PM shuts down wheat deregulation debate

Tony Abbott has shut down a potentially divisive internal coalition debate on wheat industry deregulation, frustrating efforts by WA Liberals to push their case.

The Prime Minister told the joint coalition party room yesterday there was no need for a discussion until the Government had finalised a firm proposal on a mandatory code of conduct for port access for wheat exporters.

Mr Abbott's intervention comes after _The West Australian _revealed WA Liberals feared Eastern States Liberals and Nationals would nobble hard-won gains to free up the industry.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Small Business Minister Bruce Billson had disagreed on the way forward but MPs representing wheat-growing regions are holding talks on a compromise that can satisfy the competing demands of Eastern States and WA growers.

_The West Australian _understands the key issue now is whether the Government commits to a sunset clause for the code of conduct, which would set out a clear timetable for full deregulation of wheat exports.

That is what the WA Liberals want but east coast MPs favour a review in several years time examining whether to go ahead with deregulation.

It is increasingly likely co-operative port operators - namely WA's dominant player CBH - will be exempted from the code of conduct and instead be governed by standard competition laws as an offering to the WA Liberals.

While Mr Joyce favours an exemption, the compromise is at odds with Mr Billson's preferred stance of no exemptions and a five-year deadline for full deregulation.

When wheat deregulation was last debated in 2012, Julie Bishop was forced to tell WA Liberals to back off so as not to damage Mr Abbott's leadership but the deputy Liberal leader has let it be known she supports full deregulation of the industry.

In yesterday's coalition party room, WA senator Dean Smith advocated the WA Liberals' long-term support for full deregulation of the wheat industry.

Queensland Liberal National Party senator Matthew Canavan later tried to put the Eastern States' perspective on wheat deregulation but was interrupted by Mr Abbott.

Mr Abbott told the party room while the coalition supported wheat deregulation, there was a fast-track approach and a slow-track one. He said the matter would be discussed in the party room when a proposal was ready.

WA Liberal Chris Back said "full deregulation is the end game" and if not achievable immediately, it had to happen as soon as possible.

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Compare & Save

Follow Us

More from The West