IT MAY seem like only yesterday, but July 1 marks ten years since the Australian export wheat market was officially deregulated.
When the Rudd Government passed the Wheat Marketing Act of 2008, opening up the market to multiple exporters of bulk wheat, it marked the end of almost 70 years of single desk marketing.
Under the single desk, a national pool operated, with all wheat marketed on behalf of growers by the Australian Wheat Board.
The wheat board operated as a government statutory body until 1999 when it privatized and became known as AWB.
The seismic event that led to the dismantling of the single desk came in 2005 with the handing down of the United Nations commissioned Volcker report into corruption in the UN’s oil-for-food program in Iraq.
The report found AWB was one of hundreds of companies paying bribes to the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq in exchange for market access.
Following the bombshell, the Howard Government in Australia set up a Royal Commission, overseen by Terence Cole to investigate whether any Australian companies mentioned in the Volcker Report had broken Australian law.
When the findings of the report were handed down in 2006, charges against several AWB staff were recommended.
The Government then looked into the wheat marketing arrangement, with the Liberal / National coalition divided on their position, with classic free marketers in the Liberal Party clashing heads with staunch supporters of the single desk among the Nats.
It was a similarly messy situation among agripolitical representatives.
With grower groups divided on the course of action there was no prescribed position when the Rudd Government, which had an official policy of deregulation, was elected in November 2007.
The Act to deregulate was passed relatively quickly and came into effect as of July 1, 2008.
From there the once mighty AWB, free from its dual share class structure, was quickly sold off to Canadian agribusiness Agrium, now Nutrien, primarily for AWB’s Landmark rural merchandising business.
The AWB grain marketing arm was in turn sold to multi-national grain business Cargill in late 2010, putting a full stop to the single desk era.