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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3376


Senator MacGIBBON —My question is addressed to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce. I understand that the Minister's Department has looked at the feasibility of gemstone processing in Australia. As Australia produces 90 per cent of the world's sapphires and will soon be the world's largest raw diamond producer, is the Government prepared to give tangible support to setting up a gemstone industry in this country, in view of the great value-added factor in turning raw stones into cut stones? Quite apart from that point, is the Government prepared to use its good offices to divert or to retain some of the product from the Argyle diamond mine in Australia for Australian processing, rather than see it all go out of the country to the South African De Beers group, as I understand it does under contract at the moment, particularly as it is the Government's policy to apply economic sanctions against South Africa?


Senator BUTTON —Of course, the Argyle Diamond Mines Pty Ltd arrangements were made some years ago, before the present level of international concern about apartheid and the Government's proposals about and support for sanctions against South Africa. They are contractual arrangements, but I am not able to comment on the viability of those contractual arrangements in terms of whether or not that is the best way to do it from the company's point of view, quite apart from the South African issue. I have from time to time seen notes from my Department about the gemstone industry, but I really am not in a position to answer the honourable senator's question in detail at the moment. I will obtain an answer and provide it to him as soon as possible.


Senator MacGIBBON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I take the Minister's point about the apartheid question, but I think that another relevant factor is that the Argyle mine is more successful now, with both the quality and the quantity of diamonds that it is producing, than it was when the contract was first entered into.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Will the honourable senator ask his question?


Senator MacGIBBON —Would that factor influence the Minister's judgment in any way at all?


Senator BUTTON —I try to maintain a state such that any relevant and important fact influences my judgment.