Premier’s commitment to reduce water charges provides confidence boost to regional economy

 The Australian Sugar Milling Council (ASMC) welcomed today’s announcement from the Palaszczuk Government to cut irrigation water costs for Queensland’s sugarcane growers by 15 per cent for three years from July 2021 if re-elected.

“Increasing overseas competition, depressed global sugar prices, and rising production costs compounded by the far-reaching impacts of the coronavirus pandemic has subjected the industry to unprecedented stress,” ASMC Chief Executive Officer, David Pietsch said.

“A price cut will reverse a decades long trend of SunWater’s regulated water charges increasing annually and will now make water more affordable for the two-thirds of the state’s canegrowers that rely on irrigation.

“Affordable water provides cane growers with a greater incentive to increase their water usage and take full advantage of their water access entitlements. 

Labor’s decision to cut irrigation water charges by 15% from 1 July next year follows pledges from the LNP and KAP to reduce water prices by 20% and 25% respectively.

“Regardless of the election result, there are now commitments to reduce water charges across the political spectrum,” he added.

“The resulting boost in cane productivity will translate into an increase in sugar, molasses and renewable power generation that will immediately improve mill viability and support regional jobs,” he said.

Mr Pietsch said ASMC calculations[1] estimated that a 15% cut in water prices would generate around $132 million in additional economic activity over four years, or around $100 million over the three years 2021/22 to 2023/24 of the scheme. A 25% cut was estimated to deliver $220m in community benefits.

“The Queensland sugar industry generates more than $4 billion to the Queensland economy and supports more than 23,000 jobs throughout the State,” Mr Pietsch said.

Labor, LNP agriculture strategies questioned

If you feel like the primary production sector has been forgotten this state election campaign, you are not alone.

A week out from the election, and with pre-polling and postal voting open, Queensland’s agricultural lobby groups have questioned why neither major party has released a “overarching agricultural policy”.

“It appears agriculture is conspicuous by its absence.”

That’s how Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri has described the lack of policy.

“Literally every farmer I speak to makes the observation that it has been notable that there’s been an absence of major overarching agricultural policy statements,” Mr Schembri said.

“It’s everywhere I go, it’s palpable – you notice it at every turn, every conversation you have with people.

“Everybody supposedly loves farmers but it just seems we’re not getting the diversity of policy we need to support the farm sector.”

He conceded there had been some major announcements earlier in the campaign but it wasn’t as prominent now.

“If I can cite the past, agriculture and the release of agriculture policy would have been the centrepiece of any election campaign,” Mr Schembri said.

Queensland Country Life contacted Labor asking if the party had an agricultural strategy and when it would be released.

They did not answer the question however Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said it was clear Labor puts agriculture front and centre.

“Already we have seen the announcement of the second Bruce Highway to secure improved agricultural freight supply routes,” Mr Furner said.

“This commitment builds on Labor’s incredible record of supporting Queensland agriculture and creating regional jobs such as through the Growing for Queensland Exports strategy, plus unprecedented cooperation between government and industry through the COVID-19 pandemic.”

If I can cite the past, agriculture and the release of agriculture policy would have been the centrepiece of any election campaign.– Paul Schembri

Queensland Farmers’ Federation president Allan Dingle said it was disappointing none of the political parties had really come out with any enthusiasm towards the agricultural industries.

“We are – and have been probably since Queensland became Queensland – been one of the pivotal cornerstones of the economy,” Mr Dingle said.

“I think it is very disappointing that we just seem to be in the shadows all the time and don’t get the light shone on us in a good way.

“If the light is shone on us its usually because we are deemed to be demonising something or not doing something correctly.”

Mr Dingle said Queensland agriculture was in the cross-hairs more than in other states or countries.

He said while “some lollies had been thrown out” and there were “snippets here and there”, ultimately these fell short.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult for all forms of agriculture to remain productive but you can remain productive and not be profitable – you need to have both,” he said.

“Extremely high electricity, water prices, green and red tape; our counterparts in other parts of Australia and throughout the world don’t have the same obstacles.”

In September 2011, during the lead up to the 2012 state election, Campbell Newman announced the LNP wanted to double food production by 2040.

Agriculture went on to be touted as the fourth pillar of the economy during the Newman era.

Nine years on and the LNP has revised that figure, wanting to double the value of agricultural production by 2035, taking it from $18 billion to $30 billion, and then doubling it again to $60 billion by 2045.

An absence of policy ahead of an election means we’ve precious little ability to hold the next government to account.– Richard Shannon

Queensland Country Life asked the same questions of the LNP, with agriculture spokesman Tony Perrett pointing to the party’s food and jobs security plan.

“The centre piece of this bold plan is the delivery of water infrastructure which includes the drought-busting New Bradfield Scheme and more dam projects throughout the state,” Mr Perrett said.

“We have a plan to grow agriculture in Queensland, including a commitment to reduce the costs of critical inputs and end bad regulations that impact the profitability, productivity and ultimately jobs throughout the entire agricultural supply chain.”

AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said with the right policies and programs in place, agriculture could become a more than $30 billion industry for Queensland within a decade.

“We are bitterly disappointed that neither of the major parties have released a vision for the state’s $18 billion agriculture industry as part of their election commitments,” Mr Guerin said.

“Agriculture is a bedrock industry in this state that supports tens of thousands of farming businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs – most in rural and regional Queensland.”

Growcom policy and advocacy manager Richard Shannon said the industry deserved better and voters needed more time to assess the merits of each party.

Mr Shannon said many pre-poll and postal votes had already been cast in the absence of any real policy substance.

“It’s hard to recall a time in Queensland political history when rural voters had such little detail on what exactly they’re voting on,” Mr Shannon said.

“Our problems don’t end with the election campaign. An absence of policy ahead of an election means we’ve precious little ability to hold the next government to account. Perhaps that’s how they’d like it, but it’s not good enough.”

Election puts grower interests in safe hands

CANEGROWERS says growers have a strong voice in an important role following the election of Babinda sugarcane grower and CANEGROWERS Cairns Region Chairman Stephen Calcagno to the Board of Sugar Terminals Limited (STL).

Mr Calcagno has been confirmed as the replacement for retiring director and Mossman grower Drew Watson on the STL board, joining Mackay grower Tony Bartolo who was elected by G-Class shareholders in 2018.

“I thank my fellow growers for their support and confidence at today’s STL Annual General Meeting,” Mr Calcagno said. “There is a lot of uncertainty around at the minute, but I see a bright future for this industry and I want to make sure that we make the best decisions possible for growers at all levels.

“STL owns Queensland’s bulk sugar shipping facilities so its management is critical to maintaining Australia’s reputation as a reliable supplier of quality sugar to the world market.

“Along with that, the company must also provide a dividend to shareholders, many of whom are cane growers.”

CANEGROWERS Chairman Paul Schembri welcomed the election of Mr Calcagno to the STL Board.

“With Stephen Calcagno, growers interests are in safe hands,” he said. “He is an experienced representative dedicated to his fellow growers who is also open minded and forward-thinking, meaning he will work with other board members for the benefit of the company and the industry as a whole. I wish him well in his new role.”

2020 QSL Grower Rep Member Elections

Nominations for the 2020 QSL Grower Representative Member elections closed on Friday 12 June 2020.

In eight milling regions the number of nominations received was equal to the number of available positions, and as such, an election is not required. These milling regions and nominees are:

  • Mulgrave: Jeffrey Day
  • Northern (South Johnstone Mill): Barry Stubbs
  • Tully: Thomas Harney
  • Proserpine: Peter Quod
  • Southern (Bundaberg): Allan Dingle & Mark Pressler
  • Isis: Peter McLennan
  • Maryborough: Jeffrey Atkinson
  • Rocky Point: Greg Zipf

Elections are required in the following six milling regions:

  • Mossman
  • Tablelands
  • Herbert River
  • Burdekin
  • Central (Mackay)
  • Plane Creek

To be eligible to vote in any of the elections noted above, you must be a sugar cane grower who supplies sugar cane under contract to a mill in that region. To lodge your vote, you must complete the applicable voting paper and return it to QSL by 5pm Friday 17 July 2020. Results will be declared in early to mid-August after votes have been checked and counted by an independent scrutineer. Until such time, current QSL Grower Representatives remain in their positions.

For further details regarding the current elections, the voting process, nominees and the role of our QSL Grower Representative Members, please read our 2020 Voting Pack, available by clicking here.

Voting papers are available via the links below:

Voting papers

For further information about the 2020 QSL Grower Representative Member election process, please contact your local QSL representative.