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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7784

Senator BROWN (6:00 PM) —I agree with other speakers that this is an extraordinarily difficult decision to make, but the Greens will not support the disallowance motion on the sugar industry. It is better that there be a poor resolution than none at all in these circumstances. I want to say at the outset—because we must not forget it—that there are very wide ramifications whatever we do with our primary industries in Australia and other people around the world do with theirs. I was in Africa very recently at the Earth Summit, and I saw people protesting because the Europeans are dumping sugar onto the world market, including the African market. When Senator Boswell talks with great heart about the difficulty for people to get food on their tables, this dumping by rich countries onto the poorer countries is creating total hardship. It is destroying families, it is destroying farming areas and it is destroying communities. We should always take that into account. If we are part of a globalising economy—and that is the mantra of this government—then we have to be part of the globalising of benefits and take a humanitarian approach to that globalisation.

Back to the matter at hand, the government ought to be taking this money from general revenue. I agree with the Australian Labor Party on that. It is the obstinacy of the government that is creating the problem, because the Howard government is saying that either it is done this way, by a levy, or there will not be an outcome. There is an element of political blackmail involved in that. Nevertheless, that is the option as it stands. The Leader of the National Party in the Senate, Senator Boswell, has just said, `We have to put on a levy because we've got huge expenditure going out on defence and other matters.' But only last week I heard the Prime Minister indicating on television that he is looking down the line at tax cuts. So that argument is specious. Let us make it clear: this is a decision by the government to take the worst option to get an outcome that we all want to see.

The Democrats have achieved an environmental outcome here, and in direct terms we cannot argue against that. But I think the government gets away with far too much on this front. In the budget just this year it cut $110 million out of the Natural Heritage Trust Fund for the environment. So it can afford to give a weighted $8 million now; we are still $102 million backwards. I think we have to be very wary about being caught in the business of this government using the environment as leverage to get the outcome it wants when it is doing that through the wrong mechanism.

As I say, firstly, the government ought to be getting this money from general revenue and, secondly, it should be funding the environment adequately without using political blackmail to give out disbursements when it sees an alternative advantage coming out of it. I think the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has sold this package poorly. I think there is division within the community. I disagree with Senator Boswell on the point about people marching down the street with placards: they have a right to do that. These are people who are considering the industry, whose lives and livelihoods are dependent upon it and they have every right in our democracy—

Senator Boswell —I didn't say they didn't.

Senator BROWN —I know you didn't say they didn't, but you were pouring some scorn on them, Senator Boswell.

Senator Boswell —Not on them I didn't.

Senator BROWN —You can't have it both ways. You can't say that people are marching down the—

Senator Boswell —I was pouring scorn on the people that tell them to do that.

Senator BROWN —You are saying that the people are misinformed—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Watson)—Order! Senator Brown, direct your comments through the chair, please.

Senator BROWN —Mr Acting Deputy President, Senator Boswell is implying through interjection that the people who get out on the street are misinformed. As a person who has been on the street very often in protest, I will never allow that to be said.

Senator O'Brien —It proves the point, Bob.

Senator BROWN —Senator O'Brien, who apparently has not been on the street in protest situations, is agreeing with Senator Boswell here. But I do not. I think citizens have a right to act on the information they have. If they are misinformed, that is the responsibility of the minister, and in this case Minister Truss has failed them. This is a very difficult decision, and it goes against the grain as far as the Greens are concerned both in the way that the levy is being applied and in the environmental advantage that is to come out of it. The Greens want to see a resolution of this matter, and we absolutely want to see the environmental benefits, small as they may be, that will flow from it. Therefore, we will not support the disallowance motion.