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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4992


Ms LIVERMORE (Capricornia) (19:20): I rise to speak on and to support this motion. I was going to start my contribution by saying how pleased I was to see the news today that Paul Schembri has been elected unopposed to be the new chair of Canegrowers Queensland. He would be very well known to the member for Dawson and plenty of other people in the House. He has been the vice chairman of Canegrowers Queensland for many years and the chair of the organisation in Mackay. He has a wealth of experience as a grower and a very effective advocate for the industry in all its dimensions. I wish Paul all the best in his new role and he will welcome the opportunity to steer the organisation at a time when the industry faces the usual challenges of an export oriented product and plenty of opportunities for the future.

It has been great to sit in on the debate so far. The motion tells us why it is very important for the parliament to spend time considering the status and outlook for the sugar industry. It is an important industry for my electorate and of course an absolutely vital one for the member for Dawson. I believe all members should know that the sugar industry is a significant part of the Queensland economy and, indeed, the Australian economy because it ranks as the seventh largest of all Australia's agricultural exports with a value of around $2 billion per year. I can understand why the member for Dawson wants to use this motion to promote the industry and to defend it from perceived threats, but we should not let the debate paint a picture of an industry in some kind of crisis or without a strong future. That would be misleading. I would acknowledge, as I am sure others in this debate have done, that the industry has come off some highs in recent years. There was a five per cent drop in earnings from sugar in the year just gone. ABARES, in its most recent commodities outlook for the March quarter, shows us, however, that the international price in 2013, while lower than they were getting off the highs in 2011-12, is still higher than the average over the last 10 years. Looking ahead, ABARES is projecting prices to hold up in the years out to 2017-18 and, very importantly for this debate, its data is showing very strong growth in sugar consumption in the international sphere. We can expect continued growth of around three per cent in the next few years in line with the growing world population and rising incomes. Those factors, of course, led the Labor Party to develop the National Food Plan.

I would like to take a quick look at the claims of whether sugar is toxic and then at what action the government is called on to take. The whole question of sugar's effect on health and its contribution to obesity is very hotly debated, as it has been here tonight with this motion. There are calls for the government to act in various ways. The government is acting on the question of food, nutrition and its contribution to good health and wellbeing, but it is doing that through a very science based and evidence based approach through the review of food labelling and the Australian Dietary Guidelines, an update of which was released in February. The Australian Dietary Guidelines are all about dealing with the evidence and with scientific research to make these decisions. They have taken the step, looking at all the scientific research, to recommend that people limit the intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars. But, beyond that, the government is looking at things like the Food and Health Dialogue—which the member for Bowman was sort of advocating without, I think, really knowing the detail of it. The Food and Health Dialogue involves government, science and the medical fraternity and industry looking at how products can be reformulated to reduce things like salt and sugar to get those health outcomes without having the kind of king-hit on an industry that the member for Dawson is concerned about.

Debate adjourned.