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Friday, 19 November 1993
Page: 3285

Senator BOSWELL —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I refer to the Trade Practices Commission's statement that it intends to block a proposed refinery merger between CSR, Mackay Sugar Co-operative Association Ltd and E.D. and F. Man. Considering that the domestic price for sugar is wholly set by import parity price, that the merger will result in no fewer refineries with three refineries still remaining and that the industry will benefit from more efficient technological advancement and an export oriented white sugar industry with grower involvement in value adding and down processing of the product, will the Treasurer take these important factors into consideration in making his decision on the proposed merger?

Senator McMULLAN —I welcome the opportunity to respond to an opposition question that is about issues of national concern instead of being about sleaze and muckraking. Senator Boswell has not quite outlined the situation accurately. I will outline the situation as I understand it.

  The Trade Practices Commission has issued a draft determination; it is not yet a final determination. The commission has indicated that, on the information presently before it, it considered that competition would be less than substantial if the venture went ahead and that the joint venture could result in higher prices. However, the process still has a way to go. I understand that a conference will be held with the applicants in a couple of weeks time and that the applicants will have the opportunity to put further information to the commission.

  The Trade Practices Commission—which at least Senator Boswell would be interested in and aware of—cannot be directed by me or any other minister in relation to any individual application of the act. So the minister cannot give a direction to the Trade Practices Commission in this matter. The legislation sets down the criteria within which the commission acts and it acts independently. The parties' source of redress, if they are not happy with the decision, is appeal to the Trade Practices Tribunal and subsequently to the Federal Court.

  There are some stages still to go, but the matter will be dealt with independently by the commission rather than by the minister. I agree with Senator Boswell that it is an important issue. He has raised some important facts, which I understand are already before the Trade Practices Commission, and I am sure that it will take those and other factors into account in its decision.