LNP sugar bill could delay dispute, industry warns

Sugar growers are concerned a dispute between miller Wilmar and marketer Queensland Sugar Limited will not be resolved before the start of the season.
Sugar growers are concerned a dispute between miller Wilmar and marketer Queensland Sugar Limited will not be resolved before the start of the season. SCOTT POWICK

FORCING warring sugar miller Wilmar and marketer Queensland Sugar Limited to go to arbitration could delay a resolution by months, industry bodies have warned.

After the bill was declared urgent, Queensland Parliament will debate an LNP bill that would force the parties into arbitration. The debate wil be on Wednesday.

The dispute began in 2014 when Wilmar announced it would no longer use QSL to market the sugar it had milled for growers and from the 2017 season onwards it would sell the produce itself. That season is weeks away.

In 2015 an LNP plan to allow farmers to choose whether Wilmar or QSL would market their sugar was voted into law despite the government opposing it. The six other Queensland sugar millers have made marketing agreements with QSL under this legislation, Wilmar has not.

Growers are largely stuck with one miller - the one that has the mill nearest to them. In the current situation, growers delivering to a Wilmar mill will have their sugar marketed by Wilmar, not QSL.

An agreement between the two companies would allow farmers to choose who marketed the milled sugar.

LNP leader Tim Nicholls said the latest bill would send Wilmar and QSL to mediation to end the dispute.

Although farmers group Canegrowers and millers body Australian Sugar Milling Council disagree on whether the bill should be passed, they agreed forced mediation could extend the process.

ASMC CEO Dominic Nolan said the bill would delay the dispute being resolved for months.

"This could potentially send the process back to square one," he said.

"It could set the process back by months."

He said at the very least the bill should not have been declared urgent and should have been "scrutinised".

Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri said he supported the LNP's legislation and it being fast tracked - but agreed mediation could delay a result.

"This dispute has been in place for close to three years," he said.

"We are weeks away from the start of the season ... so any mechanism to bring this to a close is welcomed.

"If this goes to arbitration it will be a longer process than a negotiated one. If we can resolve this by negotiation would be ideal. Time is of the essence."

Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne said the government had asked former Supreme Court justice Richard Chesterman to act as mediator. He said Wilmar had agreed to the process and QSL had agreed in principle.

Mr Byrne said Mr Nicholls was acting on the issue to "medicate" the LNP backbench whose seats could be under pressure from One Nation at the next election.

One Nation MP Steve Dickson said he would support the LNP's bill. Katter's Australian Party MPs Robbie Katter and Shane Knuth supported the urgency motion but did not respond to questions regarding how they would vote on the bill.


Topics:  labor lnp one nation party queensland sugar limited sugar sugar cane industry wilmar sugar

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