QUEENSLAND Palmer United Party (PUP) Senator Glenn Lazarus has asked the federal government whether ginger growers will be compensated for losses incurred by the importation of fresh ginger from Fiji.
As tensions escalated this week between PUP leader Clive Palmer and the party’s Tasmanian Senator Jacquie Lambie, Senator Lazarus focused on tackling the ginger importation issue for farmers.
During Senate question time, the PUP Senate leader and former rugby league professional said Australian farmers are “the lifeblood of our land” but accused the Coalition government of undermining their viability by opening up fresh ginger imports in August.
“The ginger industry is a thriving sector in Australia, comprising some 50 growers - 95 per cent are based in Queensland and the majority are Australian owned and operated,” he said.
“Ginger growers generate some $32 million per year at the farmgate. In total, the industry generates around $80 million per year through fresh and processed food.
“Why has your government allowed the importation of fresh ginger into Australia, which will directly hurt hard-working Australian farmers?
“Will your government compensate farmers for associated financial loss?”
Coalition Senate leader Eric Abetz took the question on notice but also rejected the PUP Senate leader’s assertion the Coalition government was somehow undermining the agricultural sector.
“I reject that assertion absolutely,” he said.
“Indeed, the farmers of this country have a great champion in the Minister for Agriculture, Mr (Barnaby) Joyce.”
Senator Abetz also said the government had “ably negotiated” free trade agreements with South Korea and Japan, that have provided “a real boost for the agricultural sector” achieving “huge, huge gains” in dairy, beef, sheep and horticulture.
“If we are in the marketplace of seeking to get free trade with other countries then we as a nation can build on one of our great strengths and that of course is the agricultural sector,” he said.
“In relation to imports of ginger from Fiji: I was not able to find any parliamentary brief in the folder in relation to that and I will take that part of the question on notice.
“But can I assure him that we as a government are committed to the agricultural sector.”
But Senator Lazarus maintained his attack on the government, saying the importation of Fijian ginger into Australia also had the potential to carry roundworm.
He said the pest reproduces inside the ginger was very destructive and could wipe out entire ginger crops, “putting our entire ginger industry at risk”.
Senator Lazarus asked the government to guarantee that the imported pest would not destroy Australian ginger crops or other crops.
Senator Abetz said an independent risk assessment was conducted by scientifically qualified officials who made the determination on importation risks.
“As I understand it, the final import risk assessment for fresh ginger from Fiji was released in January 2013 - in fact, under the previous government - and a work plan was subsequently agreed with Fiji and the Department of Agriculture,” he said.
“I am further informed that the Department of Agriculture will inspect all consignments of ginger, and departmental officers will inspect a 600-unit sample of the ginger on arrival to ensure that no pests, diseases or soil are present.
“With those sorts of safeguards in place, the scientific advice is that the guarantees are in place.”
“In the event that a breakout were to occur - which of course would be something that we would not want to see - I am sure the Queensland and Commonwealth governments would work together in co-operation to ensure that anything that needed to be done would be done.
“Having said that, there is no expectation or anticipation that there will be such an outbreak, given the scientific evidence and the protocols that are being put in place based on that scientific evidence.”