Oct 2010


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(Kennedy) (2:31 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Is the minister aware that in just six years Australia has become a net importer of pork, fruit and vegetables, and seafood? Would the minister not agree that this month’s soaring Australian dollar and the announcement of the Murray-Darling cutbacks will further reduce our food production by between five and 15 per cent? In light of this urgent need to stave off food dependency on foreign imports, could the minister: (1) increase the government pressure to commence the Pentland solar biofuels project in the north Australia clean energy corridor; (2) assure a continuation of the interdepartmental task force preparation of a cabinet submission on microwater projects for the development of Northern Queensland’s Gulf and mid-west (Extension of time granted) and (3) commission senior departmental officers to address the issue of water usage in Australia’s north-east and north-west—the won’t-go-away Bradfield and Bridge schemes addressing the north’s unused 304 million megalitres and the south’s allegedly overused 83 million megalitres. Mr BURKE

(Watson) (Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) —In thanking the member for Kennedy, I want first of all to acknowledge that there would be no-one in this chamber who has pushed harder for us to make use of the water resources available in Northern Australia than the member for Kennedy. It is an argument that he has been putting long and hard over many years. On the issue of the importation of food, certainly on the products of ham and treated pigmeat and seafood, I agree—with seafood it is certainly true. The problem with fruit and vegetables is the process standard. It is the lack of a sufficiently strong food processing industry in Australia that has caused import figures to go the way that was stated in the question.

On the issue of the Murray-Darling, I would remind the House and all members of what I said yesterday: that the figures which have been announced at the moment are not government policy. It is also the case that there is a determination to see how much of what is required can be delivered through gains in efficiencies. Whenever gains in efficiencies are found there is no loss in productivity, and we are quite determined to see how far we can go down that path.

The question also refers to a number of other issues which cross over into other portfolios but I think I can provide some information on those. In relation to the north Australian clean energy corridor, from Townsville to Mount Isa the project, as I understand it, is in the order of about $350 million. When round 2 of the Solar Flagships Program comes on offer the Queensland government will be invited to make an application for that project. Obviously the application from Queensland will have to meet the guidelines of the Solar Flagships, but they will be invited to make an application and the expected amount is $350 million. Added to that is the importance of biofuels; $20 million has been put forward by the government to establish a biofuels research centre, which would be based at James Cook University.

Across the north of Australia, I do not think anyone would argue that we can somehow transplant the food production of the Murray-Darling Basin, and shift a food bowl in the south to a food bowl in the north. The situation in the north is that the soils are harder and much of the rainfall falls in only a few months of the year, but there is no doubt that a lot more can be done there in the future than has been done in the past. You only have to go to places such as Kilto Station in Western Australia to see where mosaic irrigation has actually brought some great improvements in productivity. I have been to properties in the north where these things have been done and there will certainly be opportunities in the north that have not been there in the south.

Mr Hockey interjecting


—I am hearing interjections from the shadow Treasurer about where the water flows. The example that I referred to, from Kilto Station, is using groundwater in that particular instance. Certainly, there is no doubt that more can be done in the future in the north than has been done in the past. I have no doubt that, regardless of some of the biosecurity challenges and the challenges of soils and topography, we will be able to find ways of being able to improve the opportunities for food production in the north generally, including in the electorate of Kennedy.

SOURCE: Hansard www.aph.gov.au/hansard

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