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Wednesday, 20 March 1985
Page: 566

Mr EVERINGHAM(12.06) —The tone of this debate which has been set by members on the other side of the House has certainly been extremely uplifting, as the remarks of the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Gayler) illustrated when he made accusations against the Queensland Premier! The matter of a new State for north Queensland has not been debated in my Party room. Had it been debated, one of my arguments on the topic would have been that it was another promise that the Australian Labor Party dishonoured while it was in government in Queensland many years ago. The honourable member for Leichhardt is probably aware that the second last Labor Premier of Queensland--

Mr Keogh —What has this to do with the Bill?

Mr EVERINGHAM —He introduced the matter. The second last Labor Premier of Queensland, Mr Ned Hanlon, committed himself to establishing a new State in north Queensland. Of course, that is just another broken promise from the Australian Labor Party. The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Lindsay) said that the Queensland Government and the Queensland Premier were stumbling blocks to some sort of assistance being given to the sugar industry by the Federal Government. That is utter nonsense. The Queensland Premier has fought harder than anyone in this country to ensure the prosperity of the Queensland sugar industry. I did not see the honourable member for Herbert or the honourable member for Leichhardt at the conference of the Queensland Cane Growers Association in Brisbane 10 days or so ago. At that conference Mr Soper made very complimentary remarks about the Queensland Government. It is interesting to note that the Cane Growers Association invited not the Federal Minister for Primary Industry but the Queensland Minister for Primary Industries to open its conference. There were two votes of thanks to the Queensland Minister for Primary Industries for the assistance that that Government has given the industry in Queensland.

Mr Wright —How much have they given?

Mr EVERINGHAM —That Government knows the extent of the dependence of the economy of the State and the economy of this country on the sugar industry.

Mr Wright —Tell us how much.

Mr EVERINGHAM —The honourable member for Capricornia is still protesting. He spoke with an air of complete desperation. He harked back to Dr Rex Patterson. I have considerable admiration for the work of Dr Rex Patterson in his day. He was a fine gentleman who had many great schemes for the Northern Territory as well as for north Queensland and for the stabilisation of the sugar industry. Dr Rex Patterson retired from politics a deeply embittered man. He retired from politics such an embittered man because when the ALP came to power and Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister of this country-Gough Whitlam used Rex Patterson to gain votes in Queensland-Rex Patterson knew that he had been used. When the ALP finally achieved government it did absolutely nothing to further the northern development schemes proposed by Dr Rex Patterson. I assure honourable members that Rex Patterson has an enormous school of admirers in the Northern Territory. But we know that he was sold down the river.

Mr Wright —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Prior to the honourable member's speech a member of the Opposition took a point of order and chastised me for referring to John McEwen. What is the normal ruling? Is there a consistency in rulings on this matter?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Rocher) —Order! There is no point of order.

Mr EVERINGHAM —The former member for Dawson has an enormous school of followers in the Northern Territory. However, as I said, he retired from politics a deeply embittered man. This debate, which we hoped would have been bipartisan, has been used as an exercise by the Government to denigrate and belittle the Premier of Queensland and the efforts of the Queensland Government to assist the sugar industry. Those matters of assistance are on the record. I think I should draw the attention of honourable members on this side of the House to some of the statements of Government members in relation to the importance of the north economically to this country and the importance of the sugar industry. I certainly lend my support to the amendment moved by the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), the shadow Minister for Primary Industry.

Mr Wright —On a non-partisan basis.

Mr EVERINGHAM —The charlatan on the other side is still shouting. I think it was in 1983 when the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) said:

North Queensland has contributed much to Australia's national wealth.

I certainly heartily second those remarks. He continued.

The contribution of North Queensland to Australia's wealth and stability has always been high, but it has rarely received a fair return for its contribution to the national wealth, and a proper recognition of its strategic position. National governments have never fully grasped their obligation to North Queensland.

Those words are certainly true of the Hawke Government. The Prime Minister continued:

The Australian Labor Party is determined that this situation must end.

Those words are certainly false. The record of this Government in northern Australia is simply a record of broken promises. We are led to believe in the media that there will be more and more broken promises this year. Where does the list begin and end? I mention Townsville Airport and Darwin Airport.

Mr Keogh —What about them?

Mr EVERINGHAM —What has happened to the promises? The Prime Minister said:

National governments have to attend to the long term prosperity of the towns and cities of North Queensland.

I agree with him 100 per cent. He said that we have an obligation to the half million or so north Queenslanders and those other Australians who will come to live there in the years to come. The Prime Minister continued:

We have an obligation to deal with important regions on a regional, as well as a national basis.

They are fine and fair words but they are soon forgotten. Even as far back as 1982 the Australian Labor Party recognised that there were problems in the sugar industry. When in opposition the Australian Labor Party put out a very attractive document which, I am sure, lured lots of people in north Queensland to vote for the Australian Labor Party. What did it say about the Australian sugar industry in 1982? The Australian Labor Party policy stated:

The Australian sugar industry faces problems on three counts: price, costs and structure.

Prices have dropped due to:

(1) World production being 10 per cent above demand and rising . . .

(2) The EEC is dumping subsidised sugar on world markets.

(3) The United States of America has imposed quotas and is encouraging local sugar production.

(4) Brazil's ethanol program . . .

(5) High fructose corn syrup poses a long term threat to sugar . . .

(6) Costs are rising because of fuel prices . . .

As any primary producer and many other around this country would say, costs are still rising due to increases in fuel prices. What has this Government done about it? Interest rates and machinery prices are on the up and up again. There are structural problems. The document then continued with a description of the Australian Labor Party policy. I understand that this policy was announced in Townsville by Senator Button. The Australian Labor Party policy of 1982, during the current crisis, stated:

. . . special accommodation for an industry loan will be sympathetically examined.

What has happened since 1982 by way of Federal assistance to the sugar industry? In March 1983 we saw this Government elected. Fair words to the north Queenslanders got it seats. In December 1984 the Government went to the people again without having done anything of substance whatsoever for the sugar industry. It has still not done anything for the sugar industry.

All that has been done to date-as best I can ascertain-is that the Prime Minister has agreed to meet the Premier of Queensland on 1 April. I certainly hope that that meeting on All Fools Day will not mean that people in the industry will be treated like fools again by this Government, as happened after the 1983 and 1984 promises regarding assistance to the industry.

As I understand the position of the Government now, as stated by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) at the annual general meeting of the Proprietary Sugar Millers Association Pty Ltd, growers and millers must first agree on a joint position. That is virtually asking for and expecting the impossible. The Minister for Primary Industry knows as well as I do that there are intrinsic differences between the interests of growers and millers. As the Queensland Cane Growers Association Chairman, Fred Soper, said:

If governments continue to delay urgently needed assistance to growers, pending industry consensus, both sectors--

this is the growers and millers--

will have one major problem in common-they will both be out of business.

The situation is so serious that it should not be played around with any more. We do not want to use the sugar industry as a political football. We are not using the industry as a political football but are demanding that this Government honour some of the many promises made to this industry. For example, the growers were promised a floor price scheme. In response to cane growers at Giru south of Townsville the Ministers for Primary Industry 10 days before the last election promised that the Labor Party, if re-elected, would introduce a floor price scheme. What has happened? Nothing has happened.

It is estimated that it would cost $80m to assist the industry by establishing a floor price scheme to keep people on the land and to maintain jobs and regional economies. The Government is likely to have to fork our a lot more money than that in social security payments in the very near future unless it does something about that scheme very quickly. So far the Government has come up with a paltry $16m in assistance, in sharp contrast to the bounty arrangements for the steel industry which are expected to cost $52m this year alone or the $150m worth of assistance to the car industry. Of course, the difference is in votes. There are not as many votes in Queensland as there are in the more populous and industralised south. Last night in this House the honourable member for Herbert highlighted the raw deal administered to the North by this Government when he spoke of the funding allocation under the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. The allocation of funding under CSIRO is simply illustrative of the way funding is not allocated to the North under this Government.

The people in the sugar industry, who have contributed some $300m in export earnings to the Australian economy, are no less deserving in times of hardship than are people in the steel and car industries. They are Australians, and all the time one hears about building a more equitable Australia. It reminds me of what happened in history some 200 years ago when a mob in Paris marched out to Versailles to demand bread of King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette. We all know the story. When the mob gathered under the Queen's balcony, she is reported as saying: 'Let them eat cake'. The Prime Minister is always talking about working to build a more equitable Australia. Just before the last election he was in Bundaberg, a centre that depends a great deal on the sugar industry and an area on which the downturn has had a serious effect. The people and farmers in Bundaberg have been as resourceful as they can and have diversified as much as they can. When the Prime Minister was asked 'What assistance are you going to give us here in Bundaberg?' his reply-his contribution to building a more equitable Australia-was: 'Let them grow vegetables'. I support the amendment.