It is usually not a good idea as a Queenslander to say something that might be portrayed as providing anything less than 150% support to banana growers. Despite that, I must say found the mini-furore sparked by the revelation that eleven thousand tonnes of Vietnamese bananas (reportedly pre-processed and frozen) had been allowed in to the country somewhat unconvincing. No doubt the fact there’s an election on in Queensland has something to do with it.
There are three distinct issues being wrapped up into one here – quarantine, prices for consumers, and ensuring the banana industry in far north Queensland recovers from the damage of Cyclone Larry.
I’m as strong a supporter as anyone of strict quarantine laws, and there’s no doubt that the desire to pursue a free trade at all costs agenda has driven down quarantine standards to dangerous levels in some circumstances. There is no doubt that there are disease risks from bananas coming from some south-east Asian countries, and any queries about any potential risks with this shipment of bananas much be answered, although the risk should be very much diminished with pre-processing. However, there’s also no doubt that quarantine arguments are sometimes used as a crude mechanism for industry protectionism. The danger with overstating the case for protectionist reasons is that it can weaken the credibility of your argument when there is a genuine quarantine concern.
It is obvious from the lines being run by the ALP federally and at state level that it is protectionism that they are really appealing to, not quarantine risk. Given that the cost of fresh bananas in Australian supermarkets is still above the pre-cyclone price, it is hard to see how oversupply is a problem for them. As I understand it, the Vietnamese bananas won’t be sold in shops, they will be used in food processing. Making Australians pay more for their bananas or for food containing bananas by falsely restricting supply doesn’t sound to me like a very good idea, and it’s also hard to see how it would help banana growers in north Queensland or anywhere else.
two questions were asked on this topic in House of Representatives Question Time:
• This one by the Liberal Member for the seat of Herbert, which covers Townsville
• This one by Kim Beazley