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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 2018

Mr LINDSAY —Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware of proposals for an underwriting scheme for the sugar industry? Does the Minister consider that an underwriting scheme holds the answers to the sugar industry's problems?

Mr KERIN —One of the 13 meaningful paragraphs out of the Opposition's 162 rambling paragraphs on primary industry policy says that the Liberal and National parties will introduce an underwriting scheme for the sugar industry. They do not cost it or give any details. Indeed, I understand that this week the Leader of the National Party was in Queensland where he indicated that an underwriting scheme would be no panacea for the sugar industry's problems. It is reported in Townsville's North Queensland Register that he gave the definite impression that the coalition does not believe in an underwriting scheme. The whole question of underwriting is basically a technical question. If the Opposition is to make these irresponsible promises, it should tell the sugar industry what will be the coverage of such a scheme, what will be the reference price, what will be the reference period, what will be the level of support and whether the scheme will be gross or net.

The Bureau of Agricultural Economics has worked out various permutations for an underwriting scheme, under which nothing would have been paid over the last two years. The Industries Assistance Commission's underwriting scheme would pay nothing this year. The joint industry group's formulation, in terms of those parameters I have just nominated, would have paid out $180m this coming year. The Opposition spokesman for primary industry basically composes the policy after talking with industry leadership. It is essentially a wish list. I assume that the Opposition is quite happily taking on this $180m underwriting scheme for this current year. Following a Cabinet meeting this week and also following a meeting with the leadership of the sugar industry last week, I have been trying to get to speak to the Queensland Minister for Primary Industries again on some aspects of assistance to the industry. Unfortunately, Mr Turner says he is too busy to talk to me until 24 October. Mr Kruger, one of the Opposition spokesmen in Queensland on this industry, of course is not too busy; he is here today. I can talk to him. Mr Hallam, the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries in New South Wales, is not too busy to talk to me, and I will be talking to him on Friday of this week. Both the Queensland Minister and I have had meetings in Queensland with the sugar industry. I have now been to about eighteen. Mr Turner recently visited the super-wet belt but the Queensland Government, which has always regarded the sugar industry as its preserve, obviously does not have any answers for that area.

I ask members of the Opposition how they can really say that they will be fiscally frugal when they quite happily take on $180m extra for the sugar industry. If we add up the coalition's promises, they come to about $310m extra. Total spending by the Government this year is at about that level; they promise another $310m-double the amount already promised. That extra $310m is more than the Liberal-National Party coalition spent on primary industry during the whole time it was in government. It is easy to promise $108m for the export inspection service, it is easy to promise the no-threshold payment on natural disaster relief arrangements and it is easy to promise another $34m for research and promotion. Of course the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, this fiscally frugal man, will quite happily go along with the National Party because the coalition parties like to speak to different audiences. It is a very divided coalition and that is part of the reason for this approach. The two parties say one thing to one group and another thing to another. They can promise the world in one setting but, in another setting, they say no, they have to be fiscally frugal and keep the Budget deficit down. I put it to the honourable member for Herbert, who takes a close interest in the sugar industry, as does the honourable member for Leichhardt, that the problem the coalition parties face is that they cannot be consistent. As we all know, there is no joint Senate ticket in Queensland or Victoria. Prominent Liberals have joined the National Party recently in Melbourne; in New South Wales the National Party has been telling the Liberals to 'get to hell out of the bush'; and in Victoria the National Party is raising $1m to assault Liberal seats.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! There is a requirement that an answer should be relevant to the question. I think the Minister is straying rather wide. I ask him to wind up his answer.

Mr KERIN —Mr Speaker, I was trying to point out that the big problem of inconsistency in the coalition-the fact that the Liberal Party can say that it needs to keep the Budget deficit down and the National Party can promise things with ease-arises simply because the parties are not agreed. It is a very shaky, shonky coalition. The parties are fighting each other in every State. They are split. There are even two country parties in Western Australia, not one. They cannot even work out whether they want to split with the Liberal Party there. The greatest irony of all, of course, is dawn-raid Everingham. He straddles both parties. He cannot work out which one he wants to be in. Perhaps he wants to sit cross-wise, cross-legged on the cross benches.