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T2004/01 - Govt seeks sugar industry sweetner

The World Today - Tuesday, 10 February , 2004 12:42:54 Reporter: Alexandra Kirk
HAMISH ROBERTSON: Federal Coalition MPs have just emerged from their first party room meeting for the year and high on the agenda of course was the free trade deal.

While most of the MPs aren't affect by the omission of sugar from the deal with the United States, there's a promise that the sugar industry will get another leg up from the Commonwealth.

Queensland National Party Senator Ron Boswell is speaking to Alexandra Kirk.

RON BOSWELL: The sugar industry had support from the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the people that were in the sugar seats. All spoke of the need to help the sugar farmers, not to get out because that will decrease the critical mass that not only the sugar industry needs but the mills have to run around two million tonnes to be successful and there is a lot of towns that only rely on a mill like Proserpine, Sarina and some of those towns. Now if you get people out of an industry, those towns will go down too. So, the thread of the argument was in the party room, we've got to be world innovators on bio-plastics, ethanol and cogeneration.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But with respect, haven't you said that all before when you tried to get the ethanol industry up and what, 18 months or two years later you're no closer to having an expanded ethanol industry.

RON BOSWELL: Yes but I believe, out of this situation that the sugar growers have found themselves, I think there's opportunity created because the Government realises that it owes them a kick, a free kick.

It is not going to leave the sugar growers behind and it is looking for ways to involve itself in increasing opportunities in new industries and we don't want people to stay there in an industry that's not supporting them, or is going down, but we believe there is opportunities…

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well you don't have long to provide these alternative industries, do you?

RON BOSWELL: Well, we're looking for those opportunities now and that is where we're going, and we're pulling down people with various ideas to talk to the Prime Minister. So out of a disaster, I suppose you could term it, by not getting the sugar people in, we will create an opportunity for them to diversity.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Looking beyond sugar, do you believe that the free trade agreement is a vote winner for the Government?

RON BOSWELL: Well from what I've seen of it, it gives great opportunities to the fishing industry, the fruit growing industry, the beef industry and the dairy industry.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But is it a vote winner?

RON BOSWELL: It will be in those industries. Now, there's pluses for all industries except the sugar industry. We've got to look after them and the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister has said that that is going to be their priorities.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So can you guarantee that sugar farmers won't be angry any more?

RON BOSWELL: I can't guarantee that sugar farmers won't be angry. I understand their disappointment. They were relying on this. I understand their disappointment and I understand their frustration but I just say keep a cool head and we'll get you out of strife.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And how much money are you willing to throw at sugar farmers?

RON BOSWELL: Well I had a discussion with the Treasurer today.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: How did it go?

RON BOSWELL: Well we were on the way back from church in a car and I said we were going to need a fair bit of money.

HAMISH ROBERTSON: Queensland's National Party Senator, Ron Boswell.