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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4855

Senator LIGHTFOOT (2:37 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Ian Macdonald. Will the minister outline what recent steps the Howard government has taken to further assist Australia's sugar industry? In particular, could the minister outline arrangements, if any, that have been made between the Commonwealth and the state governments in relation to this issue?

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Forestry and Conservation) —Senator Lightfoot would know, as a senator with a background in country Australia, that the Howard government has been very determined to help country Australia and the sustainable industries that are built in country Australia. That is why we are very keen to help the sugar industry through the difficult period that it is currently experiencing. Sugar is a $1 billion industry. It employs 6,500 growers, plus 15,500 other people directly throughout Queensland, New South Wales and Senator Lightfoot's home state of Western Australia.

The sugar industry, as we all know, has been in some difficulty, with low world prices and difficult climatic conditions, and that is why we have announced a $150 million package to assist the sugar industry through this difficult time. As part of that package, we are requiring growers, millers, unions, local government and workers to all work together for the best results for the industry. It is therefore appropriate that we get governments at all levels to work together.

I am delighted to announce today that the Queensland government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Commonwealth government on support for the sugar industry. Mr Truss, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Mr Henry Palaszczuk, the Queensland Minister for Primary Industries and Rural Communities, and Mr Tom Barton, the Minister for State Development in Queensland, have just this morning in Canberra signed the memorandum of understanding. I want to thank Queensland for joining with the Commonwealth in putting this package together.

I also pay tribute to my colleagues Warren Entsch, De-Anne Kelly, Paul Neville, Peter Lindsay, Alex Somlyay and David Jull, who all represent country areas—sugar areas—for the support that they have given to this package. Regrettably, I cannot mention any Labor Party politicians because none of them in this parliament have made any contribution to the package, which is such a shame.

The package includes income support of some $36 million to support eligible growers for a period of up to 12 months. It also includes an interest rate subsidy that will offer subsidies on new loans obtained from financial institutions for replanting purposes. Centrelink will be administering those and they will apply from 1 October this year. There will also be a number of regional projects. We will be funding up to $60 million to support regional initiatives and industry adjustment to assist with the medium to longer term restructuring of the industry. There will be some money provided for exit from the industry for those wishing to exit. Of course, there will be no compulsion, but those wishing to exit will get $45,000.

The Queensland government will be putting in $30 million in various assistance measures for the industry, including low interest loans and encouragement for value adding, innovation and new practice. We expect the industry to play their part in this. We will be providing $10 million for an industry group to make sure that they work towards implementation of change in their industry, including regionally. There are a number of ways this will be done. All in all, it is a great package involving Queensland, the Commonwealth and the industry, to move ahead this industry which has been so significant in the development of Queensland over the past 150 years.