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Monday, 8 May 1989
Page: 1997


Senator BOSWELL(5.17) —As the mover of the original motion to refer this matter, lifting the embargo on sugar and its results, to the Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology and as a senator from Queensland, where most Australian sugar is produced, I would like to put on record, on behalf of the sugarcane farmers and the millers of Queensland, our sincere thanks to the Committee-the coalition senators, Senator Archer, Senator Peter Baume and Senator Brownhill; the Labor senators, Senator Childs, Senator Burns, Senator Devereux and Senator McKiernan, and the Australian Democrat senator, Senator Coulter-for the support they have shown the Australian sugar industry. The 7,000 Australian sugarcane growers and the unionists who work in the sugar mills may believe that this report does not go as far as they want it to go but they will certainly recognise that their jobs are protected and that the industry has a future.

I am pleased that the Senate Committee recognised the problems that would affect the industry if the price of sugar collapsed as it did in 1985. I have said in the Senate on a number of occasions that if the price of sugar collapsed to where it was in 1985, around 3c to 4c a pound, that would set the benchmark that would be paid to the Australian sugar producers. I had some difficulty getting that argument across to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Kerin). He said to me that there would be no way the sugar industry would lose one-third of its sales. The point I was trying to make to Mr Kerin-obviously the Committee picked it up-was that sales would not be influenced by imported sugar. The refiners would say to the millers, `We can import sugar at 3c to 4c a pound, plus a bit of freight, and that is what we will pay you'. That is what would become the domestic price of Australian sugar. It would have happened had the Committee recognised that and recommended the introduction of what I would call an inverted tariff-as the price goes down, the tariff cuts in at around 11c a pound.

Today we have an industry that has some hope and does not have to worry as much about markets being corrupted for one of the most corrupted and heavily subsidised commodities in the world. Some of the Third World countries produce sugar and are almost prepared to give it away to get hard American currency and hard Australian currency. They will take anything for it. It has to be recognised that over the last 10 years the Australian sugar industry has subsidised the Australian domestic price of sugar by many millions of dollars. In the good times when it could have sold its sugar overseas at much higher prices it did not. It charged the Australian consumer probably 30 per cent to 50 per cent less than what it could have got overseas. When the boot is on the other foot, corruption is rife and Australia gets caught between the two huge giants-the European Economic Community and America-we will find that if the price of sugar falls below a certain level, then the industry has some protection. Once again, I take the opportunity of thanking honourable senators-Labor, Liberal, National and those from the Australian Democrats-for the support that they have given to the industry.