the title of the bill and called it the Rice Marketing Amendment (Prevention of National Competition Policy Penalties) Bill. We all know that the number one priority of the Carr and Iemma governments in relation to anything has been spin doctoring, and this bill is a classic example of that.

    The Minister himself said that the title of the bill is a cosmetic matter. Well, that is exactly right. Indeed, that is the one accurate comment the Minister has made in this debate. By calling the bill the Rice Marketing Amendment (Prevention of National Competition Policy Penalties) Bill, the Government has prettied up the title of the bill to indicate that it, supposedly, does not support deregulation, because, as the Minister said, deregulation does not give the Government any joy. In fact, deregulation of the rice industry will give the Government a lot of political pain in the south-western part of New South Wales, where the industry is one of the most important contributors to the economy of that part of the State. The Minister has confirmed what my colleague the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has said, that the title of the bill is a piece of spin doctoring. But the title of the bill should indicate what the bill is about, and that is the Labor Party's deregulation of the rice industry.
    The Hon. RICK COLLESS [8.51 p.m.]: I support my colleague the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on Opposition amendment No. 1, which seeks to change the title of the bill from the Rice Marketing Amendment (Prevention of National Competition Policy Penalties) Bill—which is a mouthful in anyone's terms—to the Rice Marketing Amendment (Deregulation) Bill. We should be saying, "This is a bill about rice marketing deregulation"—nothing more and nothing less. With regard to Opposition amendment No. 2, unfortunately the Government is prepared to sell its soul for $26 million. It is certainly prepared to sell out the rice industry for $26 million. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, $26 million is a lot of money, and it will have a big impact. That is also about the same amount of money the Government paid for Yanga Station. If the Government had constrained its impulse to purchase Yanga Station, it would have saved $26 million and it would not have had to deregulate the rice industry. This is simply a cash payout.

    Bob Carr went to John Howard with his hand out and said, "I'll take all the money you can fork over. We'll do whatever you want. We'll sell out the rice industry, we'll sell out the dairy industry, and all the other industries that are deregulated, as long as you give me the money." That is what the Government has now done with the rice industry: it has sold out the industry. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, the Government will not put that $26 million back into the rural industry in southern New South Wales. None of it will go back to Leeton, Balranald, Murrumbidgee, Murray- Darling, or any of the electorates in the southern area of the State that really need that $26 million. That money will not be spent in that area of the State; it will go into subsidising Government funding for projects like the desalination plant, the cost of which will run into billions of dollars.

    The Government would be better off putting those billions of dollars into fixing the leaking pipes in the Sydney water system. As the Hon. Tony Catanzariti well knows, being a farmer, when you find a leaking water pipe on your farm, you fix it. Just as you cannot afford to have a leaking water pipe on a farm, you cannot afford to have a leaking water pipe in Sydney. Leaking pipes in Sydney account for 15 per cent of the city's annual water usage. But that is what the Government needs this $26 million for: to pay for the desalination plant and to cover the cost of repairing leaking water pipes—leaks that have sprung up because of the Government's maladministration. The Government is selling out the rice industry in a crude move to collect $26 million, when it could be saying, "No, we are not going to accept this deregulation rule. We are going to stand up to the National Competition Council and say, 'No, we are not going to deregulate. We are going to support the rice industry in New South Wales. We don't care if it costs us $26 million.'" That is what the Government should be doing. I support the amendment.

    Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile: Point of order: Madam Chair, I seek your ruling on Opposition amendment No. 2, which seeks to change the date of the commencement of the bill from 1 July 2006 to 1 July 2009. I believe that would negative the purpose of the bill, which is to prevent national competition policy penalties. If the amendment were carried, the penalties would apply. Therefore I believe the amendment is out of order.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: To the point of order: Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile seems determined not to help the farmers of the State. Opposition amendment No. 1 seeks to change the title of the bill from the Rice Marketing Amendment (Prevention of National Competition Policy Penalties) Bill to the Rice Marketing Amendment (Deregulation) Bill. If amendment No. 1 is carried, amendment No. 2 can be carried as well. In fact, I do not even believe the title, because it is so farcical—

    The CHAIRMAN: Order! Are you speaking to the point of order?

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: Yes, I am.

    The CHAIRMAN: Please confine your comments to the point of order.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: Opposition amendment No. 2 seeks to change the commencement date of the bill. I know that Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile is very keen. I have been the Whip for the Government on occasions—

    [Interruption]

    The honourable member stands here and says he is going to vote with us. I have not said a word against his chairmanship of any committee. When he does things like that and wants to stop an amendment to help the farmers of the State, I have to say something. I think it is pretty ordinary.

    The CHAIRMAN: Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. I am prepared to rule on the point of order. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in his last remarks, was not referring to the point of order.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: No, I was not.

    The CHAIRMAN: Order! So he knows he is out of order. I will not uphold the point of order though it may appear to have some validity. Given that the long title of the bill states, "A bill for an Act to amend the Marketing of Primary Products Act 1983 with respect to the marketing of rice; and for other purposes", I believe that the point of order is not valid.

    Question—That Opposition amendment No. 1 be agreed to—put.

    The Committee divided.
    Ayes, 15
    Dr Chesterfield-Evans
    Mr Clarke
    Ms Cusack
    Mrs Forsythe
    Mr Gallacher
    Miss Gardiner
    Mr Gay
    Mr Lynn
    Mr Oldfield
    Ms Parker
    Mrs Pavey
    Mr Pearce
    Mr Ryan

    Tellers,
    Mr Colless
    Mr Harwin
    Noes, 20
    Mr Breen
    Dr Burgmann
    Ms Burnswoods
    Mr Catanzariti
    Mr Costa
    Mr Della Bosca
    Mr Donnelly
    Ms Griffin
    Mr Hatzistergos
    Mr Kelly
    Mr Macdonald
    Reverend Nile
    Mr Obeid
    Ms Robertson
    Mr Roozendaal
    Ms Sharpe
    Mr Tsang
    Dr Wong
    Tellers,
    Mr Primrose
    Mr West
    Question resolved in the negative.

    Amendment negatived.

    Question—That Opposition amendment No. 2 be agreed to—put.

    The Committee divided.

    Ayes, 15
    Dr Chesterfield-Evans
    Mr Clarke
    Ms Cusack
    Mrs Forsythe
    Mr Gallacher
    Miss Gardiner
    Mr Gay
    Mr Lynn
    Mr Oldfield
    Ms Parker
    Mrs Pavey
    Mr Pearce
    Mr Ryan

    Tellers,
    Mr Colless
    Mr Harwin
    Noes, 20
    Mr Breen
    Dr Burgmann
    Ms Burnswoods
    Mr Catanzariti
    Mr Costa
    Mr Della Bosca
    Mr Donnelly
    Ms Griffin
    Mr Hatzistergos
    Mr Kelly
    Mr Macdonald
    Reverend Nile
    Mr Obeid
    Ms Robertson
    Mr Roozendaal
    Ms Sharpe
    Mr Tsang
    Dr Wong
    Tellers,
    Mr Primrose
    Mr West

    Question resolved in the negative.

    Amendment negatived.

    Clause 1 agreed to.

    Clause 2 agreed to.

    Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.

    Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

    Title agreed to.

    Bill reported from Committee without amendment and report adopted.

    Third Reading

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Natural Resources, Minister for Primary Industries, and Minister for Mineral Resources) [9.08 p.m.]: I move:

    That this bill be now read a third time.

    The House divided.

    Ayes, 20
    Mr Breen
    Ms Burnswoods
    Mr Catanzariti
    Mr Costa
    Mr Della Bosca
    Mr Donnelly
    Ms Fazio
    Ms Griffin
    Mr Hatzistergos
    Mr Kelly
    Mr Macdonald
    Reverend Nile
    Mr Obeid
    Ms Robertson
    Mr Roozendaal
    Ms Sharpe
    Mr Tsang
    Dr Wong
    Tellers,
    Mr Primrose
    Mr West

    Noes, 15
    Dr Chesterfield-Evans
    Mr Clarke
    Ms Cusack
    Mrs Forsythe
    Mr Gallacher
    Miss Gardiner
    Mr Gay
    Mr Lynn
    Mr Oldfield
    Ms Parker
    Mrs Pavey
    Mr Pearce
    Mr Ryan

    Tellers,
    Mr Colless
    Mr Harwin
    Question resolved in the affirmative.

    Motion agreed to.

    Bill read a third time.