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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 806


Mr WRIGHT —I draw the attention of the Minister for Primary Industry to a publication by the Queensland Government entitled 'Facts about Sugar' in which a number of claims have been made regarding the financial assistance that has been given by both the State Government and the Federal Government to the sugar industry in Queensland. Will the Minister advise the House as to what financial assistance has in fact been forthcoming from the State Government and, in turn, what financial contribution has been made by the Federal Government?


Mr KERIN —The honourable member for Capricornia has a pretty fine appreciation of the realities of politics in Queensland inasmuch as it is the only Parliament controlled by the National Party of Australia. It is a unique Parliament. The Premier believes that cars can run on water. The Queensland Parliament does not have a public accounts committee. Hansard records debates that would pass as a farce in this place. In fact, the whole Parliament is a joke.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! I ask the Minister to return to the subject of sugar.


Mr KERIN —So we can expect from such an aging old fraud as the Premier of Queensland these sorts of claims-the claims of so many millions of dollars going to the sugar industry. Unfortunately--

Opposition members interjecting-


Mr KERIN —I am sorry that I am causing honourable members opposite so much embarrassment. What it all gets down to is the disbursement of rural adjustment funds. For a long time there has been a rural adjustment fund. The Commonwealth funds the States and the States administer the scheme. It all depends on who one thinks owns the money at the end of the day. It is pretty easy to draw up figures which show that the Queensland Government spent by 30 June last year effectively about $175,000 net from its own resources at a time when it was claiming to have spent either $30.1m or $31m-it is generally a moving target.

I should explain the scheme. Under the current scheme, the Commonwealth Government lends money to the States over 20 years, charges 8 per cent interest, gives a four-year repayment holiday and sets a 15 per cent administration grant component. The trouble is that the States lend the money a lot shorter to some farmers. There are early repayments by some farmers. The States retain the administrative component, particularly when there have been few defaulters of the scheme overall.

The latest report that I have available to me of the Queensland Government's administration of the rural adjustment fund-it is a report by the Rural Reconstruction Board-shows that by that process the Queensland Government has accumulated over $30m. There are two elements in that report showing that the Queensland Government allocated $2m to the Consolidated Revenue Fund from one fund and $8m from the other. This gave it $10m which it then said it took from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, not from the funds built up in the rural adjustment scheme itself. This is the money it on-lent to the co-operative mills at 14.8 per cent interest-that is, money that it got from the Commonwealth originally at 8 per cent.

The whole problem is that the Queensland Government and other State governments believe that through this scheme, due to the accounting procedures engaged in and the way the funds are administered, they own the money and can therefore keep coming back to the Commonwealth. Other State governments have spent the money on a range of things which have nothing to do with farming. It is a rural adjustment fund and it is my view, despite what the States may feel, that the moneys that build up should go to the farmers themselves for further rural adjustment or debt reconstruction rather than these fiddles being engaged in. The Industries Assistance Commission focused on this and that is why the Commonwealth has taken the decision that in future we will have a much tighter rural adjustment fund mechanism in place. A new scheme will come in on 1 July. An amount of $30m was accumulated at the end of 30 June 1984. I suppose that at the end of 30 June 1985 there will be more than that $30m. Instead of going to the farmers, the Queensland Government being a true National Party government, it will go into Consolidated Revenue.

The honourable member for Capricornia is concerned about the sugar industry. At present there is some special sugar assistance money available. The Commonwealth contributed $5m; we have certainly contributed another $10m. That is $15m net as well as the ordinary rural adjustment funding which goes out each year. But in terms of the special $10m at present available to the sugar industry as at 29 February this financial year, only $1.75m has gone out to the sugar industry through that special fund-that was $1.7m for debt reconstruction and $50,000 for farm build-up. Only $270,000 has gone out in respect of general rural adjustment assistance. So, again, those funds will probably accumulate. They will probably go into Consolidated Revenue and, once again, the National Party will not hand the money on to the farmers.