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Sugar Industry Code of Conduct at risk: open letter

Last week Queensland's cane growers were astounded when a New South Wales politician moved to destroy the protections recently put in place to protect around 4500 Australian family-owned farming businesses.

This week Kevin Borg, Chairman of CANEGROWERS in Mackay, published an open letter urging all Senators to heed the Senate Committee inquiry outcomes, and vote against the disallowance motion.

I refer to the motion recently put forward by NSW senator David Lyonhjelm to disallow the Sugar Industry Code of Conduct introduced in April 2017.

This Code was put in place by the Federal Government following a three-year protracted dispute between growers and Wilmar Sugar over this miller’s attempts to wrest absolute control over all sugar marketing in its mill supply regions.

This hard-fought outcome was put in place to protect around 4500 Australian family-owned farming businesses. The Australian sugar industry and the farming enterprises within it, contribute $2.5B to our nation’s economy each year.

The fact that one Senator, Senator Leyonhjelm, can blatantly move to destroy the protections recently put in place with the introduction of the Code of Conduct is beyond belief. 

This NSW Senator has no knowledge of the sugar industry, has made no effort to meet with industry representatives (despite an invitation being extended to him both publicly and personally) and yet he is willing to push forward a debilitating motion to disallow the Code of Conduct.

Senator Leyonhjelm would earn far more political creditability if he knew what he is talking about, and if he better understood the consequences to Australian farming families and businesses with what he is attempting to achieve.

The motion to disallow the Code of Conduct puts at risk the very fabric of our significant agricultural sector, and will bring thousands of Australian farming families to their knees.
Kevin Borg

The Code of Conduct is a protection mechanism that puts growers on a level playing field with their monopoly millers in negotiations. In early 2017 the Code of Conduct protected growers against a monopoly miller striving to take advantage of their position and holding growers to ransom during Cane Supply Agreement negotiations.

In fact, the Code of Conduct increases competition in an industry where growers have no choice in their processor as this is dictated by infrastructure. In some cases where there is more than one mill in a region, these are often owned by the same entity.

The Code of Conduct also has provision for mandatory arbitration to break deadlocks where no agreement can be reached.

In 2015 a Senate Committee made up of Labor, Liberal and Green Senators and chaired by Labor Senator Glen Sterle of WA, published a report stating unanimous support for a Code of Conduct for the sugar industry.

The motion to disallow the Code of Conduct puts at risk the very fabric of our significant agricultural sector, and will bring thousands of Australian farming families to their knees at the mercy of monopoly millers.

I urge all Senators to heed the Senate Committee inquiry outcomes, and vote against the disallowance motion put up by this ill-informed NSW Senator. 

Kevin Borg is the Chairman of CANEGROWERS Mackay

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