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Monday, 23 September 2002
Page: 4618

Senator LIGHTFOOT (3:07 PM) —I may be wrong but, from what Senator Kerry O'Brien has said, I gather that no consideration is being given to the sugar growers of Queensland and Northern Australia. If that is the case, obviously I am very disappointed, because I look after the people of my state insofar as I can in this chamber. If Senator O'Brien is saying that there should not be an excise placed on ethanol, or any other product for that matter, that comes into Australia—where it is virtually dumped—I will be equally disappointed. Perhaps a senator on the opposite side will enlighten me with respect to that. But what I know is this: the government, as recently as last week, announced that, under a scheme to be administered by Industry, Tourism and Resources, for domestically produced ethanol that can be blended with petrol and diesel, a subsidy will be paid for one year from midnight on 17 September. The other side would have to agree that some pretty quick thinking was needed to protect Australian industries and jobs from imported product.

The excise rate that has been struck—that is, 38.143c per litre—will apply to all ethanol fuel sold in Australia. A sugar refinery in Northern Australia, in the northern part of my state of Western Australia, can take up to 490,000-odd tonnes of sugar cane a year. Under the present world-priced sugar regime of about US6c per pound that the Australian producers are subject to—including Queensland, of course—there is insufficient margin for growers in the state of Western Australia to survive. If it means that those people then can sell sugar cane for the production of ethanol fuel, that is a good thing, because they cannot survive on US6c or US6½c per pound when the cane is used for sugar production. If, on the other hand, no excise is paid, how do we then combat the introduction of any fuel from countries of cheap production, like Brazil? Brazil does not have wage or salary rates like Australia has. Brazil pays its workers something like $US10 a week. In this country, as we are aware, it is illegal to pay anyone aged 21 or over less than $A400 per week. In effect, if we import fuel that is produced with cheap labour—and sugar cane is the raw material for the production of ethanol—in my view that is dumping.

I admire the government for taking the stand that it has taken. On the other hand, how can the fuel that is produced in Australia from what we consider normal resources survive, if ethanol is produced in any quantity and that ethanol does not attract an excise of some kind or another? I know that my view with respect to this was that Australian jobs must be protected. Australian jobs must be protected from the importation of anything that is produced cheaply and that usurps or displaces workers in Australia. I am surprised that Senator Kerry O'Brien, who comes from the state of Tasmania which has high unemployment, did not take up that issue. How could we possibly stand aside and let cheap fuel of any kind, whether produced by ethanol or normal resources, come into Australia and then ruin industries in Australia? I do not believe that it should. I believe that the government has done the right thing. I believe that it needs to attract an excise. I also believe that the government needs to protect Australian jobs. (Time expired)