A political manoeuvre aimed at axing the hard-fought sugar industry code of conduct has been defeated in the federal Senate, bringing a shot of relief to sugarcane farmers.
The controversial mandatory code was introduced by the Coalition government in April this year to help resolve the ongoing deadlock in marketing negotiations between sugar cane farmers and multinational sugar miller Wilmar.
But NSW Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm who opposes needless government interference in commercial markets raised a disallowance motion in the Senate in mid-August to overturn the regulations which was supported by Labor but vehemently opposed by the Coalition, One Nation and the sugar growers.
However, with the Greens support unclear, along with the position of other crossbench Senators, the sugar industry maintained a close watch over the negotiations.
CANEGROWERS CEO Dan Galligan was in Canberra this week anticipating a vote being held on Tuesday, on the disallowance motion.
Senator Leyonhjelm sought a postponement on the matter until November 13 but that move was defeated yesterday, bringing on a debate later in the day.
His disallowance motion was eventually trumped 37 votes to 19 with the Coalition, Greens, One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team all siding together to block it, along with independents Lucy Gichuhi and Jacqui Lambie.
Independent Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch voted with Labor and Senator Leyonhjelm backing the disallowance motion to cull the code.
Former SA Liberal Senator turned independent Cory Bernardi didn’t vote but said during the debate he’d spoken to Senator Leyonhjelm about delaying or deferring it “for the simple reason that I needed more information in order to make a decision”.
“I’ve met with some of the canegrowers and I have respect for their position, albeit that slightly nuanced positions have been put to me in some of the discussions with different interest groups,” he said.
“What I haven’t been able to ascertain is the position of the ‘alternative narrative’ from the other side of the equation.”
CANEGROWERS Chair Paul Schembri said by voting against Senator Leyonhjelm’s disallowance motion, the majority of Senators showed they supported Australian farmers, their family businesses and regional communities.
“We thank the Senate for reaffirming the need for a code to address the imbalance of power at the grower-miller negotiating table in our industry,” he said.
“Put simply, the code ensures growers are not backed against a wall unfairly by regional milling monopolies because they have no choice over where their cane is processed.
“Senator Leyonhjelm sought to bring about profound industry change without any reference to growers and this unnecessary and futile episode has caused stress and uncertainty.
“We now look forward to going back to the business of growing quality sugarcane with the Code’s provisions in place to provide stability and security in our industry.”
Mr Schembri said the code required negotiations to be conducted in good faith with each party – growers and millers – acting reasonably, fairly and honestly without intimidation and also provided a mechanism for arbitration should there be a deadlock.
He said it would also go through a formal review process within 18 months.
“We note with disappointment that Labor Party Senators backed Senator Leyonhjelm’s disallowance motion,” he said.
“The review process next year is the proper opportunity to address any concerns about the code and seek amendments, throwing it out would’ve been a massive slap in the face to growers and to all workers and small businesses in many industries which operate under similar codes.”
Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce said the Coalition marshalled Senators from across the political divide to deny a Labor–Senator Leyonhjelm push to repeal the code of conduct, which was introduced to give Australia’s canegrowers certainty that they would be able to negotiate contracts with mills and marketers in a fair environment.
Queensland Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan said the move to repeal the sugar code, “urged on by Labor”, would have had “severe detrimental impacts” on growers, leaving them at the mercy of multi-national companies.
“Federal Labor and Queensland Labor have been waging a war on canegrowers and it is very disappointing to see the ALP support an attempt to rip away this important protection,” he said.
“It has taken the Coalition to once again be the leaders in standing up for our hard working cane growing families and the rural and regional communities that are dependent on this important industry.”