BURDEKIN sugar cane farmers have descended on Parliament House in Canberra for urgent meetings with senior ministers including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as frustrations continue to expand over unresolved sugar marketing arrangements.
The emergency delegation said they received a positive hearing and support from various politicians on their request to ensure contract terms within an on-supply agreement between sugar marketing company Wilmar and Queensland Sugar Limited, were fair and reasonable for sugar producers.
They have also backed parliament introducing a mandatory code of conduct to oversight sugar marketing arrangements, via the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
But as the dispute between Wilmar and QSL drags on, they say resentment is growing about farmers being potentially unable to capture record high sugar prices by securing an agreement for an on-supply agreement, before a looming February 28 deadline.
Alan Parker said the Burdekin farmers were in Canberra to “stand up for our rights” as negotiations continued to stall to finalise a cane supply agreements (CSA) for the 2017 season, with Wilmar, to capture forward pricing opportunities.
“We’re not asking for anything more than a fair and reasonable contract and we don’t expect anything less,” he said.
The contingent of cane farmers were also supported by Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen who also backs a code of conduct to break the deadlock and said Mr Turnbull and other senior ministers in the “upper echelons” of government, understand Wilmar is “not playing ball”.
Earlier this week, the LNP in Queensland put Wilmar and QSL on a 48 hour time-limit to reach an agreement to agree to resolve their long-running dispute, by February 28.
The state’s LNP Leader Tim Nicholls said if the agreement wasn’t reached or the dispute remained unresolved by February 28, the LNP would act and amend the state’s Sugar Industry Act.
Burdekin sugar cane farmer Peter Hall said everyone the group had met with in Canberra had been very receptive and respectful.
Mr Hall said cane farmers “started this fight in 2014” when Wilmar notified them they would be exiting the long-standing QSL marketing arrangements and they had since been trying to negotiate on on-supply agreement.
“Up until now nothing’s happened,” he said.
“Negotiations have been dragged out and never really started until the middle of last year and since then nothing has progressed with either the farmers or QSL,” he said.
“Since September or October last year we’ve spent about $750,000 in growers’ money on a David and Goliath fight.
“It’s an Erin Brockovich scenario.”
Burdekin sugar cane farmer Robert Zandonadi said record high sugar prices were on offer that “we have never seen in our lives farming sugar cane”.
But he said, “we can’t catch them because we don’t have an on-supply agreement with QSL and we don’t have a cane supply agreement with Wilmar”.
“Wilmar and QSL are trying to negotiate an on-supply agreement but it’s just progressing nowhere, it’s a very slow process,” he said.
Burdekin sugar cane farmer Lawrence Dal Santo said Wilmar was out-resourcing the growers “every step of the way” in the ongoing negotiations and would “basically win by default by holding out until the crushing starts in June”.
“Sooner or later we’re going to have to sign a cane supply agreement and if they hold out long enough they’ll just win by default and they know it and that’s why they’re snubbing their nose at all government departments,” he said.
Nationals leader and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce said he’d be visiting the Burdekin this weekend to help resolve the
“Wilmar knows and QSL knows that we’re going to drive for an agreement,” he said.
“I said at the end of last year that from the first week back I will start movement to drive for an agreement to make sure that this thing lands.
“From the first week back I’ve been doing precisely that and part of it is going up to the Burdekin this weekend.”