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Transcript of doorstop interview with Labor's Leichhardt candidate Jim Turnour: Cairns, North Queensland: 2 May 2006: Far North Queensland Exports; sugar grants; polls.

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2 MAY 2006


Subjects: Far North Queensland exports; Sugar grants; Leadership

TURNOUR : I would like to thank Kevin Rudd for coming up to Far North Queensland this afternoon. This afternoon is an opportunity to meet with representatives of the sugar industry, particularly the milling groups to discuss their plans for exporting sugar in the future. We are also meeting with others in the community this afternoon so I am looking forward to that and getting some really solid feedback from them about some of the troubles that they are facing up here.

RUDD: Thanks Jim. It is great to be here with Jan McLucas and Jim Turnour to talk about what we have got here in terms of export potential for Far North Queensland. I am here wearing my hat as Shadow Minister for Trade and the key question that motivates me is how we lift Australia’s export performance.

Currently we are running our 47th consecutive monthly trade deficit and we are running an annual trade deficit of some $23 billion dollars a year which is producing record current account deficits and record levels of foreign debt.

Unless we do something about that, our nation as a whole has an insecure economic future. Here in Far North Queensland it is very much an important part of the overall export future for Australia. This is a strong, vibrant local economy and a strong, vibrant regional economy - $7 billion dollars worth of gross regional products. And from here, exports are also critical - some $600 million dollars worth of exports; exports in tourism, exports in tropical agriculture, exports in mining and fishing and even some in manufacturing as well.

I am here to focus on two or three of those critical areas. I want to hear what local businesses have got to say about the promotion of tourism as an export business for Far North Queensland and in particular, how we do better than we are at the moment.

Tourism is critical. Tourism is a major export earner for Australia. In terms of the total economic activity in this region, it generates some $2 billion dollars a year and some 40 per cent of your tourism numbers come from foreign tourist visitors. What we want to see is that number grow because if we grow this region as a major tourism destination for other countries of the world, then it is great for Australia as well.

What I want to hear from the Business Roundtable that we will be participating in later today is what specifically local tourism operators want from us by way of greater support in Canberra to lift this region’s tourism potential.

There has been some dip in tourism numbers in recent months, whether that is through weather, whether that is through the impact of Cyclone Larry, we don’t know. But I am keen to learn from locals what local problems exist and how we can go about fixing them.

The other industry that I want to focus on here of course is tropical agriculture and sugar. Sugar is a critical industry for Australia and a critical industry for Queensland. I have got uncles who have grown sugar all of their lives. This is an industry which generates $1.3 billion dollars worth of export dollars for Australia and some $300 million dollars worth of those exports come from Far North Queensland. That is critical for Australia. Again there has been a bad impact from Cyclone Larry. The rescue package from the Federal Government is to be welcomed. We are still examining the implementation of it and I will be talking to sugar industry representatives here about that as well.

There has also been a bad impact on sugar in terms of Mr Vaile’s failure to secure greater access for Queensland sugar exporters to the American market. For instance, they have simply been left out of the US Free Trade Agreement. The result is that our quota with the United States has not changed one bit - now that is despite the fact that the US Free Trade Agreement with Central America has seen a massive lift to that region’s ability to sell sugar to the North American markets. Mr Vaile basically has not succeeded in lifting Australian sugar access in the North American market and on that score, I am highly critical of his performance. We have a great relationship with the United States on the one hand, but if you can’t secure greater access for hardworking sugar farmers on the

other, I have got to say that something is missing in the mix.

Finally on fishing, this is an important industry for this part of the world but I have got to say that it is one that has come under some threat because of what we have in terms of the increasing number of border incursions into Australia’s fishing zone. We have had a rapid increase in the last 12 months or more in the number of illegal encroachments into Australia’s fishing waters. That figure has

gone up hugely by some 35% between 2004 and 2005. You have had something like 12 000 or 13 000 separate sightings, but only 200 vessels intercepted. Now that is bad for local fishing, that is bad for our fishing industry and that is bad for our export industry. Labor’s policy is to have a coastguard on patrol 24 hours a

day, seven days a week. But the Howard Government simply nods and genuflects at this problem and frankly does very little about it. We think that practical action needs to be taken and a Coastguard is the best way of doing it.

Let me be very blunt about this. I travel a lot in South East Asia, I travel a lot in East Asia and I have done so over many years. Unless you have a region that believes this country is serious about its border security and protecting fishing

zones, then frankly other people are going to capitalise on that. So it is all very fine for the Howard Government to sound hairy-chested about protecting Australia’s fishing interests. But the bottom line is that they are not being protected. There are encroachments virtually every week and only a small number of those are being effectively intercepted. We need action and a Coastguard is part of that solution.

REPORTER: Inaudible

RUDD: I would say that I would not have hauled up the white flag and simply tapped the mat when sugar was excluded. Basically Mark Vaile sold out Australia’s overall agricultural interests with the United States. I find it amazing coming from the Leader of the National Party that he could have done so. Sugar is a critical business for Australia - $1.3 billion dollars worth of exports and we have the most efficient industry in the world. And yet, the Prime Minister and the Trade Minister, despite their much-vaunted relationship with the United States, couldn’t crack it open. I don’t believe that he should have hauled up the white flag on this and I don’t believe that he should have hauled up the white flag when it came to the poor outcome on other areas of agricultural access as well.

REPORTER: Inaudible

RUDD: My job here today is to listen in terms of what they want by way of additional support. What I want to see is how the rescue package on the back of Cyclone Larry has been implemented. I want to hear about what is happening on the ground with the sugar industry reform program and the allocation of grants within that. That has been a matter of some acute local controversy here in Far North Queensland and I want to hear the detail of that so that we can inject our view in Canberra. But beyond that, on the export promotion and trade policy front, I want to get their views about what we can do with what is left with the Doha Round, subject to upcoming negotiations in the

World Trade Organisation and what can next be done if there are any upcoming negotiations on the future of the US FTA.

REPORTER: Inaudible

RUDD: I would rather hear first hand from those in the industry first. I have learned over the years don’t arrive somewhere and pronounce local wisdom when you don’t have a lot. It is far better to hear from locals in terms of what is happening on the ground. All that I know is that there is some disquiet and I would like to find out why, and how this package can work better.

TURNOUR: I really appreciate Kevin coming out to North Queensland to hear directly from those sugar mills because what we have got is a situation where a local advisory group has made recommendations to Canberra in relation to how this money should be spent. That has been rejected because there are lower priority projects that have been identified locally that are being funded. There is a real concern that taxpayer’s money is being wasted again on regional economic development.

It is a pity that the Howard Government has got no plan for regional economic development. We have seen that consistently they have wasted millions of dollars up here in the sugar industry, it has happened in the Atherton Tablelands and we really need to get on top of this from a Labor Government point of view. And that is why Kevin is up here, so he can hear first hand so that we can develop our own policies that will go forward to the next Federal Election.

REPORTER: Inaudible

RUDD: Well, I mean there comes a day you know when “Entschy” has to work out whether he is a part of the Howard Government or he isn’t. It is all very fine to come back to Far North Queensland and pretend that you don’t belong to them, then go to Canberra and vote with them. My understanding of politics is that when you sign up to be a member of a political party and you are elected on that party’s platform and become the local Member and you vote for them and form government in Canberra, you have to own the responsibility of that party in government, including this mob. So it is cute local politics for Warren Entsch to run around that place and say that those mugs in Canberra have done this when he actually put those mugs in Canberra in power.

TURNER: Just on that, Warren Entsch has been involved in this whole sugar package going back to the beginning, going back before the 2004 election. He has known the process and he has had every opportunity to lobby and get things done for local sugar mills in his electorate. He has failed to do that and I

think that he is trying to catch up now by getting out in the public domain to score some cheap political points. What we need is a government that is going to put in place an effective economic development program for the region that will deliver funding to where locals want it and where locals need it, that will give good reform to the sugar industry and allow it to export overseas and grow locally.

REPORTER: Inaudible

RUDD: I want to first of all get the views of the local industry before making any further comment on that program. I also want to discuss it further with my colleague, the Shadow Minister for Agriculture. My job here is to hear first-hand from the industry about how this package is going on the ground, how it is being implemented, whether it being implemented fairly and what impact that is having on the overall growth potential for the sugar industry’s export performance. I would rather get all of that sorted out first before making any pronouncements on the future of the program.

REPORTER: Inaudible

RUDD: Well I am here in Far North Queensland to promote the export of sugar. I am not here to talk about the Labor Party’s or anyone else’s opinion polls.

REPORTER: Inaudible

RUDD: Well, I am interested in the popularity of Queensland sugar exports. I am not interested in anyone else’s popularity. Ends 2 May 2006.

Ccontact: Alister Jordan 0417 605 823