Regional Queensland’s sugar industry calls for sweeter deal
A STATE Cabinet meeting was held this week where the Australian Sugar Milling Council (ASMC) requested the Palaszczuk Government offer relief to sugarcane growers in regional Queensland, as the industry recovers from COVID-19.
At the meeting held in Cairns, ASMC proposed the Queensland Government reduce irrigation water prices by up to 25% to assist the state's sugar industry, which supports 23,000 jobs and contributes more than $4 billion to the economy.
ASMC chief executive officer David Pietsch said about two-thirds of the state's sugarcane production relies on irrigation, with water representing more than 15% of a sugarcane irrigator's total farm costs.
"With only two months until the election, ASMC is seeking urgent talks with the Queensland Government on the future of irrigation water prices," Mr Pietsch said.
"The sugar industry has continued growing, harvesting and crushing cane while we know many regional businesses have unfortunately had to close."
Findings revealed in a report which was released by ASMC shows a 25% reduction in irrigation costs could create an additional $220 million for the state's economy and $33.9 million for the Wide Bay Burnett and Bundaberg region.
While the Palaszczuk Government froze irrigation water prices in May for the current financial year (2020/21), Mr Pietsch believes more can be done to assist the industry and regional communities.
"(They) should be working with the sugar industry to maximise the contribution we can make to Queensland's COVID-19 recovery," Mr Pietsch said.
"The current freeze for this financial year provides no comfort for the industry that has worked hard to persevere through COVID-19."
A spokeswoman from ASMC said no outcome had been achieved at the meeting and the organisation had not heard back from the State Government, despite requesting an urgent discussion.
Natural Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said the Palaszczuk Government valued the contribution of the state's $60 billion food and fibre industries.
"We are freezing irrigation prices for a year and absorbing dam safety cost," Dr Lynham said.
"This is part of ongoing measures to support Queensland business and industry through the COVID-19 crisis.
"Thousands of Queensland farmers will now see their irrigation water prices remain the same or fall next year."
The Minister Natural Resources said the Queensland Government would monitor conditions over the next 12 months, before reassessing prices for the following year and would continue consulting with customers.
"On average, irrigators will be roughly $400 a year better off in this financial year (2020-21) than last financial year," Dr Lynham said.
"The Government is also looking into the recommendation from the Queensland Competition Authority."
In addition to Bundaberg, Mr Pietsch said the $220 million boost would be shared across irrigated sugarcane-growing regions including Burdekin, Mackay and Tablelands.