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Wednesday, 16 September 2015
Page: 7006

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (15:22): I think the great Gareth Evans might have also said to the Labor Party, as has every other serious Labor Party leader: 'Sign the China free trade agreement.' Apart from that, there is nothing memorable that I can recall in anything that Mr Evans has ever said to this chamber.

I am sorry Senator Sterle is leaving the chamber, because I do want to respond to his well-meaning but inaccurate comments about the sugar industry. Before I do that, I explain to members of the Labor Party who might be interested that they keep talking about my friend and colleague Senator Canavan but Senator Canavan and I are in the same political party. We are in the Liberal National Party of Queensland, which is the Queensland division of the Liberal Party of Australia. In this parliament and elsewhere, the coalition is one big, happy family. We are a broad church. We have various different people with different inclinations on policy issues, and that is what has made the coalition government so strong. We all work together. We are all interested in water policy; we are all interested very much in the sugar industry. Senator Sterle asked: what has the coalition ever done for the Queensland sugar industry? I will tell you, Senator Sterle, because I was a member of the government at the time. Back in 2004, we provided over $400 million to save the sugar industry from the difficulties it was going through at the time, as a result, partly, of the deregulation of the sugar industry in Queensland by the then state Labor government. It was the state Labor government that deregulated the sugar industry, which Senator Sterle, as I understand him, is now suggesting should be re-regulated. I also say, Senator Sterle, that you complain about—

Senator Sterle: On a point of order, Mr Deputy President: Senator Macdonald has misled the Senate. My report never mentioned bringing back regulation at all. He knows that that is a lie and he needs to withdraw—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Sterle, resume your seat. I remind senators that there are no points of order to be raised if a senator simply disagrees with what another senator has said. There are other opportunities to correct the record, but a point of order is not the appropriate mechanism for that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you, Mr Deputy President, and I will not worry about the accusation that I am lying. Those sorts of sticks and stones do not break my bones, and names will never hurt me. Senator Sterle, you talk about foreign investment in the sugar industry.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, I would ask you to direct your comments through me.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, Mr Deputy President. Senator Sterle raised the issue, directly talking to me, of foreign investment in the sugar industry. I remind him that, when Wilmar came in and bought out all the Sucrogen mills, the deal was approved by Mr Wayne Swan, the then Labor Treasurer of this country. Now Senator Sterle has a new interest. I have to say, in Senator—

Senator Conroy: Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. This is a debate about the questions asked by the opposition, and I do not think we asked a question about sugar. So perhaps Senator Macdonald might want to come to the topic.

Honourable senators interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I do not need other senators to rule on the point of order, that is my role. Senator Conroy, while the motion before the chair is that the Senate take note of answers to questions asked by the opposition, it is a debate and Senator Sterle did introduce this subject in much of his contribution. It is in order for Senator Macdonald to respond to the comments that Senator Sterle made.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I was about to pay Senator Sterle a compliment, because he is one of the few Labor senators who I think is sensible and rational and actually tries to help, and he chaired the committee that looked into this issue very, very well. But he tries to make some division between the Liberal and National parties when there is none. I remind him that some federal parliamentarians are vitally interested in the sugar industry, and I am one, of course, because I am one of the few members of parliament who actually live in a sugar town—as do Mr Christensen, Mr Pitt, Michelle Landry, part of whose electorate is in a sugar region, and Stuart Robert. Of those, three sit with the Nationals in Canberra and two with the Liberals, and one of those Nationals has a different view to Mr Christensen on the issues that Senator Sterle was talking about.

The matter that Senator Sterle raised is a complex issue and it will not be resolved in a five-minute debate, but I disagree with Senator Sterle's comment that the sugar industry was 'in danger of collapse'—or he used some other term like that. Can I tell you: the sugar industry in Queensland, particularly in the electorate of Dawson, where I live in my home town in the Burdekin, is a very vibrant industry with lots of different farmers, many of them better businessmen than most other businessmen you would find around Australia. The sugar industry will continue to flourish in North Queensland and will continue to be guided by sensible leaders and sensible representatives. I decry that the industry is in any danger. Any danger coming to the industry is from this campaign to abolish sugar from our diets. That is a real issue, and that is what millers and growers should be getting together to fight. (Time expired)