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Wednesday, 25 May 2005
Page: 160

Mrs HULL (10:13 AM) —It is a pleasure to follow the member for Corio. Probably the one thing we agree on in this House is that the rice industry is an example of success that other industries should be encouraged to follow. An illustration of its success is that the returns it brings back to the grower, the returns it brings back to the community and the returns it brings back to the nation are absolutely significant. I rise to speak today in support of the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment (Rice) Bill 2005. The bill amends the Primary Industries Excise Levies Act 1999 to increase the maximum allowable rice research and development levy rate from $2 to $3 per tonne.

The rice industry has played an important role in strengthening communities within my electorate. Rice was first grown in Australia in the 1920s in Leeton and Griffith. This industry has grown enormously. It now supports 63 regional towns, mostly located in southern New South Wales. The majority of the approximately 2,500 rice farms in Australia are owned and operated by Australian families. Our research indicates that for every dollar a rice farmer makes, $5 goes back into our local communities.

Today I have a particularly difficult task, because this morning I woke to the sounds of ABC outlining that rice is the thirstiest crop in Australia. They headlined the fact that it is a very water-thirsty crop. Then I came into the House and I picked up my copy of the Australian, and here we have this report entitled ‘Thirstiest crop: 21,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of rice’. My blood started to boil. Is there only one person in this place who is prepared to tell the truth, to outline the significance of the rice industry and to support it? I would have liked to have seen more people in this House today speaking up on behalf of this great industry. What we have here is a story with headline proportions, but it only tells part of the story—as it always does. It is the most frustrating thing in my life in this House: the partially told story of the rice industry. We do not have the story of one of the greatest vertically integrated industries in Australia providing the best returns to the Australian people; we have this article saying that it takes 21,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of rice.

I would like to put some facts into the debate in this House. I think that we need to understand clearly what the rice industry is about. The member for Corio quite rightly recognised that the rice industry has reduced its use of water. It has improved its water use efficiency by 60 per cent in the last 10 years. That is a great measure for any industry, but it continues to change its practices and to breed new rice varieties that improve on this. We did breed a new variety of rice and it was launched in early 2003. It is also designed to reduce water usage by a further 10 per cent.

We have information prepared by a water education foundation in California that indicates that rice is one of the smallest users of water when you look at water use per typical home serving of uncooked food. From growing to preparation, rice requires less water than beef. Beef uses approximately 4,663 litres of water for an average typical home serving uncooked. Chicken uses 1,250 litres of water for an average home serving uncooked. Pasta uses 136 litres of water for an average size serving uncooked. Where do we have rice? Rice uses 59 litres of water for your typical home serving uncooked. Is this not a distortion of the facts when we read our own super headline in the Australian today, spoken obviously with ignorance rather than information, with only part of the truth?

Let us look at the whole process from start to finish. Water use may be one of those areas of concern in the initial growth of rice, but when you look at all of the manufacturing and value-adding components of rice you see that rice is a dry value-adding component. There is no water used. All of our rice is value added in Australia, in the Leeton mills and Leeton plants. We are the largest shipper in Australia of branded product. We do not ship our rice out in bins and create jobs elsewhere in the world; we are creating jobs and value adding right here in Australia.

It is an important fact to remember that our Australian rice farmers sow another crop of grain directly into the soil after harvesting their rice. That means that the water remaining in the soil is used to grow a second crop, such as wheat, oats or canola. Rice farmers are effectively getting two crops out of the one unit of water. But do we see this written up in headlines? No, not at all. Rice farmers are the most efficient growers. In agricultural and natural resource terms, this is one of the most efficient and productive rotations used in agriculture today. With research, industry regulations, farm management practices and a commitment to environmental initiatives, our Australian rice farmers are clearly dedicated to ensuring our natural resources are utilised in an efficient and an environmentally friendly manner.

Also, I indicate that not just any farmer can convert their farm into a productive rice enterprise. The industry has strict regulations—one of the only industries, and a leading industry that should be followed by other industries—that ensure that the highest growing standards are maintained, with minimal impact on the environment. Rice can only be grown on approved soils. I wish other crops could only be grown on approved soils. No more than one-third of a rice farm can be sown with rice at any one time. We do not have this in the headlines in the Australian today; nor do we have the truth of the rice industry. No, we just have speculation and headline grabs. Severe penalties are imposed if water use exceeds the industry target requirement.

It is a very, very regulated industry, an extraordinarily responsible industry and an industry that competes in the most subsidised, supported industry in the world. Rice industries across the world are getting in excess of 80 per cent subsidies, and our growers are competing in those markets. Our growers are competing effectively and efficiently in those markets, and we should be proud of this industry. I am proud of this industry. It is obviously not a popular industry; there are only two speakers on this issue here today. But I am very proud and it is a dashed popular industry for me. I am not even popular in my electorate when I support rice growing. But it is the lack of understanding of the rice industry that creates this perception and the misconceptions. Headlines like the one in the Australian newspaper today really do exacerbate the problems for this industry that I so proudly represent.

Mr Danby —Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—Will the member for Riverina accept the question?

Mrs HULL —Yes.

Mr Danby —I am not, like the minister says, anti-farmer, but I would like to know what the member for Riverina says the consumption of water is to produce a kilo of rice. If it is not 21,000 litres, what is it?

Mrs HULL —I do not have with me the figures to produce a kilogram of rice. I am sorry, but I can certainly take it on notice and provide you with that. But I do have Californian education statistics. For us to have a typical home serving, uncooked, of rice, we use 59 litres of water as against 4,663 litres to produce a typical home serving of uncooked beef. I will take that question on notice and provide that information to the member for Melbourne Ports.

I will continue to talk about this great industry. As I have said, our Australian rice growers have developed an innovative program designed to meet national environmental requirements, and certainly they are adhering to that. Rice growers and various government agencies and organisations have come together and collectively agreed on a pathway to environmental excellence. The program they have designed, Environmental Champions, aims to combine the many and somewhat complex regional environmental requirements into a streamlined, user-friendly process. Farmers will be recognised for their achievements and for these environmental benefits as well.

We are making an enormous effort to return environmental benefits. Environmental Champions offers rice growers the tools to be innovative, and to look for environmentally friendly ways to improve their productivity and profitability while at the same time ensuring a legacy for their farms and their industry. A significant amount of activity is taking place to ensure continual environmental improvements.

There is considerable biodiversity on rice farms. Rice farms have never been recognised in Australia for their biodiversity. When I was in the parliament of the European Union, just some 2½ years ago, its agricultural committees recognised the rich biodiversity of rice farms. Rice is subsidised simply because of the biodiversity value it provides to Europe’s wetlands and its contribution to wetland activity.

Rice farms are a haven for all sorts of plants and animals. In fact, the rice regions of Australia have become part of the East Asian Australasian Flyway Zone, an international flyway corridor for the migratory journeys of many bird species, including water birds, that would otherwise not be seen in this part of the world. Rice bays and irrigation channels are an ideal home for insects and animals, including tortoises and frogs. Research has shown that around 40 billion frogs are found on rice farms throughout the Riverina alone. The endangered Southern Bell frog relies on the rice industry for its survival. The farm landscape also includes remnant vegetation that provides homes for many different species of animals and insects. The industry recognises that human activity has an impact on the environment and that agriculture is partly responsible for a decrease in the biodiversity of regional Australia. Thus the industry has developed a strategy aimed at enhancing and improving the biodiversity on rice farms and in surrounding areas.

The rice industry has done more than most industries to ensure the environmental protection of Australia’s earth. Certainly we do not get any of the credit that is due to us. All we get are headlines like the one on the front page of the Australian today. SunRice is our mother company, the marketing company, of rice. Out of the top 20 food companies in Australia, only six are Australian owned, and SunRice is the largest Australian owned processed food exporter. That is absolutely significant. We hear about ‘thirsty’ crops. Australia, because of the heavily subsidised overseas rice market in which my growers and marketers compete, cannot afford to be one of the thirsty crops, not getting sufficient return for the dollar. The Australian rice industry has to produce at the lowest cost purely to survive—and survive it is.

Our industry is recognised worldwide. We feed 40 million people a day. When I was in Papua New Guinea just before Christmas, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I visited the Trukai distribution centre that was distributing rice as a staple food to Papua New Guineans. I was proud to see the way my electorate’s rice is thought of, and how much we contribute by providing this staple form of food to the many people right across these islands. Rice is an affordable and nutritious food, as the member for Corio pointed out. It benefits not only consumers but also the rice farmers and their communities because the other nutritious foods on their table are there purely as a result of the income that rice provides. Rice provides a very good income for its communities.

I want to talk about the global warming effect. I do not think people understand how much the rice industry is involved in all other very important areas for the Australian environment. We know that the earth is covered by a blanket of gases which allows energy from the sun to reach the earth’s surface. Most of the heat is radiated back towards space but some remains trapped by greenhouse gases. I raise this because this is also mentioned in the appalling article on the front page of the Australian today. Human activity has meant that the trapped gases are rising in concentration which means that more of the sun’s heat is trapped in our atmosphere. This is having an impact on global climatic conditions.

Like any farming enterprise, rice farms contribute carbon dioxide to the atmosphere through fuel and energy consumption—we recognise that. In rice farming, methane is also considered to be a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and is produced by bacteria in the anaerobic environment. In lesser quantities, nitrous oxide is also produced—we recognise this. Our Australian rice growers recognise their contribution to the global warming effect and have developed a greenhouse strategy.

Tell me all the industries that are lauded throughout the Australian community which have their own greenhouse strategy. In conjunction with the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, the Australian rice industry has developed a comprehensive strategy which identifies the main contributors to greenhouse emissions and develops strategies to reduce these emissions. An innovative electronic scorecard has been designed, allowing farmers to input their production data and calculate their emissions in a typical year. Measures can then be implemented to reduce these emissions.

The processing side of the rice industry has also implemented measures to reduce greenhouse gases produced in the milling and packaging processes. The rice industry again demonstrates its innovative and proactive approach, leading the way in Australian agriculture with the development of the scorecard and the strategy.

This industry levy is required to continue that vital and important work. The ongoing drought continues to impact on the agricultural sector throughout my electorate of Riverina. The rice industry has not been immune to the effects of this drought and is facing its third year of production downturns. The quantity of rice grown has been reduced, thus reducing the levy being collected. I support this industry levy being raised, simply so that this continual work will ensure environment and community stability in my electorate and ensure that people are not being misinformed by articles such as the one on the front page of the Australian newspaper today, to which I totally object. I would be quite happy to have Mr Cullen and the Australian newspaper come out and look at my industry and put a value on its actual worth, not to talk out of ignorance with only half the story.