West Australian wheat farmers have been dealt a double blow: the Federal Liberal Party has caved into the Nationals in their bid to block further deregulation of wheat exports, and forecasts for this year's crop have plummeted.
Despite signs just weeks ago that the Liberals would break from the Nationals and back the Gillard Government's Bill to abolish Wheat Exports Australia (WEA), a spokesman for Liberal Leader Tony Abbott last night confirmed the change.
It provoked a furious response from WA farming groups that believe the change would be a boon to the $2 billion-a-year export-dependent local industry by freeing up access to ports and cutting a 22¢-a-tonne levy that Canberra imposes on growers to fund the regulatory agency.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association Western Grain growers chairman John Snooke accused the Liberals of "lying to local farmers" to appease east coast Nationals.
"They have sold the grain industry in this State out, and people are furious," he said. "We need this competitive marketplace because we are an exporting State and they are going to diminish it.
"The so-called party of free enterprise has lied to grain growers. Behind closed doors they supported full deregulation."
WA Farmers grains section president Kim Simpson said it backed WEA's abolition and it was a rare case of the two farming organisations agreeing on a policy.
The Bill is likely to fail even with WA Liberal Senators Alan Eggleston and Dean Smith considering supporting Labor. The political uproar came as the Federal Government's commodity forecaster warned that Australia's winter wheat harvest would fall by about 24 per cent this year, amid low rainfall in WA. The State's wheat crop is expected to slump by an even greater 40 per cent to 7.1 million tonnes. Mr Simpson said WA's crop could be lower still unless more rain fell in the next two weeks.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Science said despite WA's poor season, wheat available for export would remain high reflecting bumper crops in the past two seasons.