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24/04/2015 - 05:25

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The premier has been slow to act on the anachronism that is the Potato Marketing Corporation, but a bucket load of federal money might force his hand.

PRICE SPREAD: Revenue from the sale of the TAB has been estimated between $300 million and $1 billion. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The premier has been slow to act on the anachronism that is the Potato Marketing Corporation, but a bucket load of federal money might force his hand.

The Potato Marketing Corporation has had more lives than Harry Houdini; but now, after many unsuccessful calls for its abolition, the relic of the orderly marketing days seems on borrowed time.

Not even the protestations of the Nationals are likely to prevent its abolition, provided Premier Colin Barnett plays his cards right.

Mr Barnett has never been one to bow to public pressure, and federal calls for Western Australia to put its house in order if it wants to get a better financial deal with the Commonwealth is a case in point.

The reforms Mr Barnett and Treasurer Mike Nahan have been urged to follow include sales of the poles and wires (Synergy) and the TAB, the introduction of toll roads, and deregulated shopping hours. Then came the barbecue stopper – abolition of the Potato Marketing Corporation.

The premier’s initial response was that WA would decide on its own reforms and in its own time.

Mr Barnett has expressed some enthusiasm in the past for selling the TAB. The revenue from a sale has been estimated at between $300 million and $1 billion, depending on the terms. Obviously the $1 billion figure is the more attractive option.

He is also keen on freeing up shopping hours. But his alliance partner in government (the Nationals) has acted as a brake on change.

Then there is the Potato Marketing Corporation, which started its life in 1946 as a ‘board’ to regulate the industry. Despite the push to deregulate, which has claimed state authorities marketing eggs, lamb and dairy products, the potato authority has survived.

Just why it has survived is a mystery. After initially having all-party support for retention, Labor was the first major party to break ranks. The continued backing of the Nationals was no real surprise; support for marketing bodies is in their DNA.

Which leaves the Liberals, caught between their philosophical support for the free market and political reality.

A former Liberal MP, when asked how the potato marketing body managed to survive the various attempted purges, ignored a suggestion from his colleague that a ‘couple of influential producers’ managed to hold sway. The former MP muttered one word – ‘Vasse’. That’s the state seat based on Busselton retained by the Liberals in a by-election last year, but only after a massive (and well funded) challenge by the Nationals.

The last thing the Liberals want to do is fight the Nationals in Vasse with conflicting policies on potato marketing. Growers in the electorate would almost all lean towards the board’s retention, and vote Nationals.

But now the premier can pursue the corporation’s demise, saying there’s no alternative if WA is to get the extra millions from the Commonwealth. It might take two years, but that would honour a pre-election commitment of no potato marketing change this term.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

United for Walsh

THE recent funeral of the former Labor senator and federal finance minister, Peter Walsh, united both city and country, and brought together various Labor factional warriors, who buried their differences to honour the part-time Doodlakine farmer.

But there was more; party rivalries were put to one side as former Liberal premier Richard Court joined two of his Labor predecessors, Brian Burke and Peter Dowding. Treasurer Mike Nahan was also present, as was federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

In fact Senator Cormann was deep in conversation with the former Labor prime minister Paul Keating before proceedings started. Mr Keating’s hands worked like windmills as if to emphasise the points he was trying to make.

Both sides of politics have praised the Walsh rigour towards public sector spending. There are encouraging signs that his influence will live on.

New federal seat

SIR Charles Court and John Tonkin went head-to-head in the 1974 state election, when Sir Charles wrested the premiership from the Labor leader. Now they are again pitted against each other over the naming of the new federal seat for Western Australia.

Proposals for the state’s 16th seat, which is a result of rapid population growth, closed recently. The Liberals have suggested ‘Court’ would be an appropriate name – recognising the contribution of both Sir Charles and Richard Court – and Labor has proposed ‘Tonkin’.

Both parties favour the seat being carved out in Perth’s rapidly expanding eastern suburbs, where Tonkin Highway is one of the key traffic arteries.

But there is another serious naming contender. It is ‘Holman’, after state Labor MP May Holman, who held the seat of Forrest in the Legislative Assembly from 1925 to 1939. That made her the first ALP woman to be elected in Australia.

The ‘naming rights’ winner is expected to be known later this year. Tentative boundaries will be released about August, and finalised next January.


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