Wednesday, 6 September 2017
I, and also on behalf of Senator Gichuhi and Senator Lambie, move:
That the Senate—
(a) notes that:
(i) it was the sole recommendation of a 2015 inquiry by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, chaired by Senator Sterle, Australian Labor Party Senator for Western Australia, that a mandatory sugar industry Code of Conduct be developed and implemented,
(ii) in view of the perishable nature of cut cane, the Sugar Industry Code of Conduct was put in place in April 2017 to prevent possible abuse by mill owners of any monopoly power they have in supply contract negotiations with growers and their collectives, and provides a mechanism for arbitration should there be a deadlock, and
(iii) the sugar industry operates without price supports or subsidies, and grower incomes are directly linked to export sales, meaning the industry requires the stability and confidence that the code provides; and
(b) supports the Sugar Industry Code of Conduct in order to provide certainty to Australia's cane growers.
I want to congratulate One Nation for their support for the code of conduct, joining those of us who for over two years battled through an inquiry, led, might I say, by the Labor Party, with the conclusions being supported by the Greens, Labor and us. This was unanimously declared to be what was in the interests of the great sugar industry of my home state of Queensland. I thank One Nation for their efforts. I thank Labor for all the efforts they made to get us to the point where we were able to bring in this code of conduct to re-regulate and reset the sugar industry in the same way that it has been successfully conducted for over 100 years. I look forward today to support from Labor and the Greens for this motion, and again when the disallowance motion is presented in this place at a later time.
The Greens will not be supporting this motion. We have been and are continuing to be in discussions with growers, millers, the government, Labor, and other stakeholders, and we've not concluded our deliberations. What is apparent, however, is that the drafting, consultation, implementation and now disallowance of the sugar industry code of conduct has been absolutely mired in base party politics, and the last thing this parliament needs is further prodding from Senator Hanson to compromise our ability to properly consider this matter. Therefore, although we oppose this motion today, this is not in any way an indication that the Greens will be supporting or opposing the disallowance motion being moved by Senator Leyonhjelm next week, which we will have more to say on in due course.
Senator Hanson's motion is factually incorrect. The Senate committee recommended that a sugar code be developed with appropriate stakeholder consultations, and this did not occur. The exact wording of the committee recommendation is:
The committee recommends the development and implementation of a mandatory sugar industry Code of Conduct, acknowledging that, provided appropriate stakeholder consultation is undertaken, the work of the Sugar Marketing Code of Conduct Taskforce may provide a foundation upon which a Code of Conduct may be established.
There can be no doubt that the current code was a political fix and was imposed without proper thought or consultation or any assessment of the potential adverse effect on investment or jobs. Labor believes there is a case for a properly and responsibly developed code of conduct that addresses any market power imbalance between growers and millers. The current code is one that intervenes in commercial contracts and risks driving investment away, which will be bad news for millers and growers alike.
The code of conduct was necessary for the farmers to have surety of the sale of their sugar. The whole fact is that it was the Labor Party that allowed a multinational to own the mills and control the sugar production after five years. They want to control the marketing, which was destroying the sugarcane growers, who could not send their product anywhere else, because, once it's cut, it has to be delivered within 12 hours. They were holding the sugarcane growers to ransom. If they really are interested in furthering this nation through agriculture then get behind the sugarcane farmers, get behind the dairy farmers, get behind the farmers that are doing it tough out there, because multinationals are coming in, buying up this land, buying the products and selling them back to their own countries from paddock to plate. I think it's disgusting that neither party, whether it be Labor, the Greens or anyone else— (Time expired)
I consider it totally inappropriate that the Senate is in fact considering this motion when the disallowance matter is still to be considered, but since everybody else has made their case clear, let me point out that this motion is seeking to give credibility to a code of conduct which allows sugarcane growers to keep control of products which they've sold and no longer own. The ownership transfers to the mills at the rail siding. The canegrowers have been seeking government sanction for reaching down into the marketplace and saying, 'This is how millers should deal with our product.' It is totally inappropriate. I also think it's totally inappropriate that we consider this in this context. The time for debating it is when the disallowance motion is brought before the Senate.
Senators, just before I call upon the next motion to be put, could I remind senators that, in relation to dealing with formal motions, report No. 2 of 2011 of the Procedure Committee indicated the very nature of what we've just seen today and a little bit yesterday—and certainly over past periods of time when we have been dealing with discovery of formal business—that is, leave can be sought to make an explanation, to make a statement, but during the discovery of formal motions leave shouldn't be sought to debate the motion. I didn't pull up any senators in debating the motion in the previous segment. But I advise senators of that, and some senators are new and don't realise that is the case.
The purpose of this section of the program is for senators to put motions and for the Senate to accept that they will be put without debate, and that is why we ask whether they can be taken as formal. There is a provision in a different portion of the program for motions to be debated. So I just remind senators, when they do seek leave to make a statement, to be conscious not to debate the issue and to keep those comments very brief. Without wishing to single out anyone, the exemplar at the moment is Senator McGrath. Senator McGrath briefly states the government's position and, in doing that, he alleviates the necessity for the Senate necessarily to divide. Senator Gallagher has entered into the same spirit by indicating the opposition's position without debating the issue. Occasionally, the major parties do debate, but I just remind all senators: when you seek leave, consider the purpose that you're seeking leave for.