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New Prime Minister means new relationships

The departure of the Howard Government in the 24 November Federal Election has, to varying degrees, returned the winegrape and winemaking industries to a starting position in establishing the attitude of the Rudd administration to their ongoing representations. While the claims of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA) remain largely unchanged, Wine Grape Growers’ Australia (WGGA) believes it will need to revive a number of its concerns with the changed ministry.

Both organisations had strong and often rewarding relationships with various ministers, their departments and agencies in the Howard Government, knew their attitudes and were able to influence decision-making. To a large extent, all this has changed.

Both organisations also maintained contacts within the Labor Opposition, so they are not starting from scratch in their approaches to the new Government, but the development of a new administration can bring unexpected changes.

The WFA will continue to press its case for several changes to tax laws to assist the winemaking industry and the maintenance of matching funding for research and development. A particular concern, under the heading of health and social responsibility, is that the new Government supports the industry in its contention that wine is a responsibly consumed product, widely enjoyed and a broadly accepted part of Australian life.

The new Government will be asked to ensure that alcohol policy and regulation is based on sound science and evidence and that there is formal consultation with the industry on policy and regulatory positions, including world forums.

The WFA also seeks the new Government’s support for its water conservation proposals and for the promotion of wine tourism. “From our perspective we need to be talking to the new Government very early because there will be some major structural changes in the grapegrowing regions,” WFA’s chief executive, Stephen Strachan said.

The major concerns of WGGA have been, and still are, an industry Code of Conduct, Government entry into the water market, a national grower database and a national, voluntary, growers’ levy. WGGA’s executive director, Mark McKenzie, says there have been many briefings already with the new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s office over grower concerns about adjustment funding for those considering leaving the industry.

Briefings with the Opposition before the election suggested it was unlikely the new Government would be other than supportive of a code of conduct for the industry. “Our expectation is that a code will be signed by the WFA and ourselves, major regional organizations and four major wine companies in Australia within a month,” McKenzie said.

The concern of WGGA that Government needed to enter the water market to provide security for growers wanting to sell their irrigation entitlements was probably the second order of business with the new administration. One factor was that the retirement of permanent allocations would ease the over-allocation situation for Government and the cost of social support.

The WGGA’s proposal for a national grower database still had a long way to go and was another issue to be raised with the Rudd Government, as was the proposal for national implementation of a voluntary growers’ levy.

Eric Cummins



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