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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31774

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (11:54 AM) —I rise to talk about a very important industry that is in the cinderella stages of its development in Australia and that has a significant role to play in the future. Over the past 10 years, Ecofibre Industries has developed the necessary industrial hemp varieties for viable commercial cropping purposes. CSIRO research indicates that, by 2050, the world population is expected to double. A new, sustainable source of fibres must be able to be produced if we are to meet the future demand from the rise in population around the world. Australia has the capacity, through this new industry, to meet this growing demand. We have the varieties, the growers and the technology. However, what we need and do not have is the necessary processing infrastructure. That is why I rise in the parliament today.

It is important that people understand that ultralow THC industrial hemp is not a drug. Industrial hemp is a fibre commodity capable of addressing the consumption requirements of the modern world. I am pleased to advise the House that bipartisan support led to the establishment of Queensland legislation on commercial cropping of industrial hemp in October 2002. Although some other states have the necessary legislation, it is anticipated that in the near future other states will have legislation establishing all of Australia as a potential growing area for this crop.

Ecofibre's crop over the past few years has been growing in the Darling Downs, south Burnett, Wide Bay and Mackay regions, amongst others across Australia. The raw hemp stalk is presently harvested and exported to France for processing and value adding. This product is then imported back into Australia—at considerable expense and loss of jobs, obviously—to meet our market demand in Australia. It is imperative for the future development of the industry in Australia that sufficient investment capital is secured to construct a fibre-processing mill in regional Queensland.

Some of the products that can be produced from hemp are: superior paper pulp fibres, which reduce the need for deforestation; biodegradable plastics; automotive and aerospace components; animal bedding for the horseracing industry; absorbent materials used in oil spill and chemical containment; woven and non-woven textiles; building products and insulation; and, importantly, ethanol. Just about anything produced from crude oil can be manufactured using industrial hemp.

Australia's signing of the free trade agreement with the United States provides us with an opportunity for millions of dollars of export capacity and opportunity which will create numerous jobs in hemp growing and processing, particularly in regional and rural Australia. Presently, the United States of America imports its hemp from Europe and Canada, as there is legislation preventing the cropping of industrial hemp in the United States of America. Australia is poised to meet the demand of this new and emerging market.

Currently, the challenge is to fulfil the capital requirements for the establishment of the first Australian industrial hemp fibre processing mill. My electorate of Maranoa presents such an opportunity, because it is a growing region for industrial hemp. In fact, across the Darling Downs and out through the western Darling Downs hemp could be grown. Growers already have been commercially growing hemp in small, 10-hectare crops near Dalby and in the heart of the Darling Downs. This year we are set to grow some 200 hectares—all of which will have to be exported, sadly, to France if we cannot get a mill to establish this processing and value adding here in Australia.

With vision and commitment, Australia has the capacity to become the world's leading supplier of sustainable, environmentally friendly techniques for fibre production. It will be a new agricultural industry, one that will create jobs in regional Australia. It is environmentally friendly. Hemp can, as I outlined a moment ago, replace many products that are made from crude oil. I recommend to the parliament, and to those who are working on this vital and new industry, that we get behind this and make sure we can get the capital to have a processing plant in Australia to see these jobs in Australia and not in France. (Time expired)