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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7989

Mr KATTER (3:57 PM) —When I was speaking in this debate previously I pointed out that food prices will rise. Of course they will. I do not know whether people here are aware but we produce about seven per cent of Australia’s fruit and vegetables, a market which is dwindling, of course—we are a net importer of fruit and vegetables now. Those fruit and vegetables go mostly from the Atherton Tableland and the area north of Tully all the way down to Sydney and Melbourne. You can manage the amount of carbon that is produced in carrying the product that far. So I do not doubt for a moment that the figures for the increase in food prices—that seven per cent figure or the four per cent figure, whichever one you choose—that came out in the Australian today are accurate.

Whilst I find confusing the figures that are being put out on the increase in electricity charges, it would appear from the figures that I have seen that the increase in electricity charges will be up around 15 to 20 per cent. So is the government going to continue on with a proposal that will put electricity charges to the consumers up by 15 to 20 per cent, food prices up by four to seven per cent and will cost around 100,000 jobs? It will cost around 100,000 jobs in the mining industries of Australia, directly and indirectly. That figure sounds exaggerated but almost all of the mines operating in north-eastern Australia are operating at a loss. The price for metals such as zinc has dropped to one quarter of what it was two years ago. Mr Acting Speaker, do they think these mines are going to run indefinitely at a loss? If they are running at a loss and you take five per cent off their gross, then that makes their net position infinitely worse. So, Mr Acting Speaker, I find it difficult to—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Order! I remind the honourable member for Kennedy that I am not the ‘Acting Speaker’.

Mr KATTER —You are the Deputy Speaker?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The way to refer to me is ‘Mr Deputy Speaker’.

Mr KATTER —Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for providing me with that very vital information. I find it very difficult to believe that the government are seriously pursuing this path. They really have not been around politics very long if they think that there are no political implications, no downside, to a program that is going to increase electricity charges by between 15 and 20 per cent, increase food charges by between four and seven per cent and wipe out 100,000 jobs in Australia at a time of dire financial crisis. It is extraordinary to me that they intend to proceed down this pathway. I hope what is happening here is that there is a lot of noise from the government and then a lot of postponement, exemptions and exceptions. At the end of the day, I would hope that we are not going to see any reality come forward.

As I have said on many occasions here, I am not a global warming person. I am on the anti side of the argument, but I do believe that any responsible government throughout the world should take a bit of a look at the situation and address it. We are in the very happy position in North Queensland of being able to provide renewable energy for the rest of Australia. I represent more than half of Australia’s water run-off, for example. A little tiny one per cent of that could go a long way to providing the sorts of CO2 benefits that we are talking about in this place. There is the North Australia clean energy corridor, as it has become known to everybody. If the projects of the various proponents along this line are carried through to completion, there will be 850 megawatts of renewable energy. To put that in perspective, if my memory serves me correctly I think there are 40,000 megawatts of electricity generated in Australia, so one-fortieth of Australia’s electricity needs would be met. We already produce around 300 to 400 megawatts of electricity in North Queensland now. We have extensive hydroelectricity and in each of the sugar mills we have bagasse being burnt to produce electricity.

It is important for me to tell the House about sugar cane so that members understand. Sugar cane is a grass. By far and away the biggest agricultural man-created crop in Queensland is lawn. When people say ‘run-off’, run-off is mainly coming from your lawns, not from any agriculture. Agriculture is dwindling, diminishing and vanishing. But sugar cane is in fact a grass—it is one of the grass family. It is unlike a grain, which you have to plant every year. With grain, you have to put the steel through the ground four or five times—in cultivation, in planting, in ploughing under and in proper husbandry and management. With sugar cane, of course, you cannot do that. We only replant once every six years, so the steel goes through the ground only once every six years. The sugar cane is covered by a carbon ‘trash blanket’, as it is called, which is about eight inches thick. After we finish harvesting it is left on the ground, which means we do not need to cultivate out any weeds or use weedicides or any of those things, because the only plant powerful enough to force its way up through the six to eight inches of— (Time expired)