Sugar code scrap a bitter pill

SUGAR CODE: Up River cane grower Peter Muller is opposed to the disallowance motion.
SUGAR CODE: Up River cane grower Peter Muller is opposed to the disallowance motion. Peter Carruthers

CANE growers across North Queensland are still reeling at the intention of a NSW Senator to scrap a sugar industry code of conduct which was pivotal in the delivery of grower cane supply contracts leading into the 2017 crushing season.

The implementation of a mandatory code of conduct by the Federal Government helped put an end to the bitter dispute over cane on-supply agreements between Queensland Sugar Limited and Wilmar Sugar.

Up River cane grower, Peter Muller, was affronted that a NSW Senator who perhaps had never seen a canefield could potentially affect the livelihood of Proserpine growers.

"It's crazy,” he said.

"They have come to an agreement, why now would you sick your head in it. Just stay away from it, it's actually done and dusted. There is no need for it to happen.

"Unless he is being baited by the large corporations.”

Senator David Leyonhjelm claims the code introduced by the Coalition in April contained elements that were "anti-free trade, anti-free market and anti-everything except maintaining a growers' co-operative socialist nirvana”.

Senator Leyonhjelm is expected to bring the a disallowance motion in the Senate this month.

Wilmar Sugar, when asked if the company had exerted influence over Senator Leyonhjelm, referred the Whitsunday Coast Guardian to the Australian Sugar Milling Council.

ASMC CEO Dominic Nolan said the council does support the disallowance motion but denied having a hand in the tabling of the Senate disallowance motion.

"You would have to ask the Senator what caused him to take that action,” he said.

"We are supportive of Senator Leyonhjelm's disallowance motion, there is no question about that.”

The ASMC represents six sugar millers across Northern Queensland, including Wilmar Sugar, Mackay Sugar, MSF Sugar, Tully Sugar, Isis Central Sugar Mill and Bundaberg Sugar.

Mr Nolan said the sugar code of conduct was "rushed through” under a "One Nation threat to refuse any support of government legislation”. "Including budget measures unless the new regulation was put in place,” he said.

"At the time it was said to fix a dispute and we know that is not accurate. We know there was no dispute, there was no urgency, there was no problem for it to fix, there was no regulatory impact statement, there was no consultation.”

Manager at Proserpine Canegrowers, Mike Porter, Mr Nolan "had lost touch with recent history”.

"At the time it was introduced the problem was not fixed, the problem was only fixed in June, (when) we received our cane supply agreements and an on-supply agreement was only ratified in May,” he said.

"When this legislation was introduced it was not agreement; there was some in principle (agreement) and there was some tacit agreement around some terms and conditions but nobody wanted to use the term 'in principle agreement' and certainly the dispute dragged on for a couple more months after the code was introduced.”

"That legislation (code of conduct) had been kicked around since 2015, all the senators had full knowledge of the content of that particular code and so did Wilmar and so did the ASMC.

"So to say that it was rushed and hurriedly put through is a gross misrepresentation of what the committee had been working on for the previous two years.”

Mr Muller said the dust has only just settled since the code had been introduced and the regulation the code provided security for growers.

"We are tied to sugar mills so to give them more power is a dangerous thing to do.

"It needs to be a two-way street. I have got to say Wilmar hasn't done anything wrong to us; if anything, they have been wonderful but you can't have a business having majority power and growers having no say in anything.

"That's where this will go if we lose (the code) in the Senate,” Mr Muller said.

Topics:  australian sugar milling council canegrowers code of conduct david leyonhjelm senate sugar wilmar

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