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Wednesday, 16 September 2015
Page: 7003


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (15:06): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Employment (Senator Abetz) and the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today.

Honourable senators interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I think the discussion is now over. If all senators could simply either resume their seats, or those in the process of leaving the chamber should continue to do so.

Senator STERLE: I can understand emotions are running high after the crazy week we have seen with the knifing of a first-term Prime Minster. But I just want to touch on some of the questions put to ministers today that they did not answer. Senator Cormann was a repeat offender. He could not even answer, directly, how much money has been put aside—and where is it going to come from?—for this promise that has been made to the Nats.

The new Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, who has prided himself on being environmentally friendly, has made a massive commitment to the Nats—at what price, I still do not know—to take water from environment and give it to Minister Joyce in agriculture. I do not know what was going on, in that room, to secure the deal but—crikey—it is going to end in tears.

It is very important to know why these deals are being done by the junior members of the coalition, the Nats. There was no concern about the bush. I say that as a long time chair of the rural and regional affairs and agriculture committee, both in references and in legislation, and because of the amount of work that I and my colleagues on the committee have done over the years addressing the issues faced in the bush, in remote and rural communities.

One of the biggest issues that has come to light, just recently—and no bigger, seriously, for canegrowers in Queensland—is the plight of the sugar growers of Australia, who are in dire straits. Senator Macdonald knows this because he was on the inquiry with me, as were Senator Williams, Senator Canavan and Senator O'Sullivan. Canegrowers in Queensland, predominantly, are facing extension. The words I am using sound a little emotional, but I went out of my way with my colleagues on the committee to go and visit—

Senator Bushby interjecting

Senator STERLE: Senator Bushby is being a little bit smart. I do not think he should, because there are many Queensland canegrowers, in particular, and some in Northern New South Wales who would not take kindly to smart remarks, in interjection, when I am talking about the future of the sugar industry in Australia.

Senator Bushby: What's your solution?

Senator STERLE: I would like to take that interjection. What is the solution? Here is the solution, Senator Bushby. There is a group of Nats senators and members—Nationals not Country Party—who, with the agreement of former Prime Minister Abbott, formed a sugar task force. Their local members, being the Nats in Queensland, were absolutely switched on to know that this industry is in dire straits. So listen carefully, Senator Bushby.

Off they went, under the guidance of Mr Christensen, the member for Dawson. I honestly believe the member for Dawson is in touch with his electorate, as are the other National senators and members mentioned in Mr Christensen's web page who are talking about the good work. The sugarcane growers are under serious attack, because of Wilmar, foreign millers. Currently, they are able to market their sugar through QSL. QSL is disappearing so they will not—and Senator Bushby, listen very carefully—be able to choose who will be marketing their sugar. That is why my office is inundated with canegrowers coming to visit me and they are on the phone regularly. Mr Christensen and the other hardworking Nats from Queensland are really worried. They made certain recommendations. Senator Bushby asked how it could be fixed. A mandatory code of conduct is the answer.

You do not have to take it from me, because that is what Mr Christensen said in his task force. He and his fellow hardworking, diligent, panicking members of the National Party in Queensland want a mandatory code of conduct. My report came out in full support of my colleagues. Both the government senators and the crossbench senators, the Greens, agreed that they should have a mandatory code of conduct. That is how we fix it.

While deals are being cut from Mr Turnbull to take the prime ministership at the wishes of the party, in the Liberal Party room, he still has to do deals with the Nats. I would love the Nats to come in here and tell me—we have their $4 billion deal but we do not know of anything else that has been cut. What have they done to Queensland's canegrowers? I am not Mr Christensen and I am not a Nats member but we all share concern for a very important industry in Queensland.

It was made very clear to us. If the cane industry goes down—and Senator Macdonald, correct me if I am wrong—the suffering that would create in Queensland's remote communities will never be repaired. (Time expired)