ADJOURNMENT - North Queensland


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (19:20): Some people have unkindly suggested that I have not always been entirely generous to the Labor Party, the Greens and the crossbench senators in this chamber. Some have even more unkindly and inaccurately suggested the same lack of generosity on my behalf to some of my own colleagues. That is no doubt mischievous scuttlebutt put out by the unions!

But tonight I want to demonstrate how inaccurate these suggestions are by letting senators have advance notice of a wonderful event in the far north of the country, in the Cassowary Coast region south of Cairns, early next year. You can all be part of this unique event celebrating the very best of North Queensland produce. Tonight I want to, generously, give you all the inside running.

This is an attempt to break the world record for the biggest banana split. It will, understandably, feature lots of North Queensland bananas, and by 'lots' I mean some 40,000 bananas along with 2,500 litres of ice-cream, 1,500 litres of topping and lots of cream—lots of decadent Mungalli Creek cream. If you have not experienced the joy of cream and milk from the award-winning Mungalli Creek Dairy on the Atherton Tablelands in North Queensland, it is fair to say you have not lived. The Mungalli Creek Dairy, established in 1920 and run since 1964 by the Watson family, is a biodynamic farm and manufacturing facility set against the backdrop of Queensland's highest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere. I am reliably informed by one of my local regional newspapers, the Innisfail Advocate, that next year on 20 March—and mark that date now in your diaries—this world record attempt will be the highlight of the region's annual Feast of the Senses, a 10-day celebration of the region's food, culture and community in and around Innisfail, the Johnstone River and the Cassowary Coast.

The reason why I am bringing this novel concept to your attention is not only that I am a proud North Queenslander and always ready to sing the praises of that part of the world but also to pay tribute to the North's banana industry, which this year has faced some significant challenges. In March, the industry was devastated by news of an outbreak of the deadly soil disease Panama tropical race 4 on a Tully farm. A second outbreak on another farm soon followed, and this led to an immediate and sustained effort to contain the disease, which has the potential to wipe out the North Queensland banana industry. This is the same soil fungus which wiped out the Northern Territory's plantations nearly 20 years ago. Last month, a third outbreak was detected, and, whilst we all remain hopeful that the efforts of our ever-diligent biosecurity officers have kept it contained, it certainly has been a difficult and challenging year for our farmers.

Many of you may not realise that the value of the banana industry to Australia is around $600 million, with North Queensland banana farmers producing about 95 per cent of the country's production. Based on these figures, it should come as no surprise that the humble banana remains the country's single biggest horticulture industry. More than five million bananas are eaten every day, which equates to about 370,000 tonnes each year, or 28.6 million 13-kilogram cartons, and the industry employs some 10,000 people directly and indirectly. This makes the attempt to create the world's biggest banana split even sweeter. To lend support to an industry that contributes so much to our national economy, particularly in the North, by indulging in this world-record-breaking effort is a small price to pay.

In closing, I urge all senators to mark your diaries for 20 March 2016, a date which coincides with the 10th anniversary of another natural disaster which tore through the region, in the form of Cyclone Larry, an event which almost destroyed the industry, but the silver lining of which was a catalytic change in the way the industry operates. I invite you all, my Senate colleagues, to journey to North Queensland and to witness the unfolding of history in the making, when our region adds another feather to its cap, as the new home of the world's largest banana split. Bon appetit!

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