Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


Department of Agriculture

6:51 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This is the statutory funding agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and Sugar Research Australia. The sugar industry is one of the biggest industries in my state of Queensland and certainly in Northern Australia. It is the third largest raw sugar supplier in the world. Sugar is the seventh largest agricultural export from Australia. Eighty per cent of the crop is exported. Something between $1.7 billion and $2 billion each year is the value of production. There are over 4,000 cane farms supporting the sugar industry, and they are mainly mum-and-dad farms right along the east coast of Queensland and a few in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. There are 24 sugar mills, employing literally thousands of people along the Queensland coast, and there are six bulk storage ports.

This agreement which has been reported on today was an agreement whereby the Commonwealth, with its normal research and development grants, has funded the sugar industry. It has been very important. Sugar Research Australia Ltd is a new company which was set up not long before the last election. If there was one good thing the Labor government did in its six years, it was to facilitate expeditiously the establishment of Sugar Research Australia Ltd, which brought together all of the research and development units that support the sugar industry. Sugar Research Australia is an industry services body, declared so by the Sugar Research and Development Services Act 2013, and it allows the Commonwealth to match contributions by the sugar industry towards research and development in the way set out in various Commonwealth government acts dealing with the sugar industry.

Prior to the establishment of this new organisation, there were several units dealing with research into sugar: the old Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, the Sugar Research and Development Corporation and a millers research agency called Sugar Research Limited. The industry in its wisdom decided to bring them all together under Sugar Research Australia and then, with the approval of the Commonwealth government, set that up as the organisation that would receive the Commonwealth matching funds for research and development. Research and development in our rural industries is essential, and that is what keeps Australia ahead of the pack. Certainly, whilst the sugar industry is very efficient in Australia, we cannot compete with countries like Thailand and Brazil when it comes to wages and cost of operations, so we have to compete through our expertise, our skills and our research and development. Over the years the sugar industry has been noted for that.

At times you will hear scare campaigns about the sugar industry destroying the Great Barrier Reef—that is when climate change is not destroying it, or whatever happens to be popular in Greenpeace on any particular day. But I have to say the sugar industry have long been aware of the need to be environmentally sustainable and conscious in the way they operate, and they have done a fantastic job over the years, with a lot of programs and initiatives that they have done themselves; they have not been forced upon them. Their research and development expertise over the years has contributed to this. It is an industry which is so very important to the east coast of Queensland and, if we can keep ahead of the game in research and development, we can continue to be a very significant world player in the production of raw sugar. I want to congratulate all of those involved with setting up Sugar Research Australia and, indeed, the industry as a whole. They are a credit to Australia.

Question agreed to.


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