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Thursday, 26 May 1983
Page: 1038

Mr GAYLER —Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware of the disastrous impact of low sugar prices on cane growers, sugar mills, mill employees, town businesses and towns right along the Queensland and northern New South Wales coasts? Is the Minister further aware that the end of June is a key time for the industry's finances and that decisions for Commonwealth assistance must be made as a matter of urgency?

Mr KERIN —I hope that the Opposition will allow me to answer this question fully. It might show more interest in the sugar industry than it did in the beef industry. The honourable members for Herbert and Capricornia have been vitally concerned about the sugar industry. I must point out the dilatoriness with which the past Government regarded this industry. The first approach by the sugar industry to the then Government was in January 1981. It was made in respect of the domestic price formula. If something had been done then, the industry would have gained some $72m by January of this year. The industry kept approaching the past Government from then until September 1982, when the Queensland Minister for Primary Industries came to this capital and was turned away. Eventually, in November 1982, the past Government decided to have the Industries Assistance Commission report on the short term problems and later on the long term problems .

During the election campaign the short term report on the request for assistance came through to the then government of the day. Although I am not at liberty to say what was in that report, Mr Nixon, the past Minister, is reported as saying in Mackay during the election campaign that there was nothing in it and the Government would be following the IAC's advice. So, there was not much response from the past Government with respect to the sugar industry. As the honourable member states, the industry is in desperate trouble. It is receiving a little over one third of the money received in 1980, due to the collapse of the international sugar market. That has been caused mainly by the fact that the European Economic Community, which was a net importer of sugar in 1977, is now putting five million to seven million tonnes of sugar on the world market, and that is a world market of 20 million tonnes. The farm cash operating surplus of the industry is negative. It is getting nowhere near the cane price equivalent this year, which would get up to $234 a tonne, the amount given as the cost of production when translated from the sugar price down to the cane price. There are long term and immediate problems. These include problems of welfare, liquidity, cash flow, mills, the drought, and the International Sugar Agreement. If honourable members opposite are not interested in dealing with these matters they have no sympathy for the sugar industry on the Queensland coast.

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I point out that all these interruptions, of course, affect the number of questions that can be asked.

Mr KERIN —Perhaps I should draw my answer to a conclusion.

Mr SPEAKER —It would be very wise.

Mr KERIN —The Government is concerned about the sugar industry, unlike the Opposition which has demonstrated its approach. I have met representatives of the industry on three occasions and a submission before the Government is under active consideration. We appreciate the desperate straits the industry is in.