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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21310

Mr KATTER (3:30 PM) —My question without notice is to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware of the statement—picked up by Asian media monitors—made by the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, Ruth Pearce, who on 1 October said:

... that Australia is willing to accept Philippine bananas and pineapples but “under certain conditions”.

Further, a statement released by Biosecurity's risk analysis panel said:

The majority of the meeting was taken up with discussion of various risk management options ...

Could the Prime Minister investigate the situation in which two government departments appear to be making quarantine decisions for the Australian government or, worse still, disclosing that the government has made a decision before the Biosecurity tribunal has made a determination? Further, is the Prime Minister aware that New Scientist in January this year had a cover story on the destruction of the international banana industry by black sigatoka and moka, both diseases endemic and ineradicable in the Philippines but neither found in Australia? Finally, if the government has made a decision to close the Australian banana industry, could the government formulate some plan for providing 6,000 jobs for the people in North Queensland and northern New South Wales who will be rendered jobless by such a decision?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I can assure the member for Kennedy that the government have not made a decision to close the Australian banana industry. We understand the difficulties of the banana industry, along with many other rural industries. We know that the banana industry has benefited enormously from the much lower interest rates and the very stable economic conditions that rural Australia has had over the last 7½ years.

The position in relation to Filipino imports is that an import risk assessment was issued. We are still gathering responses and comments on that. I can assure the honourable member and the many other members who are interested in this issue that no decision has been taken. We will assess very carefully what is put forward. I am not specifically aware of the comment made by the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, who does a very fine job of behalf of this country. In the context of saying that, I can assure the honourable member for Kennedy that no decision has been taken by the government. We are cognisant of the challenges that the people of the Australian banana industry face. We are also cognisant of our obligations of reciprocity where it is reasonable in relation to our trading partners. We will look very carefully at the concerns of the industry.