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Thursday, 17 October 1974
Page: 1809

Senator MARTIN - My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, partly follows a statement which he made in reply to a question which was asked yesterday in the Senate on the subject of locust plagues. The Minister said that no. request had come forward to the Prime Minister in relation to the current outbreak of locusts in Queensland. I ask the Minister: Has such a request now been received by the Prime Minister? Does he know whether the request contained the information that the estimated value of crops currently at risk in Queensland is $65m? Has the Minister seen reports that swarms of spur-throated locusts, a species not currently eligible for extermination by the Federal Government, are now damaging wheat crops in northern New South Wales and that these swarms have moved south from Queensland? Since it is now clear that significant numbers of spur-throated locusts are prepared to cross the Queensland border in order to consume New South Wales wheat, will the Federal Government acknowledge that this species is no longer the problem of only Queensland farmers and can be considered to meet the Government's criteria for a national problem? Will the Minister undertake to take whatever steps are necessary to revise the policy which presently restricts the Federal Government's assistance for combating locust plagues to only one of the 4 species of locusts existing in Australia, and specifically to revise the policy in relation to spur-throated migratory locusts?

Senator WRIEDT - I shall try to answer those dozen questions before 12 o'clock. After I answered a question yesterday to the effect that no request had been received from the Queensland Premier, I learned that by a remarkable coincidence a request had come in that morning. Nevertheless, the presence of these locusts had been known for weeks and even months. The point I was making yesterday was that, despite Senator Martin's question of perhaps 2 or 3 months ago and despite the presence of these locusts, no request had come from the Queensland Premier. I want to make that clear. There is a request in now. I have a copy of it here. It sets out a case about the possible damage to crops in Queensland. But it does not give any indication of the amount which the Queensland Government is contributing towards the campaign there. It asks for Australian Government assistance in solving the problem by way of substantial financial assistance. Again there is only a very brief reference to the overall cost. I do not really think the Prime Minister could be expected to make any commitment on the basis of this document. Nevertheless, a formal request has been received. It is a matter for the Prime Minister now to negotiate with the Queensland Premier.

As to the variety of locusts, I want to restate what I believe I have stated in the past, that the decision to restrict assistance last year to combating Australian plague locusts was not a decision of the Australian Government but of the Australian Agricultural Council. The Council determined that the spur-throated variety is restricted largely to Queensland. It was not a decision taken by this Government. I do not know whether honourable senators appreciate the difference but I can assure them that there was a protracted argument between the Queensland and New South Wales Ministers about spurthroated locusts and plague locusts. I had never heard of them in my life until the matter was raised at the Council meeting. I have a vague picture now of the position, as I think the Australian Agricultural Council and the Queensland Government have. I reiterate that it was not a decision of the Australian Government to restrict aid as to variety. I hope it is clear that that is the case. No doubt the Prime Minister will take up this matter sympathetically because there is a potentially dangerous situation there and I am sure he will be aware of it.

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