The Federal Government has outlined plans to implement a code of conduct for the Australian sugar industry in an attempt to curb the dispute between cane-growers and refiners in North Queensland.
Sugar refiners Wilmar have been locked in a dispute with industry marketers Queensland Sugar Limited (QSL) over mill access and sugar prices, leaving cane-growers unable to harvest and crush their cane before the 2017 season.
Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison has downplayed the necessity and severity of the set of guidelines to end the dispute, describing them as simply a “mechanism to ensure things get sorted”. The Treasurer also expressed his regret that the matter required federal attention.
“I wouldn’t call it an expansive code. It’s not controlling prices, it’s not re-regulating the industry or anything like that,” Morrison said. “It’s our view that these issues should be sorted out commercially. But when they can’t be sorted out commercially, we’re not going to allow it to turn to seed.”
The new code is intended to ease the passage of a resolution between Wilmar and QSL, and Mr Morrison has confirmed that a draft agreement is already in rotation and is currently in the possession of QSL.
The issue had previously been causing a stir in the Federal Government, with Liberal National Party of Queensland MP George Christensen going as far as to threaten to quit the coalition over a lack of action on the issue. He has now welcomed the intervention as long overdue.
“Farmers were beholden to monopoly foreign miller Wilmar in Sarina, Proserpine, Burdekin, Ingham and elsewhere,” Christensen said in a statement. “That will be no more. This will provide the certainty the industry desperately needed.”
However, the move has not been universally welcomed. Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon spoke out against the move.
“[Agriculture Minister Barnaby] Joyce concedes a code of conduct will have no effect on the current sugar dispute,” Fitzgibbon wrote on Twitter. “His stunt will threaten a resolution though.”