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Death of a major Queensland industry

IT IS AN iconic Australian industry, but by September 95 per cent of Queensland's sugar mills will be majority internationally owned as two major sales are set to go through.

A 70 per cent share of Mackay Sugar is being bought out by German company Nordzuker, while Isis Central Sugar Mill, southwest of Bundaberg, is expected to go to Pakistani-owned Almoiz Group by the end of September.

It will leave just two of the 21 sugar mills in the state in wholly Australian hands.

The other 19 mills, which will be majority internationally-owned, are responsible for 95 per cent of sugar production in the state.


Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri on his farm north of Mackay. Picture: Peter Wallis
Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri on his farm north of Mackay. Picture: Peter Wallis

It is a vast change from just over a decade ago when only about 5 per cent of the industry was owned by offshore interests.

While the most recent transactions have largely been welcomed by both millers and growers, helping to save jobs in the industry, it has been mixed with sorrow.

Canegrowers association boss Paul Schembri said 95 per cent of the Mackay growers voted to back the takeover on Monday night.

He said while there was overwhelming support, it was still met with some sadness.

"In the context of Mackay, 70 per cent of the equity was the heritage of our fathers and forefathers," Mr Schembri said.

"A lot of generations fought hard for that.

"There are moments of reflection. But reality has hit us very hard.

"The reality is we were in a very difficult financial position and we had to find an investor."

He said the takeover had spawned a new grower-owned co-operative Mossman Sugar, separating out from Mackay Sugar as part of the takeover, which will be the second Australian-owned mill.

The other is Rocky Point Mill at the Gold Coast.

Almoiz Group is investing about $35 million to acquire up to 54 per cent stake in Isis Central.

Australian Sugar Milling Council CEO David Pietsch said the investment had provided certainty for the industry.

"To be globally competitive, the sugar industry must continue to invest and innovate," Mr Pietsch said.

"A failure to invest will erode our position as a low-cost, efficient producer."

The increase of foreign ownership of mill began after deregulation of the industry from 2006.