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Tuesday, 11 October 1983
Page: 1574

Mr ADERMANN(8.20) —It is, of course, natural that, as a Queenslander, I want to make some comments on the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry. As well as being resource rich, Queensland contributes massively to the Australian economy not only in minerals and energy product but also in the pastoral industries, grain production, certainly sugar, and virtually every area of agriculture, horticulture, fruit production and fisheries. Our major agricultural industries-beef, sugar, grain and wool-are very heavily dependent on world markets. Queensland beef and sugar producers are more exposed to the vagaries of the world market than producers in any other Australian State or any other agricultural nation. Queensland is the leading beef producing State. In Queensland two million hectares are sown to crops and 200,000 hectares are irrigated. Great potential exists to improve both. I will say more about that in a moment.

These remarkable achievements have been obtained not only by the expertise and energy of Queensland's primary producers but also, and very importantly, by the wise and constructive policies of the Queensland Government and such competent administrators as Vic Sullivan and Mike Ahern, the very competent Minister for Primary Industries. When we look at the situation in Queensland we find that, due to the drought, revenue from agricultural production dropped from $2,600m to $2,191m-a decline of 16 per cent-and we are concerned. Drought cost the State $ 156m; the floods which followed cost $440m; damage to highways, $13m; sheep losses numbered about 500,000; cattle losses, over 70,000; and grain losses, over $160m.

As we look at the estimates and the mini-Budget and the policies which prompted them it is extremely disappointing to see the toing and froing and the unseemly haste with which the Federal Government sought to remove drought relief provisions put in place by the Fraser Government. My colleague the honourable member for Forrest (Mr Drummond) has covered that matter very adequately. The Government did this when the first rain-bearing cloud appeared on the horizon after one of the most disastrous droughts in Australia's recorded history. This exhibits not only a complete lack of sympathy with Australia's primary industries but also a complete lack of understanding of reality. When rain falls pastures do not appear overnight and fodder stocks do not appear like mushrooms. Building up of herds is not instantaneous, nor has a season of lost crops, when all of the costs of preparation, seed and husbandry have been spent for no return and when a year's income has been completely lost, been overcome simply because rain has fallen. Nor did the summary removal in the May mini-Budget of certain write-offs for clearing and drainage show any spark of understanding or appreciation of the needs of primary producers or of primary production practice or husbandry.

I commend to honourable members and to the Government a speech which was made under another estimates head but which was certainly crucially important and relvant to primary industry, these estimates and the policies they represent, by my colleague the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Cowan), on the urgent need for a comprehensive water resources program. As we talk of primary production and the impact of drought, I am amazed at the absolute refusal of the Federal Government even to consider, let alone entertain, the very sensible proposals for investigation and analysis by the Premier of Queensland. It is all very well to snigger at the proposals, but during the wet season primary producers in Queensland continue to see huge volumes of water pour into the ocean when its harvesting would be a godsend in some of our harsh, dry periods. The Government' s answer, of course, was to abandon the bicentennial water resources program.

The very remarkable expertise and achievement of the world-recognised Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation have much vindicated the importance of the investigation and study along the lines proposed by Queensland. This Government is far more concerned to denigrate the Premier, to dismiss the proposals as a fantasy, than constructively to co-operate in urgently addressing itself to the preservation of the most precious natural resource in this, the driest continent in the world-water. Queensland primary producers know from bitter experience, and my colleagues the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) and the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar) also know, how the parsimony of Federal governments, particularly this Federal Government, has made the battle to conserve water an uphill battle all the way. The Government seems more concerned to obstruct and starve than to help or to understand.

I want to turn for a moment to Queensland's great industry, the sugar industry. There is very great concern amongst Queensland's sugar producers about the industry's future. The Queensland Government has done its job. Since June 1982 the Queensland Government has provided assistance totalling $24.125m for sugar producers who have been hard hit by drought and low world prices. We expect the Federal Government to start living up to some of the promises that it wantonly made during the election and has since forgotten. The sugar industry also wants an assurance from this Government about its attitude to the production commercially of sugar on the Ord. My colleague the honourable member for Dawson has on many occasions referred to world overproduction, subsidisation of the beet industry by the European Economic Community, and dumping practices. This Queensland and Australian industry has survived and progressed because of its disciplines and its attention to efficiency of production. It is a most significant contributor to the Australian economy, and it will continue to be so .

Instead of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) and others misquoting my colleague, the Minister and the Government would serve the industry far better if they gave a clear and unequivocal indication that the industry will not be sabotaged. I doubt that many industries can claim the efficiency and the contribution of which the sugar industry can boast. But stockpiles cannot continue to grow. There is not much sense in pouring more sugar on to the world market without sensible regulation. To erode the domestic market certainly is not in the best interests of the industry in Australia. So it is that we look longingly for some clear cut, unequivocal indication from the Minister that he has some comprehension of and regard for these truths. So far that has not been very evident. I recommend that if the Minister does not want to listen to us, to the wise honourable members for Dawson and Wide Bay, he should spend a few minutes with Rex Patterson, who will give him very clearly the same message that the sugar industry in Queensland and New South Wales is signalling to him.

I want to make some comment about the fishing industry. I know that what I have to say does impinge not only on this Minister's portfolio but also on the portfolios of other Ministers. Increasingly, off the coast of Queensland, not only in the north but also within sight of Fraser Island and further south, with alarming frequency Taiwanese and other vessels have been operating their long- line fishing activities quite illegally. As recently as a few weeks ago two such vessels were seen operating off Fraser Island. Indeed, fishermen who get too close find that the intruders are quite threatening. Our fishery resources are being depleted and pirated to the detriment of our Queensland fishermen. I hope that the Minister for Primary Industry appreciates the extent and the seriousness of this problem.

It is no good working on the licensing of Australia's professional fishermen to protect our industry unless much more is done to apprehend illegal overseas vessels which sweep clean our banks and ocean beds. A constituent of mine recently reported an incident-he even identified the vessels-but got no positive response or much interest for his trouble. Thus, as we look at the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry as they deal with fisheries, the fishing industry in Queensland, the fishermen of Queensland and the Government of Queensland surely can expect more positive and responsible action from the Federal Government to preserve the very industry itself. The Department of Primary Industry and primary industries per se are so wide and so varied that we can say very little when discussing these estimates. I should like to say a lot more. One of the disappointments we have is that the performance of this Government harks back very much to the performance of the Whitlam Government, with the Coombs report and other penalties on primary producers. It will remain so while we have a Minister who is banished to the outer Cabinet, and whose defence is: 'Nobody but me understands; I lost that one'. We expect from this Government an appreciation of the part that primary industry has to play in our nation and in our economy. So far we have seen no such appreciation and no such understanding.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable gentleman's time has expired.