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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1737

Mr ANTHONY (Leader of the National Party)(3.07) —The sugar industry is probably the most important industry in Queensland in terms of social and economic impact. The dollars earned from the sugar industry are spread widely throughout the community. Most of the coastal communities of Queensland in particular are highly dependent upon the industry's future. Yet the industry is in the grips of the greatest crisis of confidence that we have seen. There is great uncertainty because of the low international price which has prevailed for the last two years and which still-despite some increase-falls short of what is required for the industry to break even. From less than #100 sterling a tonne the price has now risen to #150 to #170 a tonne over the past four or five months. The prospects are not encouraging for the immediate improvement necessary for the industry to be considered viable. The uncertainty exists because of doubts about the International Sugar Agreement, the erosion of our traditional markets and the growth of demand for alternatives to sugar such as fructose, glucose and artificial sweeteners. There is growing international protectionism and less and less freedom in overseas markets for the sale of Australian sugar.

The cloud that hangs over the industry is made worse by seasonal conditions. This year, the prospects are that returns to the grower could be even lower than the disastrous returns for 1982. We could see the lowest level ever experienced in cane quality terms. That means less sugar per tonne of sugar cane and higher harvesting and manufacturing costs. The total sugar cane production in fact looks like being down by about two million tonnes of cane this year. The expected return this season from the No. 1 pool is estimated at $270 a tonne, compared with $228 a tonne last year. When adjustment is made for the lower commercial cane sugar-it could be 13 per cent instead of 14 per cent last year- we finish up with a return this year of probably $21.80 a tonne of sugar cane compared with $22 last year. The price for sugar cane looks like being even less than last year. But, with the reduced crop and the higher costs the industry is suffering overall, the position looks considerably worse. For many producers and for many areas of Queensland the situation is grim indeed. When this happens for two years in succession I cannot over-emphasise the seriousness of the situation for the Queensland sugar industry.

Our industry depends very heavily on the world market prices. This places it in a considerably difficult competitive position. The European Economic Community has its large domestic market and support arrangements, Cuba has its five million tonnes a year contract with the Soviet Union, Brazil has a huge domestic market and also the alcohol industry. But the Australian industry is told to look after itself. It sees the sugar industries around the world receiving assistance while its own Government not only offers derisory help, but also adds impost after impost on the industry and dishonours its promises.

The most shameful aspect of this disgraceful performance by the Government, I regret to say, has been the attitude of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin). He has tried to weasel out of clear, concrete commitments which were given during the election campaign. He has tried to avoid the blame for the Government decisions by flying out of the country as fast as he can every time one is made. He hopes that by his silence he can pretend he has nothing to do with them. He has compounded this catalogue of deceitfulness and neglect by attacks on three parliamentarians who are most concerned about the situation in the sugar industry: the Minister for Primary Industries in Queensland, Mr Ahern, the shadow Minister for Primary Industry in this House, the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh), and the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite). I regard his claims last Tuesday about these men with utter contempt. I know that anybody in the sugar industry would consider them likewise .

What I want to do today, in contrast to the Minister's empty blathering on Tuesday, is to put on record the full and dismal story of the Government's contemptuous treatment of the sugar industry. The sugar industry today really needs the help and the encouragement of the Government. There could be no better illustration of the Government's contempt for the industry than its most important promise to the industry in the election campaign, the promise of an underwriting scheme. That is something which the industry desperately needs and which the Opposition parties promised during the election campaign. Government members went around the country trumpeting their support for the proposal that we put forward. I refer not only to the Minister for Primary Industry but also to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and others. The Minister was quoted in the Cairns Post of 28 February as saying:

Labor will sympathetically consider any request for an industry loan and/or an underwriting scheme, to include the 1982 crop. While many aspects must yet be sorted out, we believe any underwriting scheme should be based on industry returns over the previous five years.

That is what the Minister said. The Minister now quibbles about the words ' sympathetically consider'. But the sugar industry was under no misapprehension. Labor was matching the commitment of the Liberal and National parties during the election campaign. When members of the sugar industry read the statement by the then shadow Minister for Primary Industry they took it as Labor policy. They saw any qualifications that the Minister might have been using as merely a nod and a wink. The Minister could not commit the Labor Party to those funds at the time, so he told the industry. What impression could the industry have other than the Labor Party was to introduce an underwriting scheme? The man who is now the Minister made the commitment and went on to describe how the underwriting scheme was actually to work. I know that the Minister will reply that the Government has provided, on a dollar for dollar basis, $11m in rural adjustment for the industry-$10m for Queensland and $1m for New South Wales-but we also promised that during the campaign; there is nothing new about it.

Although the money is welcome, it is not nearly enough, nor does it get to the root of the industry's problem. The Minister has talked about this funding as if cane growers were the only ones affected by the current depressed conditions in the industry. The industry is very much a community industry. It involves growers, millers, all the people they employ and the whole community in sugar growing areas. The rural adjustment scheme which we promised during the election campaign-and our proposal was picked up by honourable members opposite-has been made a reality but only after prodding by the Queensland Government, and it took some time before this Government agreed to it. The rural adjustment scheme does not really answer all of the problems. The Queensland Sugar Board recently had to provide an increased advance to try to help the industry. But that will mean an additional commitment of about $2m by way of interest to the Sugar Board. Who will pay for that? The Queensland Labor Party now says that it will pick up the cost. Will it pick up the cost for the New South Wales industry too? This is a federal industry. It is the Federal Government which should be responsible. How can we believe the Queensland Labor party? Its promises will be as shallow as the present Government's promises are. This issue is a Federal responsibility. The Minister has weaselled out of it just as he weaselled out of the underwriting itself.

A further key element of Labor's commitment to the sugar industry was a review of the domestic price formula. There was no 'sympathetic consideration' about this. The present Minister for Primary Industry was reported, in the same article in the Cairns Post, that I quoted earlier as having said:

Labor is committed to re-negotiating the domestic price formula.

But what happened? Absolutely nothing. I might mention some other failures, such as the fact that the Commonwealth is providing less money now for the Sugar Research Institute. Funding for that Institute has fallen from the $550,000 that the previous Government provided last year to $485,000 this year. That is a massive fall in real terms. I might mention the Minister's backtracking on his condemnation of the Industries Assistance Commission report as reported in the Mackay Daily Mercury only the other day.

I stress, however, that the Government, as well as not backing its commitment to the sugar industry, has loaded the industry with additional costs. Far from cutting the price of petrol, it has increased the price. It has also indexed the excise on diesel while freezing the rebate for on-farm use. This measure will cost primary industries in this country something like $32m this year and, as the price will be indexed every six months, primary producers can look forward to a further increase every six months. The accelerated depreciation provisions for primary producers have been changed for the worse. The tax deductions for land clearing and swamp drainage have been abolished. That is of critical importance to the sugar industry. The bicentennial water resources program has been abolished. The income equalisation deposits scheme has been gutted. Sales taxes have been placed on the use of lubricating oils for farm use, which are so essential for an industry which is so highly mechanised.

Most disturbingly, in recent days we have seen the Government steadily force up the exchange rate. This will cost the sugar industry about $30m if the full year 's income is affected. The Government has a deliberate policy of pushing up the exchange rate. It is trying to fund its massive deficit by keeping up interest rates on its own bonds. As a result, the high general interest rate structure is bringing money flooding into this country. The exchange rate is the only tool available to the Government to keep the money supply under control and fund the deficit at the same time; and exporters are paying the price. It should be noted also that because of the lift in the exchange rate the International Monetary Fund will not refinance the loans to the sugar industry to meet its commitments under the International Sugar Agreement. This will cost the industry about $5m in that it will have to buy more expensive money.

The Labor Party has left only one claim to support itself, that is, the funding of the Burdekin Dam. What a claim that is. It is as empty as all of the other claims. The Prime Minister, desperate in his hopeless task of trying to persuade the Queensland people to accept a socialist government, is now trying to take the credit for the Burdekin Dam. Quite deliberately, without any regard for the truth, he has tried to persuade Queenslanders that it is his Government that has been involved in getting this dam started. That is not true, and the Prime Minister knows it. Yet this self-styled man of integrity deliberately peddles this misinformation in a shabby attempt to try to win votes. It was the previous Government that negotiated in 1980 with the Queensland Government. It was that Government which last year provided $6.5m for the commencement of the Commonwealth commitment. This Government, during the campaign, peddled and trumpeted its concern for the sugar industry. All I can say is that its performance up to date has been shameful.

Mr Tuckey —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek your guidance. Will you advise me whether the papers I gave to the Minister for Finance and the Leader of the House are still in the House? He has left. I saw him leaving with papers. I would like an assurance from the Minister for Primary Industry that the papers are still in the House.

Mr Howard —That is appalling.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will show sufficient respect to the Chair to enable the Chair to hear the point of order.

Mr Tuckey —Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek an assurance from the Minister for Primary Industry, who is at the table, that the papers which I handed in good faith to the Minister for Finance are still there.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for O'Connor has drawn attention to the fact that he had made documents available to the Leader of the House. That is a personal matter betweeen the honourable member and the Leader of the House. I understand that, when the honourable gentleman made the documents available, he was seeking leave to table them. It is not just the Minister's prerogative to give leave, it is the prerogative of the House. Only one honourable member needs to disagree to avoid a document being tabled. The fact is that the honourable member has made the documents available to the Minister. That is not the responsibility of the House.

Mr Peacock —Mr Deputy Speaker, I really--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is the Leader of the Opposition speaking on the point of order?

Mr Peacock —Yes, on the point of order. The matter of tabling of documents in this chamber is covered by a well established convention of showing the documents to the Minister. Those documents are, in our view, still before the House while the Minister is 'contemplating' whether they can be tabled. In nearly 18 years as a member of this Parliament I have never known a Minister to take documents from a member and take them outside, without the member knowing whether they will ever return. He had no authority to take the documents from the House while they were 'under contemplation'. He had no authority to take the documents from the precincts of the House. Whilst this is straying from the point of order, it is consistent with his deceit that he would do so. It is wrong in terms of the convention of this Parliament that, in response to a request for documents to be tabled, the Minister says 'I will contemplate the matter' and scuttles out of the chamber with the documents. What has happened to them? I believe that the authority of the House ought to be exerted to ensure a full explanation from the Minister as to what he has been doing with those documents which should never have been removed from the precincts of this chamber.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —From the standpoint of the Chair, I would say that the documents are still in the possession of the Minister. They are certainly not in the possession of the House until leave is given. Does the Minister for Finance wish to comment on the point of order?

Mr Dawkins —I am not sure whether the Leader of the Opposition expected me to interrupt the speech of the Leader of the National Party. What had been understood was that I was examining the documents. I have examined the documents . I am happy to give leave for them to be tabled.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is the honourable member for O'Connor now seeking leave to have the documents tabled?

Mr Tuckey —I am. I would like to make sure they are the same documents.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Leave is granted.