Tuesday, 17 October 2017
Regulations and Determinations
Competition and Consumer (Industry Code — Sugar) Regulations 2017; Disallowance
It's quite interesting to hear Labor's comments about the code of conduct—that it's not drafted very well and it's not good, so we'll allow the disallowance motion by Senator Leyonhjelm. The fact is that it was Labor's policy under Wayne Swan that allowed Wilmar, a multinational company, to buy in Australia and buy the mills in north Queensland. Because of that, at that time, a five-year agreement was drawn up where they had to deal with the canegrowers through Queensland Sugar Ltd as well. The canegrowers sell their cane to the mill—it's called a cane supply agreement—and then it is marketed. It was marketed by QSL, who had been doing it for many, many years. The canegrowers got a fair deal because it was set up by the canegrowers originally—a non-profit organisation. But, after the five years, Wilmar said, 'Hang on a minute, we want to take your cane, but we want to market it as well.' It did not give the canegrowers an option about who markets their sugar. There was no option where QSL could market it. Wilmar said, 'We're going to crush your sugar, and we want to mill it as well.' Wilmar, as I've been told, hasn't got a great reputation for selling their product to countries overseas because their quality is not up to standard. QSL has a very, very high reputation with overseas countries and buying Australian sugar.
Hence, why haven't all these sugarcane growers signed up with Wilmar? They were put on the spot. Months and months and months went by. Nothing was done about it, because they didn't trust Wilmar, until they got to the very end. They were forced, and they only had a matter of weeks to go. They had to sign the contract. Why the code of conduct? Because they had to start cutting their cane within a matter of weeks. They needed the code of conduct so then they could determine who would market their sugar.
Why did One Nation get involved? It is because they were hitting their heads up against a brick wall. The growers could not get anyone to listen to them about the situation they were in. And, because the deals were not done and they were not signed up to a cane supply agreement, the whole area lost. A matter of $150 million was taken out of that economy for those canegrowers. Why did One Nation take a stand on this? We abstained from voting on the floor of parliament until we actually got a code of conduct for the canegrowers, because they were on their knees. No-one was listening to them. Nothing was being done. And I'm pleased that we forced the issue.
I was pleased to hear Senator Barry O'Sullivan. He has been involved in this in attending meetings. I attended meetings up in North Queensland myself. I spoke to the canegrowers. I don't recall ever seeing Senator Leyonhjelm, the senator for New South Wales, at any of those meetings. I have no understanding of—I am gobsmacked to understand—why Senator Leyonhjelm is actually supporting a multinational company over the canegrowers.
I really appreciate how the Greens are viewing this and their support on this matter, because it is all about the growers. It's all about the struggling families.
When I spoke to Senator Leyonhjelm about this, I said, 'Why are you doing this to the growers?' And his response was, 'Well, they can actually go and take it to another mill.' But they can't. They have to put it on the rail lines. The rail lines are owned by Wilmar. It has to go to the mill. 'Well, they can put it on trucks and ship it somewhere else.' No, you can't do that. You see, once the cane is cut, it's 12 hours; it has to get to the mill. So there's nowhere else they can take it. So the whole fact is: 'Well, tell them to get out of it. Go and do another business. Go and get out of the cane growing.' No wonder the farmers are fed up with this attitude. Some of them are saying to the kids now: 'Get off the farm. There's no future here. We don't know what's going to happen.'
And here we have the Labor Party saying, 'Oh, well, it's drawn up in a hurry, so we need to really look at this before we do anything about it.' It's about time you started listening to the Australian people and what's happening to them. They are just about going under, losing their properties and everything because they can't get an agreement, didn't know whether they should cut their cane or what to do with it—and you're worried about whether a code of conduct is drawn up properly. Probably not. But—do you know what?—it's given them a grace period of approximately two, maybe three, years. It's not settled yet. And your Labor Party counterparts in Queensland haven't supported them either. I hope they realise that come the next election, when they won't get the votes from them. They won't be voting for the Labor Party. They haven't supported them at all. And I've got to say that the LNP in Queensland hasn't been much better either in supporting them.
Wilmar also have a 30 per cent ownership in the QSL, so I have no understanding of why they want to dictate and determine it. Talk about multinationals—and all I hear now is the Labor Party supporting multinationals. That's exactly what they're doing: supporting big business in Australia. Wilmar are a Singaporean that's come in to dictate terms. The Labor Party agreed to it, to allow them to take over a mill that controls the whole area. This is what multinationals, foreign ownership, can do in our country. We've seen it not once, not twice; we've seen it many, many times.
Jobs—yes, we've got to protect jobs in Australia. If we see the canegrowers go under, in North Queensland or throughout the state, it will also affect the mills, and then you will have more people out of work. If you haven't got cane farming, you don't need the mills. All of North Queensland relies on the money brought in by the canegrowers.
So I call on the Labor Party: please consider this. Do not allow this disallowance motion to pass in this chamber today. It will affect the canegrowers again. It is under review; let's find something better; but, for the next two to three years, let's just support the system the way it is and find a better answer. Throwing these regulations out will not help the canegrowers at all. They're depending on us to make the right decisions for them in this chamber. It's all about their future. It's all about their kids. It's all about their farming, which is so important to us. I once again say thank you very much to the Greens for looking at this rationally and not supporting the disallowance motion, and I thank the Liberal and National parties also for their support of the canegrowers.