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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7781

Senator BOSWELL (Leader of the National Party of Australia in the Senate and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services) (5:42 PM) —The contribution from Senator McLucas was quite extraordinary. She virtually said that Labor recognise that the sugar industry need assistance but they are not going to give it to them. If Labor were going to give assistance to the sugar industry they would not have put up this disallowance motion.

I must say that I am very pleased that Mr Beattie, the Premier of Queensland, has decided that he is going to support the sugar industry despite the fact that his colleagues in the federal party in Canberra are turning their backs on the industry by running interference in the putting forward of a package that would amount to over $150 million over four years—$20 million supported by the federal government, $30 million from the Queensland government and $100 million from a sugar levy.

Let us be perfectly frank about this. I would have preferred not to see a levy. But this is a responsible government. We are not going to run up a government debt of $90 billion—as Labor did in their term of government—by putting everything on tick. Labor ran the debt up, and the implications of that included an interest rate of 23 per cent, a dollar that was high—higher than it is now— and inflation going through the roof. Labor want to repeat that by again putting everything on tick, being totally irresponsible, as they were for 13 years. That is the way they ran it, and that is why they were dismissed and sent over there to the opposition benches to consider their future. I do not think they have learned one thing from that. Labor want to put everything on tick.

Everyone on this side would have preferred to have seen it paid out of consolidated revenue, but we have huge expenditures. Just yesterday we introduced a $350 million drought package, and that is going to go higher if it does not rain. We have troops overseas. So putting this package together was considered the best way that we could support Australian sugar growers. I heard a lot of nonsense from the other side. They said, `We'd like to help you, but we can't because we don't want to do this.' You either want to help someone or you do not want to help someone. You are halfway through— you have one foot on either side of the fence.

Senator McLucas says that the government want to get rid of the single desk. Let me tell you, Senator McLucas—and you know this very well because of your family associations—that only one government can remove the single desk. Even if this government wanted to remove the single desk, they do not have the power to do so. The single desk on the sugar industry is a state government piece of legislation. Even if we wanted to remove it—and we do not—we could not.

Senator McLucas —That's not what the Prime Minister said.

Senator BOSWELL —It does not matter what the Prime Minister thinks; he has not got the power to remove the single desk. It is only the Beattie government that can remove it. The Prime Minister might want a lot of things, but it is only the Labor Party government in Queensland that has the power to remove the single desk. So do not go and shift blame onto everyone else, because it has nothing to do with us. We do not get a vote on the single desk, and neither do you— and the same goes for anyone else in this parliament. Do not come in here crying crocodile tears and saying that it is all the fault of the federal government that the single desk is going to be removed. We do not have a say in it; we cannot do one thing about it.

Senator McLucas —That's not true.

Senator BOSWELL —You know it's true. You try to put up a piece of legislation—a private senator's bill—in relation to the single desk. It is impossible for us to have any influence on the single desk. In fact, after a meeting in September with key representatives of the Australian sugar industry to discuss the implementation of the recently announced assistance, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Warren Truss, said that no decision had been made to dismantle the single desk arrangement and that it was the state government's prerogative to do so if they wished. He said that we certainly would not be giving any support to the dismantling of the single desk and that it was purely a matter for the states to decide. So do not come here and shift blame. If the single desk goes, go and talk to your colleagues in the Queensland Labor Party who are supporting this package, despite what you are doing here.

This package does not please everyone. Sometimes it is very difficult with these types of emergency packages to get everyone on side. At the moment it already gives $36 million in income support—400 farmers are drawing income support on this package. If this package were unfortunately to go down, I do not know what would happen to those people. They would immediately lose their income support—their food on the table and sustenance. We would have to race in another bill, which we would not get up until after Christmas. If that were the mind of the government, we would have to put in another bill to override the disallowance motion so that those 400 people could get food on the table. We would not be able to do it until sometime in March or early February at the earliest.

Senator O'Brien —So you would not pay it.

Senator BOSWELL —I do not know how we could if you disallowed the regulation. You are putting this package at risk by your refusal to endorse it. If that is what you want to do, we could rake up a few bob here and there and raid a few hollow logs, but that is not the point of this exercise.

Senator BOSWELL —Senator McLucas, you have made your contribution, and it was spectacularly unsuccessful. We have been accused of not considering the sugar industry overall. Let me run through some of the money that has gone to the sugar industry under this government. I do not think anyone could say that the sugar industry has not received priority. We have the $150 million package that the Queensland state government and the federal government have put up, which you are trying to knock off today by running this disallowance motion. Do you recall what we did in September 2000? We introduced another $80 million package, which was drawn down to $60 million because the industry kicked in in the end and prices came good again. And I understand that over the last couple of days prices went up to 8c a pound. They have dropped a bit now, but that shows a light at the end of the tunnel. At 8c a pound, which is a reasonable price, people can get by and make a bit of profit. So that is $60 million in 2000. Research into increased sugar levels in 1998 and 2002 received a package of $13.45 million. Renewable energy programs received $32.5 million. A sugar package for the northern regions to get a higher CCS content came to $19 million, and earlier in the piece the sugar industry received $100 million. In total, the sugar industry has received $374.95 million through some form of industry package when it has needed it. So do not come in here and say that the National Party and the government have not looked after the industry; they have looked after the industry.

The industry has been looked after in many other ways. Let me just run through some of them that you may not even have understood. Do you recall in the Queensland sugar industry when the Sugar Corporation went over to being Queensland Sugar Ltd? There was a double tax on it. It was us on this side that had to race the legislation through to make sure that Queensland Sugar Ltd in its new form did not have a tax implanted upon it, with the industry and the growers then having another tax. We did that—you did not know about it; it just happened. When the South Johnston mill went down, it should have been a state government bailout. But we went in and put $4.5 million into it. The federal government should not be doing those things, but we tried to assist the industry.

We enshrined the single desk marketing and acquisitions data for the Sugar Corporation in the federal Trade Practices Act. I do not know whether you knew about that. We are in constant contact with the industry. There is the $90 million package that I mentioned for the northern sugar areas and there are franked dividends going to the cooperatives. That is a huge boost for the cooperatives. So do not say that we do not do anything. We assisted in getting a bounty on the roll-on, roll-off ship. We have done so many things for the sugar industry. We are in touch with them all of the time. In fact, there are some people out there who are ringing members of parliament today, saying, `Don't vote for this package.' They probably think that if they do not support this package they will get the counter-package. But even Senator O'Brien would consider that a long shot.

I rang the sugar industry today—and they are people who are elected and voted for— and said, `What are your feelings on this— what do you want to do with it?' They said, `For goodness sake, vote for it—we need it desperately.' I said, `I am getting information through some of the senators here that there are sugar growers who do not want it.' I was talking to someone at the very top of the industry. He said, `We are desperate for this; we need it, so for goodness sake get the Democrats or anyone else you can get onside.' To come in here and suggest that the industry need support and help but that you are not going to give it is hypocrisy at its worst level.

This particular package is going to give interest subsidies of five per cent or half interest, depending on which is less. For instance, if a person is paying eight per cent, he will then pay four per cent. If he is paying 10 per cent, he will pay five per cent. That is a tremendous boost to the industry. It puts food on the table for people who are absolutely at their last stages and need help desperately. That is important. But this $60 million is also going into job creation programs. I know these work, because we have been involved in them. We have a number of them in place in Queensland at the moment. So that will create jobs and development in sugar areas, which are going to be dependent on industry reform. I just want to take the opportunity to talk about this eight-point plan.

Senator O'Brien —What is it?

Senator BOSWELL —It is a counter eight-point plan.

Senator O'Brien —What are the eight points?

Senator BOSWELL —I will read them out to you. If you did not want to support a 3c levy, I do not think you will be supporting this particular plan, because it has a 23c to 25c levy on all domestic sugar sales to raise $200 million per year, which would be given to growers to distribute initially on a per hectare basis to boost the pool prices. Of course, everyone would want that, but the reality is that if that plan was to go into production it would have an impact on the manufacturing and processing industries—it would just knock them out of the ring. The other point is temporarily determined industry production, where we cut our production while the rest of the world increases theirs. Then the next point is the financing of the insurance fund to boost pool prices. You would be paying your own insurance to get a price. That is just not on.

I know that when you are desperate all of these things sound good, particularly when you get hyped up in a meeting. But the truth is that down here a number of people are trying to bring in something that is possible. What is possible is in this plan. If people run around the country and advocate what is impossible then they are telling people what they want to hear but not what they need to know. There are 6,500 sugar growers out there who need to get the correct information on what is happening, not some pie in the sky eight-point plan that can never be implemented. Even if it could be implemented—and it cannot be—how can it be implemented by an Independent? It cannot be. The only way you can ever get anything done down here is to be part of a party that is part of a government that can put $345 million into the sugar industry. Anything else is just a myth.

You can go around, call meetings and march up and down the street for as long as you like, but it is the people down here who are doing the hard yards. I would include the people in the Labor Party among those who are trying to do the hard yards—they are trying to get a reasonable package that is credible. Unless you can do that, you are deceiving the 6,500 growers. You are building up false hope and false expectations and you will never be able to deliver. This is a reasonable package. I know that it does not suit everyone. I know that people are concerned about the single desk. I understand that, and I understand that there is only one government that can remove the single desk—that is, the Queensland ALP. This package is the best we can do under the hard pressures of economic circumstance. It is a package that will put $150 million into the sugar industry, and I support it.