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Thursday, 22 August 2002
Page: 5499

Mr CAUSLEY (3:21 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Is the minister aware of any support that has been offered by the Queensland government to help the important Queensland sugar industry? Has the Queensland government helped during past crises? Could the minister inform the House of any statements he has heard that have been made by the Queensland government?

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the honourable member for his question. I am certainly aware of the concerns the Queensland sugar industry, and the sugar industry in the honourable member's own electorate, is facing with the economic difficulties at present. The low world price is certainly having a major impact on the viability of the industry and farmers are concerned about their potential to have a viable industry in the future. The federal government is currently considering arrangements to respond to the concerns of the sugar industry. We are also in discussions with the Queensland government on those issues.

It is true that the Queensland government has provided very little support for the sugar industry over recent years. Two years ago, when the industry was in trouble, the Queensland government provided a total $60,000 in loans to the industry, whereas this government provided support which in the end was valued at over $60 million in real assistance. That financial support helped farmers to get through a particularly difficult time. We were disappointed that the Queensland government did little at that stage to provide any kind of support to help the industry.

However, on this occasion the Queensland government are being a little more constructive. Our discussions with them to date have demonstrated that they have a willingness to participate in reform in the industry and to achieve an outcome that will assure the prosperity of the industry. Those negotiations are continuing. They will undoubtedly, as the Prime Minister suggested yesterday, involve significant reform of the industry, and that is the responsibility of the Queensland government. We indicated when commissioning the Hildebrand report that the single desk for export sales was not on the table. In our negotiations we are dealing with a range of other regulatory issues that are of importance in order to ensure that the industry is able to achieve its potential and that there is a capacity for the flexibility and the versatility that will be necessary to build a new industry.

At this stage we are in the processes of developing a response. I hope that very soon there can be an agreement between the governments which will provide meaningful support to growers in Queensland. We will need assistance from the New South Wales and Western Australian governments to ensure that the New South Wales and Western Australian industries are able to participate in a revitalised Australian sugar industry in the years ahead.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.