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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1532

Mr WRIGHT(7.35) —In 1986 I raised in this chamber what has become known as the jojoba scandal. It was described by me as the greatest agricultural ripoff that this country had ever experienced. I hoped at that time that the exposure of the jojoba plantation scam that cost something like 3,000 people between $15m and $20m--

Mr McGauran —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: You may or may not be aware that the matter to which the--

Mr WRIGHT —I am not going to talk about it, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr McGauran —To which the honourable member is referring is the subject of a judicial inquiry.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —So far the honourable member has not made any comment on any matter.

Mr WRIGHT —Of course I have not. I hope, Mr Deputy Speaker, that this would warn other investors against questionable schemes.

Mr Spender —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order.

Mr WRIGHT —Last Saturday, Mr Deputy Speaker--


Mr Spender —Mr Deputy Speaker, you understand the rules relating to comments on matters which are before the courts.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order. The honourable member for Capricornia mentioned that he came into the House--

Mr Spender —The honourable member has referred to a scam. He is referring to something which is the subject of a judicial inquiry and out of which it is possible-I do not know-that proceedings may be brought. But the honourable member as a matter of decency should not do that and you, Mr Deputy Speaker, should make sure that he does not.

Mr WRIGHT —Mr Deputy Speaker, the same honourable member tried to stop me from speaking when I spoke on this matter before. The honourable member for North Sydney will be shown to be totally wrong. I am raising the fact that 50 farmers met in Rockhampton last Saturday. These farmers who came from areas as far apart as Bowen and Bundaberg had one thing in common, and that was their involvement in aloe vera farming. They have invested between $40,000 and $200,000 in this scheme. They were promised that all of the aloe vera gel that would be produced from the plants that they grew had been pre-sold. They were promised that they would get returns of $400,000 a year. Most of them realised that such a return would be extraordinary and they hoped that they would get one-tenth of that return. They mortgaged their farms and their homes. They sold land and houses; one fellow even sold a bus. They contracted to grow aloe vera. In fact, they bought the rights to plants on an acre basis. They then set up hydroponic systems to grow the plant. They hoped that the aloe vera scheme that they were entering into would solve the problems that they faced because of the slump in the sugar industry.

The whole scheme is the subject of an inquiry by the Trade Practices Commission. However, there needs to be a further inquiry into some of the other aspects because there is a major scam and scandal here that needs to be uncovered. Many of the farmers will go to the wall unless they get their money back. I suppose that some people on the other side of the chamber say that that is just a case of risk and reward. These people went into the scheme expecting to make great returns. I can understand that. However, many of the farmers went into the scheme on the advice of people whom they considered to be professional bankers. Many farmers went into the scheme because, as they told officers of the Trade Practices Commission and the honourable member for Hinkler (Mr Conquest), who attended that meeting, they were urged by a Commonwealth Development Bank officer to do so. Indeed, a Commonwealth Development Bank officer even touted them for their business. They were approached by Development Bank officers. Those officers went to their farms to encourage them to go into this scheme because they were told that the Commonwealth Development Bank had carried out some inquiry. Other farmers went into the business because the National Australia Bank recommended it.

Over the last four years some $4m has been invested and the farmers stand to lose everything. Hundreds of farmers and their families are at risk. In fact, they are totally broke. It amazes me that when farmers all over the nation are unable to get money from the Commonwealth Development Bank one can go to a certain officer and suddenly get an automatic OK. I ask the Treasurer (Mr Keating) to have his officers join with the Trade Practices Commission to find out why this has happened. I ask them to find out what inquiry was held by the Commonwealth Development Bank. Who was touting for clients? Is the Commonwealth Development Bank now responsible for the bad advice or the actions of its officers or officer? Why did the Commonwealth Development Bank in Queensland in particular go about trying to encourage people into the scheme? I now have documents, which I will table later, which show that the directors took unsecured loans from the company of almost $1m. There are allegations that the company directors were paid in land, buses and houses; the property went into the directors' own names; allegations which show that a director bought a house in cash for $150,000 at Bagara near Bundaberg; allegations that the employees in Bundaberg were paid in cash; allegations that--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.