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Tuesday, 20 September 1994
Page: 1009

Senator BOSWELL (Leader of the National Party of Australia) (5.44 p.m.) —I want to address this matter because it is an important issue. We are discussing the tobacco industry and the Industry Commission report which stated that the government should do away with the tobacco stabilisation scheme and also put on an immediate tariff of 25 per cent, and then reduce that to five per cent over seven years.

  It is fortuitous that Senator McMullan is in the chamber today because I have discussed this issue with him in some depth during the estimates committee hearings. Certain advantages were given to industries in Australia: the dairy industry, the orange industry and the tobacco industry. The former two industries received disadvantages when the government agreed to sign the GATT. Overall, I accept that the GATT has a great benefit to Australia but certain industries get caught on the wrong side of the wind shift. The dairy and orange industries are two; and the tobacco industry is another.

  The government has gone out of its way to assist the dairy industry. It has made an agreement with the dairy industry that it will find some mechanism that is GATT legal that will offset the disadvantages to the dairy industry. It has also told the orange industry that it will be assisted if it can come up with a revenue neutral plan. That is to be welcomed and I praise the government for doing it; but there is a certain inconsistency with the tobacco industry. It appears that the government has cut the tobacco industry adrift and has not offered it any offsetting benefits to help it through the difficult times.

  The government signed off on 11.184 million kilograms or 70 to 80 per cent of the local consumption. It told the industry that it would import 70 to 80 per cent of the local consumption. I think Senator McMullan agrees that that 11.1 million kilograms was based on the very high figures of 1986, 1987 and 1988 consumption. That consumption fell rapidly over 1990-91. So the import amount allowed has risen and is out of whack with what is being consumed.

  The government has walked away from the tobacco industry. Senator McMullan can prepare himself for a question on that tomorrow. I foreshadow that I will be asking him what he is going to do for the 600 or 700 tobacco farmers who are left, who are producing and providing a legal crop. They were encouraged to produce that crop. In fact, programs over the years this government has been in office offered an import replacement program to get Australia's imports down. Many people were encouraged to go into the tobacco growing industry. Dams, water channels and irrigation were provided to encourage farmers to take up tobacco growing.

  Overnight, by a stroke of the pen by Senator McMullan's department, based on a wrong premise, the tobacco industry has been absolutely decimated. I am asking Senator McMullan to show the same sympathy to the tobacco industry that he has shown to the dairy and citrus industries and provide some sort of program to assist the tobacco industry, as long as tobacco is a legal crop.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.