THE Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud has said sole responsibility for the decision to allow Manildra Group a permit to import wheat from Canada rests with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) not the government.
The clarification comes after people within the agricultural industry leapt onto social media to point to the fact Manildra was a hefty donor to the Federal National Party in the 2017-18 financial year.
According to the Australian Electoral Commission-run Periodic Disclosures website, which details political donations in the 2017-18 financial year, the most current records publicly available, the Manildra Group made donations totalling $133,000 to the federal National Party.
The Group also donated $51,300 to the Australian Labor Party and smaller sums to the Liberal Party, the NSW State Nationals and Katter's Australia Party (KAP).
However, Mr Littleproud said the donations had no bearing on the decision, which will facilitate the first wheat imports into Australia in over a decade.
"Biosecurity is always left to the Department rather than politicians," Mr Littleproud said.
"I've made sure the approval has been provided to the Opposition so they are fully cognisant of the decision the Department has made."
He said the Department had not broken new ground in granting the permit.
"This is not a new development, we have had grain imports before," Mr Littleproud said.
However, there were a number of raised eyebrows surrounding the granting of the permit.
Former AgForce Queensland president Wayne Newton said it was the first time he could recall that grain would move from outside the port zone without being processed or denaturalised.
"Wheat has come in before, but it was generally processed or denaturalised very close to the port, it did not cross agricultural land unprocessed."
Former independent New England MP Tony Windsor was also concerned about the biosecurity implications.
"The concept has to be a worry for biosecurity and the wheat market if we start importing grain."
The wheat will move from Port Kembla south some 70 kilometres to Nowra.
DAWR has said it is satisfied there is no risk of a biosecurity breach.
"The issuing of this permit followed an extensive assessment of the potential biosecurity risks associated with the entire import pathway," a DAWR spokesperson said.
"The department is satisfied that that the conditions imposed through the permit will effectively manage any potential biosecurity risks."
Brett Hosking, Grain Growers chairman, said grain imports were part and parcel of participating in the global economy.
"As growers we might not like seeing grain coming in, but so long as it meets all those critical biosecurity criteria, and the Department has said it does, then it is something that can happen if the market requires."
It is not the first time Manildra's generous donations to political parties have come under scrutiny.
In the lead-up to the NSW government mandating the use of E10 fuel, containing 10 per cent ethanol, across at least 6pc of total petrol sales, there were reports of Manildra splashing out $840,000 in donations to NSW political parties.
Manildra has a near monopoly on ethanol production in NSW.
It is the exception rather than the rule for grain-based agribusinesses to make large political donations.
A search of the Periodic Disclosure website did not reveal donations from major players on the Aussie grains scene such as CBH, GrainCorp or Cargill, while Glencore Australia donated just $20,000, to KAP.
The National Party has been contacted for comment.