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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 88


Senator MOORE (3:24 PM) —I also rise in the debate on the motion to take note of responses given by ministers in this place today on specific questions about the way a grant was processed. This is not some sham attack on the bush and I am frankly getting quite tired of the government hiding behind allegations of attack, dislike of the bush and this puerile questioning about whether people on this side of the house have any knowledge or awareness of regional issues.

I stand in this place today with a long family history in the dairy industry. I am tired of people over there casting aspersions about interest and knowledge. On this particular issue—the particular grant that was being questioned today—we were asking about the probity and integrity of the process. We were asking the same questions that the people in the bush are asking because if these programs are going to work—if there is going to be an effective partnership—there must be some trust in the process. That is what we are demanding.

We are not questioning whether there is need in the community. We know there is need in the community; we accept that there is need right across Australia. This particular program, as Senator O'Brien has pointed out, is run not only in certain parts of the country but everywhere. We accept the fact that the minister said that we had legitimacy in asking the question—thank you, Minister—but we also want to know how this process operated. Minister Ian Macdonald told us that he was aware, and the government was aware, that people in the dairy industry were `doing it a bit tough'. Thank you, Minister; we know that and the people in the dairy industry know that. It was people in the dairy industry that were asking about the probity of the process in which it was proclaimed that there was going to be funding—because the funding was not actually given. It was proclaimed publicly, with a photo opportunity, that there was going to be a significant allocation of funding to one particular milk company on the Atherton Tableland. It was the people in the industry that questioned that. They were concerned about the way this process was run. They were concerned about the possible competition with a pre-existing company on the tableland.

Senator McLucas has lived in that area; she knows the area and she knows how these people fight to maintain their living in that particular part of the world. So the parliamentary secretary goes to the area with great fanfare and announces that there is going to be a significant allocation of funding to one particular firm to encourage dairy farmers on the tableland. That is very noble. But what we want to know is: what was behind that request? What was the process that led to the decision to give that money? Was there due process as we have listed in parliamentary guidelines and guidelines for departments? Was there significant consideration of all the issues before that promise was made—interestingly, during an election campaign? What we want to know is what scrutiny was given to the credentials of the company, to the impact of the decision to give that money to that part of the world and whether those dairy farmers who the government say are `doing it a bit tough' have actually been disadvantaged by this decision.

So much for whether we know about and care for the bush. What we want to know is whether the government understands the impact of its decision. We believe there are some farmers who have now, and I quote the minister, `made a commercial decision which is going to leave them in further difficulty'. Was that commercial decision made as a direct result of an expectation that a new industry was going to be created on the tableland? If so, how can those people trust the process? Is that valuing the people in the bush? Is that giving them a true response from their government or their political representatives?

What we on this side of the house want to know, as people who have lived and grown up in different parts of the world, is: where is the due probity in the process? When will we find out exactly what the parliamentary secretary, in making this announcement, knew about pending legal action in the Queensland judicial system? When will we find out whether they knew about the credentials of the people who were lobbying on behalf of this particular company? When I tried to find out more about this particular company, I found that their web site had disappeared from the Internet. I tried to look up something about A2 and the web site had gone. I say to the government: we have the legitimacy to ask the questions and you have the responsibility to give us the answers, not just here but in the wider community. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.