Recently, during the saturation media coverage of Cyclone Debbie, an announcement was made by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that went relatively unnoticed. However, the significance of this announcement for cane growers is substantial.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) commissioner Mick Keogh announced that the commission had authorised collective bargaining for CANEGROWERS, allowing for greater collaboration and cooperation when negotiating on issues around value -adding, diversification and On-Supply Agreements.
This effectively overturns previous advice from some mills that these issues were off limits to growers.
Mr Keogh also said, in a wide-ranging interview on ABC Radio, that the Real Choice in Marketing legislation and the Federal Code of Conduct were both necessary to ensure competition in the Australian sugar industry.
It is encouraging that the grower position of market failure as a result of deregulation has high level support from Australia's independent competition regulator.
This view by the ACCC is a game changer for cane growers, as the Queensland Productivity Commission and the Federal Productivity Commission had both been calling for the repeal of the legislation, a call the Queensland Government had supported.
I now call on the Queensland Government to revisit its stance and to discuss the issue with the ACCC.
Cane growers refuse to be economic servants of large milling monopolies.
Should the Labor Government, if re-elected, repeal this important legislation the industry will descend into chaos.
It is critical for any industry operating in Australia to enjoy social acceptance - that an industry and its value chain add economic and social value to our communities.
Sometimes people can confuse social license with the economic standing of an industry.
However, industries larger than sugar have been consigned to the pages of history because they lost the critical mass of community support.
In the Australian sugar industry, our two greatest challenges remain environmental sustainability and the sugar and nutrition debate.
Whilst the environmental debate has been with us for nearly three decades, the sugar and nutrition debate has emerged recently to grow to be possibly our greatest threat.
We can't simply stick our heads in the sand and hope these issues will go away. We need a structured approach to turn adverse perceptions into positive sentiment.
For that reason, CANEGROWERS has joined forces with the Australian Sugar Milling Council and QSL to put together a structured campaign to reverse some of these unfavourable views. This will come at considerable cost, but failure is not an option here.
“The world is won by those who turn up,” is a saying I remember from my early days in CANEGROWERS.
Be assured that we are doing everything we can to ensure the social standing of our industry and have engaged a reputable consultancy that is helping us structure this campaign.
Paul Schembri is Chairman of CANEGROWERS Queensland