Some North Queensland cane growers are considering withholding their crop this year if a marketing agreement with sugar miller, Wilmar, is not reached.
The threat comes ahead of One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson’s meeting with Wilmar executives in Brisbane today, to see if a deal can be reached.
Canegrowers Burdekin chairman Phil Marano said the move to go on strike would be seriously considered.
“There are a lot of growers saying that it would appear they have no option because they know if we lose this battle, we have lost for all time,” he said.
“It could be that growers do not supply cane this year for the crush; the feeling is that strong out there amongst growers.
“I have never seen so much anger from growers towards the mills and it has never been this bad.”
Canegrowers Queensland chairman Paul Schembri said he hoped Pauline Hanson would be able to help end the long-running stoush over sugar marketing.
The dispute has been running for nearly three years since Wilmar, Australia’s largest sugar producer, announced it would exit the longstanding industry pool, run by Queensland Sugar Limited (QSL).
Since then, the miller and its growers have been unable to reach a cane supply agreement; with one collective already opting for formal arbitration while others are still considering that option.
Very few growers have signed up for the temporary pricing arrangements offered by Wilmar late last year after negotiations broke down to establish an On-Supply Agreement with QSL.
Without that agreement, Wilmar growers are unable to exercise their right to choose QSL as their Grower Economic Interest (GEI) marketer.
Mr Schembri said he hoped Senator Hanson could put pressure on the Singaporean multinational sugar giant.
“If she has involved herself to see if she can bring it to a resolution, I can see only good coming out of the conversation,” he said.
“We will just have to wait and see what comes out of the meeting.”
Development in sugar marketing war
Meanwhile, the sugar representative body has welcomed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s draft determination proposing to allow Queensland Canegrowers and its local organisations (Canegrowers) the right to collectively bargain.
Its draft decision, issued late last year, the ACCC states: “In future… growers would be able to collectively negotiate on the full range of issues relevant to cane supply and payment with millers and marketers. Participation in the collective bargaining would be voluntary for growers, millers and marketers.”
The ACCC went on to indicate it ‘could not force a miller to collectively negotiate’ an On-Supply Agreement with QSL and the local Canegrowers’ organisation, but stated any such negotiations would be ‘unlikely to result in public detriment’.
Submissions on the draft determination close on Monday.
Canegrowers CEO Dan Galligan said he hoped the decision would lead to a resolution for all parties involved in current negotiations.
Canegrowers Queensland has invited Wilmar Sugar and QSL to participate in a three-way meeting in the first week of February.
“With harvesters set to fire up again within 20 weeks, it is time for us to step in and this draft determination from Australia’s competition watchdog shows we have a legitimate role to play,” he said.
While Wilmar Sugar declined to be interviewed before meeting with Senator Hanson, a spokesman confirmed senior executives had accepted her invitation.
The spokesman welcomed the opportunity to discuss Queensland’s new sugar marketing arrangements and any ongoing efforts to bring cane supply negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion.
ABC Rural contacted Senator Hanson’s office but was told she would not be making any comments until after her meeting with Wilmar.