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Friday, 23 August 1985
Page: 296

Senator REYNOLDS —Is the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry able to explain the hostility of the Queensland Government to co-operating with the Federal Government in implementing the recommendations of the 100-day committee of inquiry into the sugar industry? Does the Minister anticipate that prolonged haggling will continue to be orchestrated by the State Premier or will the two primary industry Ministers be able to put party politics aside and get on with the job of reaching an agreement in the best interests of Queensland's cane farmers and mill workers?

Senator WALSH —I do not have completely up to date information on this. I will ask the Minister whether any further information is available. However, I understand that the Commonwealth officials have put a proposition, or are to put a proposition, to Queensland officials for a package of assistance and restructuring of the sugar industry which involves an underwritten price for the next three years and changes to the regulatory system at both the mill level and the assigned land level which will make the industry more efficient in the long term. The Commonwealth proposal is that, in addition to rural adjustment measures normally funded from the Commonwealth Budget, the costs of the additional Queensland or sugar industry specific proposal be shared dollar for dollar between the State and the Commonwealth Government. I do not know how close we are to getting agreement to that. However, I would expect that the Queensland Government would try to welsh on its responsibility to match the Commonwealth funds which have been offered. It is extremely generous of the Commonwealth, given that the sugar industry is virtually confined to one State only, to offer that sort of assistance.

I might also add-I think it is worth putting on the record-that for many years the Queensland Government, and to some extent some other State governments, has received Commonwealth loans repayable over a 20-year period for lending on to farmers for rural adjustment. Those loans have been repaid from the farmers to the State authorities in periods very much shorter than 20 years-sometimes as short as four or five years. However, the Commonwealth money on-lent by State authorities to farmers when repaid by farmers has not been repaid to the Commonwealth. It has been kept by the Queensland Government in particular and stuffed in a hollow log. This fund of money recovered from farmers and not repaid to the Commonwealth is then lent out for any purpose that the Premier can think of. So far as I know, none of it has been used to finance the development of the hydrogen car or a cancer clinic for Milan Brych. But there is an amount of money, possibly as high as $150m, from that source alone which the Queensland Government has stuffed in a hollow log. So it certainly cannot legitimately claim that it cannot afford to match the very generous dollar for dollar Commonwealth offer.