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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1271

Mr BRAITHWAITE(5.18) —In speaking to the estimates for the Department of Trade and the Department of Resources and Energy, I will begin with the estimates for the Department of Trade, particularly with reference to the commitment of the Australian Government and the Queensland Government to the International Sugar Agreement, whereby certain loans are made from the International Monetary Fund to Australia and passed on to Queensland for stocking arrangements under the ISA. I mention this because it is particularly important that Australia has a commitment to the functioning of the International Sugar Agreement, an Agreement which at the moment is under a great deal of strain. The Commonwealth's part in the transfer of those funds is extremely important to the Agreement.

It is important, as I say, to recognise the strains under which the sugar industry is now placed because of the collapse last week of the International Sugar Agreement. The conference to try to find an agreement in this regard has been unable even to reach a compromise and the 82 participating countries have adjourned the talks until February next year. The 10 main producers, particularly the four biggest-Cuba, the European Economic Community, Brazil and Australia-were unable to agree on ways of applying the regulatory mechanisms in adapting supply to demands on the world market to stabilise prices. These producers were seeking a formula to permit calculation, depending on exports in recent years, of the availability of reference exports by each country. The representatives from Cuba, Brazil and Australia in particular challenged what they described as a lack of flexibility by the EEC. In this area of trade, of course, Australia depends on the Federal Government to a large extent as to how negotiations will be completed. We have always recognised from one government to another the manner in which the EEC must be treated and dealt with in this area.

I suggest that as this agreement has to be renegotiated within 12 months-the present one lasts until 31 December-the Government in conjunction with and with the assistance of the Queensland Government and the sugar industry, should do everything possible to come to terms with the EEC in this regard. I do not mean that a compromise should be based on EEC terms. I think it has to be one in which the Australian producer, the Australian industry, is allowed proper recognition for its contribution over the years to sugar production, so that it can enter into a meaningful agreement with which the EEC is a partricipant. It is a very involved industry and I believe that it would be well for this Government to realise that it is also an important contributor to trade. For instance, 80 per cent of sugar is exported and 20 per cent is sold on the domestic market. It is the 80 per cent which is affecting the price of returns to growers, millers, producers and refiners at this time.

Prior to the last election the sugar industry was promised assistance by the Australian Labor Party by way of a commitment to an underwriting scheme and a commitment to rural adjustment. Seven months after those commitments were made there is still no underwriting scheme. The Industries Assistance Commission, which looked into the long term effects of sugar, has come down with a report. Both the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) implied that they would have no part in the IAC's recommendations, yet that has not brought forward a commitment to underwriting of stabilisation. It is very interesting to note in the present situation in Queensland a reference to a stabilisation scheme by the Australian Labor Party. However I believe that it has not looked at this matter as thoroughly as it might. For instance, I do not believe that the industry requires a stabilisation scheme; it wants a commitment to an underwriting scheme. The Government has denied this to the industry. It will not be given to it by the Labor Party in Queensland, and I think that we should be aware of this.

Dr Theophanous —Do the Liberals agree with it?

Mr BRAITHWAITE —I agree with the situation that there should not be a stabilisation scheme if the people do not want it. That is precisely the point. There was a commitment by the Labor Party, when it was in opposition, that there would be an underwriting scheme, but it has not been given in spite of the fact that it is now seven months since the election. It would be well for the honourable member for Burke (Dr Theophanous), who obviously comes from a capital city, to realise and appreciate the difficulties of the rural industries thoughout Australia. I am obliged to the honourable member for his interjection which indicates the way in which he regards the rural industries of Australia. The sugar industry is one of the greatest industries on which a lot of our trade depends.

I also want to deny categorically-it is being floated in Queensland at the moment about the sugar industry-that I suggested to the Western Australians that they should apply for a sugar export licence. That is not the truth. Although it has been denied on many occasions in Queensland, the Leader of the Opposition in the Labor Party still persists in repeating it. It is obviously a figment of his imagination. In spite of the fact that I have denied the suggestion I cannot get it through his brain that that is the situation. I want to make that complete denial during this debate.

I refer to the explanatory notes of the Department of Resources and Energy. The matter that interests me most is water. I notice from the explanatory notes that there has been no real ongoing commitment to water research throughout Australia although I do appreciate the fact that some comprehensive study has been done in this regard. A report will be printed as a result of funds made available through these estimates. What concerns me is that while there is a commitment this year to the normal water resources program which would be phased out at the end of this year, the bicentennial water resources program-a commitment of the previous Government-has not been picked up and carried forward by the present Government.

Mr Fisher —Shameful!

Mr BRAITHWAITE —In spite of what might be said I agree that it is shameful. The future of resources in this country will depend upon the reserves of water available in it. Sufficient evidence is not yet available on underground water in Australia, let alone the above ground supplies. Water in western Queensland, western New South Wales and the Centre is bound to be used in future for the resources that I was talking about. Of course one has to talk about only coal, other minerals and primary industries to realise that this is the case. The denial of continued research facilities and the denial of being able to conserve water in streams has been because there has been no commitment to the bicentennial program.

I am happy to see in one of the items in the explanatory notes an ongoing commitment to the Burdekin Dam. I stress the ongoing commitment to that dam. The general comments in the explanatory notes state that in August 1980 the previous Government agreed to provide financial assistance for the construction of the Burdekin Falls Dam. This program was confirmed by the Prime Minister in July 1983. Judging from the way that this matter is being treated in the media one could think that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) was the person responsible for it . I categorically deny that. This was an original ongoing commitment; work was being done. Last year, 1982, some $3.8m was allocated for expenditure on this scheme. What is being provided now, for the current year, is $13m. I approve of that expenditure but I stress that it is a very necessary part of northern Australia's development. There was a great deal of concern, because of the Prime Minister's reluctance to endorse it immediately, that it would not go ahead.

The final part of the explanatory notes states that the program covers a 10 year period which commenced in 1982-83. Where does this put the undertaking, given in response to a question by the Prime Minister, that this is a bicentennial project that will be completed by 1988? I believe that this is another undertaking that the Prime Minister has made that will be valid to only 22 October, the date of the Queensland election.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Mildren) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.