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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26940


Mr KATTER (7:52 PM) —It is rather intriguing the way the previous speaker, the member for Chisholm, was going on: she belongs to a party whose official policy is free trade. If you want free trade, you have to accept the closure of the Arnott's factory—there is no in between here. It is regrettable that so many people in this House have those policies.

I stand up today to raise two very depressing developments in Far North Queensland. One is the outbreak of cane grub. It seems that we are an ill-starred area over recent years. The cane grub has been a constant problem in the cane industry right from its inception in Far North Queensland. The Lacaze family recently came with many other people in a delegation to see me and they said that, in days past, when the cane grub simply got out of hand, you closed down your farm, you did something else with it for a few years and then you went back into cane again. In days past we were allowed to use effective pesticides to eradicate some of these pests. There are no recorded problems coming from the use of those pesticides over a long period of time. Maybe there are good arguments why we should not use benzine hexachloride—gamaxine is, I think, the technical name for it. It most certainly was a very effective combatant against the cane grub. For those people who say that this is nature: well, it is an indigenous insect, but its prolific numbers in the cane industry are not, of course, natural in the Australian landscape.

Recently, I flew over the northern cane fields on a very clear day—which is rare, of course, in the super wet belt—and it seemed to me that at least five per cent of the cane was down as a result of the cane grub. This is very early days yet in the season. So people are talking about projected losses of 20 per cent and it does really seem that the losses will be in that sort of order. We may be talking of losses of as much as $100 million. If we are not allowed for a year to use an effective pesticide such as the one that I have referred to to break the exponential explosion of numbers of the cane grub and we are forced to use suSCon and Confidor, we will need a massive amount to cover the huge areas if we want in any way to effectively halt the exponential rate of growth of the grub. Two-thirds of that cost will need to come from government, because the cane industry is reeling under treble impositions upon it over the last three years: record low productivity; record low CCS levels—sugar levels—in the cane; and record low prices. We have had that treble for three years. The cane industry is not in a position to be able to afford the cost of these combatants.

In addition, the black sigatoka outbreak has now taken a very serious turn in North Queensland. People are talking about our inability to eradicate it, and this opens the way for the importation of bananas into Australia. A case can now be mounted that we have black sigatoka here. We would reject that out of hand, of course. But that, plus the enormous cost burden upon the industry of black sigatoka suddenly coming into Australia, indicates clearly the absolute necessity for government to have the same approach as the Americans and every other government in the world, which is some form of protection insurance. The American Congress, as reported in the media, agreed to a $15,000 million package for crop insurance—whether these reports were true or not I have not been able to establish at this point of time, but because it was so prolific throughout the media I assume that it was true. So every other country provides crop insurance. There is a very good reason for this: people will not own up to having black sigatoka because they are frightened that, if they do, they will lose their crop, they will be bankrupted and they will lose everything—as was the case with the papaya fruit fly in North Queensland. If we get a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, people will also be reluctant to come forward. (Time expired)