AUSTRALIA: LNP demands urgent resolution to sugar spat

Published: 03/20/2017, 9:41:22 AM

Queensland's Liberal National Party is demanding the Turnbull government intervene in the bitter dispute between the state's sugar cane growers and millers, according to The Australian newspaper.

An "urgent'' resolution was passed at the LNP's state council meeting late Monday for the introduction of an industry code of conduct, first recommended by a senate inquiry 18 months ago and backed by senior Nationals in the Coalition government.

The move follows the dispute between miller Wilmar and marketer Queensland Sugar Limited over a supply agreement.

The months-long stoush has caused political pain for state and federal conservatives, with rebel federal Liberal National Party MP George Christensen threatening to quit the party over the impasse.

Earlier this month, QSL - a century-old collective marketing pool for canegrowers - and the Singapore-owned Wilmar, which bought eight mills in 2010 announced they had reached a "high level agreement" about QSL buying Wilmar's raw sugar.

Despite hopes the agreement will be finalised within weeks, the LNP voted to push for a code of conduct which deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce last month said he would consider if the dispute was not resolved.

It also follows the failure of the state LNP opposition this month to pass legislation through the hung parliament to compel both parties to enter formal arbitration to solve the dispute.

The attempted legislative intervention came after the LNP voted with Katter's Australian Party crossbenchers in 2015 to partially re-regulate the sugar ¬industry, at the urging of canegrowers.

Opposition Northern Development spokesman Andrew Cripps said the Federal Government needed to intervene.

"The LNP has delivered grower choice in marketing and formally recognised grower economic interest, but our efforts to provide a dispute resolution process have not been successful," Cripps said.

"It's time for the Federal Government to pull its weight and deliver a Code of Conduct.

"With less than three months before the start of the 2017 cane harvesting season, it is totally unacceptable for Wilmar and growers supplying their mills between Ingham and Sarina not to have a cane supply agreement in place - this dispute must be resolved."

Cripps said a Senate Committee had unanimously recommended the code of conduct.

In an LNP statement, Federal Nationals Senator Barry O'Sullivan - who served on the committee - was said to "strongly'' back the resolution of the state council which defines policy for the party.

State opposition Agriculture spokesman Dale Last said the code of conduct was needed to end the uncertainty.

"The failure of the parties to negotiate a supply agreement means it is now clear the process needs to be guided by a formal Code of Conduct," Last said.

"There is a draft Code which was prepared by a Federal Taskforce in 2015 and the Senate Committee has suggested it may provide a foundation upon which a statutory Code of Conduct could be established, so the Federal Government could move quickly on this.

"The absence of an agreement between Wilmar and cane growers has serious ramifications for the local communities involved - including the Herbert, Burdekin and Central growing districts - from mill employees to harvester contractors and many others servicing the industry."