Queensland politicians are arguing over the best way to get Queensland Sugar Limited (QSL) and foreign-owned Wilmar to come to terms on an agreement to process and sell up to $1 billion in sugar cane this season.
A bill is being debated in State Parliament today, after the Opposition introduced it yesterday.
The bill would force Wilmar and QSL into arbitration.
This is despite the Labor Government confident the sides can come to terms via mediation.
Wilmar, a foreign-owned agribusiness which recently acquired eight of Queensland’s sugar mills, is coming to terms over a marketing agreement with longstanding grower-miller cooperative QSL.
Wilmar wants to sell all of QSL’s sugar through its channels, while QSL wants to ensure the best prices for its growers, and is not confident Wilmar’s channels will guarantee this.
Despite the lengthy and hostile talks, Queensland agriculture minister Bill Byrne said new legislation “will hinder, not help” the sides’ negotiations.
“[On Monday] I was advised that there was [an] in-principle agreement with QSL and Wilmar to participate in mediation,” Byrne told Parliament on Tuesday.
“As of this morning, I am advised that QSL is still not completely ready to commit to mediation.
“It is the Government’s vie that both parties should resolve their differences in a viable and sensible way, based on commercial principles.”
Opposition leader Tim Nicholls is not convinced, however.
He introduced an arbitration bill and, with the support of Queensland’s two Katter’s Australian Party MPs and One Nation MP Steve Dickson, has forced a debate of the bill which will take place today (Wednesday, March 1).
“What an extraordinary performance we have seen from the minster for agriculture this morning and what an absolutely appalling performance we have seen from this Palaszczuk Labor Government and its minister for agriculture over the last two years,” Nicholls said.
“It has come to the stage where the LNP Opposition is doing what this Government should do … and that is put Queenslanders first.
“There is a need for this legislation because there has been a long-running dispute between Wilmar Sugar and Queensland Sugar Limited, a dispute that is affecting 1500 Queensland cane farming families who need to get on with their life, get on with growing sugar cane.”
Nicholls accused Byrne of being disconnected from canegrowers and their needs.
Nicholls told Parliament: “Rather than taking action … [Byrne] stays away, he goes down into the bunker in [Rockhampton], loads up the shotgun and says, ‘Don’t send the canegrowers near me. I don’t want to speak to them. In don’t want to know anything about it.’”