Agribusiness & Food

Byrne slams LNP’s ‘invalid sugar meddling’

Queensland’s sugar mills have produced more than two million tonnes of raw sugar this season, according to the Australian Sugar Milling Council (ASMC).

Reports of the Liberal National Party’s 2015 amendments to sugar marketing laws being ruled ‘invalid’ by a Federal judge have been welcomed by Queensland agricultural minister Bill Byrne.

Byrne, who serves under premier and Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczcuk, said the reports from the ABC Country Hour this week were “a complete vindication” of Labor’s rejection of an LNP bid to politicise the ongoing negotiations between Queensland Sugar Limited and Wilmar.

A bill launched by the Opposition LNP last week would have forced Wilmar and QSL into arbitration, but failed at the final hurdle in Parliament.

Wilmar, a foreign-owned agribusiness which recently acquired eight of Queensalnd’s sugar mills, is in lengthy talks with grower-miller cooperative QSL over a marketing agreement.

The drawn-out talks, which threaten to impact roughly $1 billion of cane production this season, are the result of amendments made to the sugar marketing laws by the LNP Government when it was in power in 2015.

But the ABC reported on Tuesday that a Federal judge appointed to mediate between the sides had found those amendments to be unconstitutional.

Byrne said the reports were evidence the LNP’s amendments were “rushed and ill-advised”.

“More than that, it is a disaster for [LNP leader] Tim Nicholls and the LNP who now have serious questions to answer about their motives and their insistence on playing politics with the industry,” he said.

“In December 2015, when the LNP amendments were being debated, I told the Queensland Parliament, ‘There is no question that the effects of this Bill will be long and painful.’

“There is no doubt that prediction was accurate.”

Byrne’s comments were criticised by shadow agricultural minister Dale Last.

“It is galling to hear a Queensland agriculture minister like Bill Byrne crowing happily about poor cane farmers losing out to a cashed-up multinational,” Last said in a statement on Tuesday.

“In any event, the LNP will continue to stand up for Queensland cane farmers, their families and their communities.”

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