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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1927

Senator BOSWELL (Leader of the National Party of Australia) (7.01 p.m.) —I, too, would like to make some remarks about the annual report of the Australian Tobacco Marketing Advisory Committee. My colleague Senator O'Chee, who resides near to the Mareeba tobacco fields, understands as I do the problems that the industry is going through at the moment. I suppose one could say generally that there has never been an industry that has been treated more like a milch cow than the tobacco industry. Total government revenue from this industry is $8.7 billion. This is the amount that the industry pays in taxes.

  The tobacco industry has been a good industry. It has employed a lot of people and has opened up North Queensland. The industry was established in the early 1930s as an import replacement industry. In addition, infrastructure has been built around the tobacco industry in the towns of Mareeba and Dimbulah in North Queensland and Myrtleford in Victoria. The tobacco industry contributes $46 million to the areas of Mareeba and Dimbulah in Queensland.

  Unfortunately, this industry has been affected by an ill wind that blows no-one any good. While I acknowledge that the GATT round has helped and will help many primary industries, it has hit the tobacco industry very hard. I have explained to Senator McMullan on a number of occasions that the tobacco industry will be a victim of GATT. The stabilisation scheme which has run for a good many years will be abolished in September of next year. Under that scheme, 57 per cent of Australian tobacco is mixed into Australian cigarettes used in Australia.

  I believe that the government has made an error in allowing 11.184 million kilograms of tobacco to be imported into Australia. Those figures are based on the 1986, 1987 and 1988 crops when the usage was a lot higher. Tobacco usage has come down over the last seven or eight years. Australian growers will only be able to produce something like three million kilograms, or 30 per cent of what they have produced in the past. That is not their fault; it is not because they are inefficient—they are very highly efficient growers.

Senator O'Chee —They are good people too.

Senator BOSWELL —They are great people—people of Albanian, Italian and Greek descent, who have made a great contribution to North Queensland and, indeed, to Australia. Over half the industry will have to go. Some of the soil around Mareeba is very sandy and loamy and would be very difficult to utilise in the production of any other crops.

  The whole township of Mareeba is living on the knife's edge. People bought quotas and they would not have believed that the government would allow anywhere near 11.814 million kilos of tobacco into Australia. That was wrongly done; the figures were wrongly done. They were based on the premise that usage would continue at the same rate as the 1986-87-88 usage. It has fallen away completely and these people are the ones who will have to pay for the government's mistakes in the contribution to the GATT schedule.

  I believe that state and federal governments have an obligation to help these people establish themselves in new ventures. We cannot pull the plug on these people and walk away. There are so many of them in North Queensland and in New South Wales, where the tobacco industry has nearly been written off, and we cannot turn our backs on them.(Time expired)

  Question resolved in the affirmative.