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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1926


Senator O'CHEE (6.56 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

Once again Mr Graham and his committee, the Australian Tobacco Marketing Advisory Committee, have done a fine job and presented a very fine report. I think it is really a testimony to their hard work that the tobacco industry has hitherto enjoyed much of the prosperity it has. Of course, now everything is about to change and a dark shadow is being cast over many communities involved in tobacco, particularly in Far North Queensland.

  The town of Mareeba, not far from where I live, is very much dependent on tobacco production. This report in fact highlights how dependent Mareeba is on the production of tobacco. Tobacco produces $44.69 million worth of income for that town each year. That was the figure for the 1993 selling year, but in previous years it has been higher still. The only reason the figure is what it is, is that the quotas have been wound back. As a consequence, the growers have been able to produce less tobacco. There are still over 300 growers in Queensland, most of them in the Mareeba area. It is not just single growers—there are families and family farm groups—and the implications of losing $44.69 million worth of income for a town the size of Mareeba are absolutely devastating.

  I hasten to remind honourable senators that it is not just the town of Mareeba that is affected if the production of tobacco in Far North Queensland is reduced because much of the income of Mareeba is spent in Cairns and surrounding towns. So there will be a flow-on effect to the local economy in Cairns, not quite as dramatic as the flow-on effect to the local economy in Mareeba but in these tough economic times any flow-on effect, any drop in income for the business sector, has to be avoided.

  In spite of this, our government seems determined to push on with the deregulation of the tobacco industry with an end to the quota system and an end basically to orderly marketing. I think it is very clear that orderly marketing has played a very important role in producing high levels of income for growers, and at the same time has ensured that the processors of the tobacco have the opportunity to purchase product at an agreed rate in an orderly fashion. It is interesting to note that only about 1.3 per cent of the total production last year went to arbitration. That shows how much confidence there is in the grading system and how much satisfaction both producers and processors have had with the outcomes.

  To the states, tobacco is a very lucrative money earner. State licence fees alone in the 1992-93 financial year totalled $1.568 billion. In the 1992-93 financial year alone the excise tax take on tobacco was $1 1/2 billion. In Queensland, which has had a tobacco excise since only 1988-89, the total income to 1992-93 from this tax was $741.5 million.

  It is very clear that no government in this country has a morale right to say, `We will now cast the tobacco industry into the abyss.' No state government has the right to say that it will simply turn its back on the tobacco growers and leave them to fend for themselves. It is not good enough either that the terms of reference for the tobacco working group merely talk about reporting on alternative products that could be grown in tobacco growing areas.

  It is important for the prosperity not just of the growers but everybody who lives in these regions that we produce outcomes that are going to see high levels of income maintained. Mareeba has already copped a dreadful beating and anything that exacerbates the problems will only increase the family and social tensions in those areas. Therefore, we must look long and hard to find ways to give tobacco growers in this country a fair go. They have made a big contribution to our economy. Some 50 per cent or more of state licence fees come from Australian grown tobacco. I believe it is time that the state governments and the federal government put some money in instead of taking it out. (Time expired)