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Tuesday, 20 September 1994
Page: 1006

Senator IAN MACDONALD (5.29 p.m.) —Unfortunately, these documents were tabled only this afternoon and I have not had the opportunity to read the great number of pages in the Industry Commission report. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity at some later date to speak on the report at much greater length. While I do not want to canvass the recommendations of the Industry Commission at this time, I do want to alert the Senate to the difficulties being faced, particularly by the Mareeba community, following a series of reductions in assistance from governments over a number of years.

  Mareeba is a community on the Atherton Tablelands west of Cairns. For many decades now it has been a very progressive and modern community with all facilities and, until recently, an expanding population. But, because of the difficulties in which the tobacco industry finds itself, it is now a town that is really struggling. Like every other rural town in Australia, it has suffered considerably from the recession that the Australian Labor Party planned and that the Prime Minister, Mr Keating, told us we had to have. But it has suffered more because other industries which the community was relying upon have not reached the fruition that was hoped.

  A rice industry was established in the Mareeba area in a way that was intended to cushion the effects of the reduction in the protection of the tobacco industry but, unfortunately, that industry along with the Burdekin rice industry failed, so that opportunity is no longer available to the community. There are attempts to grow sugarcane in parts of the Atherton Tablelands and in parts served by the township of Mareeba but, unfortunately again, the soils in the Mareeba area are not universally conducive to the growing of sugar. In those places where sugar can be grown it grows very successfully and is providing good incomes to the growers, although they have to send it down the range to the Mossman mill for crushing.

  The community itself has all the facilities: a very progressive council and a very progressive chamber of commerce and industry group who, I am pleased to say, met with my Senate colleagues on a recent trip organised to that town. That community, its business community in particular, is very aware of the problems confronting the industry and is trying to do something about it. It has investigated a number of alternative crops, even to the extent of looking at rheum trees from which some very interesting chemicals can be derived. A lot of work has been done.

  The community needs more than understanding from the government; it needs some support in adjusting to the reduction and, I regret to say, the ultimate end of the tobacco industry in that particular town. So the Senate should do its part to help the Mareeba community adjust to the finish of the tobacco industry in the area. There are many ways. Representatives of the chamber of commerce who spoke to myself and my colleagues during the recent trip to the town indicated that they, like all other Australians, were suffering quite considerably from the taxes that this government continues to add—the excise on fuel, the petrol tax at 33c a litre which severely impacts on rural communities like that, the fringe benefits tax and the capital gains taxes.

  The taxes that this government keeps imposing impact very heavily on rural communities. So I urge the Senate in considering this report to sympathetically understand the problems of rural communities like Mareeba, and Mareeba in particular, and do what it can to assist that community adjust.(Time expired)