House debates

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Questions without Notice

Queensland: Sugar Industry

3:09 pm

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. Will the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on steps taken by the government to secure Australia's $2 billion sugar industry and support cane farmers, particularly those in the Burdekin and Proserpine regions in my electorate of Dawson? How does this compare with other approaches?

3:10 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member for his question, and we note also the trials and tribulations the people in his electorate are going through in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie. We note also how important the cane industry is to that area. The Queensland gross value of agricultural production is about $12 billion, but around Mackay alone, there is about $1.1 billion in agricultural production. The gross value of sugar around Mackay is about $354 million—that was in the 2014-15 year—and there are over 1,000 canegrowers in the Mackay area.

This is incredibly important to a $2 billion-a-year industry, as the sugar industry is, which goes right down into northern New South Wales. It is very important that we make sure that farmers get treated fairly. We believe that we should get a fair return through the farm gate, and to get a fair return, of course, you need a market, and to have a proper market, you need at least two people wanting to buy your product. If two people are going to buy your product then you are going to have the competitive tensions in the market to get the proper transparency to make sure that people are being dealt with fairly.

We have said all the way along that we believe the federal government has a right to be part of this process. We wished for Wilmar and QSL—QSL being the marketer—to come to their own agreement by their own ways. We have been waiting now for a long period of time for them to do precisely that. We actually worked with the state government in Queensland to get through a piece of legislation to try and enforce a better outcome for these farmers. Might I say, the Australian Labor Party up there voted against that, together with a number of independent members including Peter Wellington, Billy Gordon and another gentleman by the name of Pyne, from Cairns—all in cane seats. But we still reserved our right to underwrite this with a code of conduct. We have brought this code of conduct forward, and it will be going to the Executive Council no doubt over the next couple of weeks for important—

Mr Bowen interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

How about the member for McMahon stops interjecting.

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

Now, what we have seen is that, right to this day, we have this confusion within the Labor Party, with the Labor Party in Queensland voting against trying to get these farmers a fairer deal, and we have Senator Glenn Sterle, chairing a committee in Canberra, suggesting that they do need a code of conduct.

We will make sure that we get the proper market principles in place. We will make sure that these cane farmers are dealt with fairly. We stand beside these farmers. We are still wondering what exactly the Labor Party's position on this code of conduct is, whether they believe in these farmers being treated fairly or whether they have a foot in both camps. Do they have a foot in the Queensland camp and a foot in Senator Glenn Sterle's camp— (Time expired)