Monthly Archives: March 2015

Beef Central Op-Ed – “Red meat processing inquiry will target supply chain transparency”

31 March 2015

There’s a dusty book with a lot of dog-eared pages that sits on my office shelf.

It was written about two decades ago by a Harvard Business School Professor named Michael Porter.

It is called “The Competitive Advantage of Nations.”

There are a few theories inside its pages that are past their used by date and a number of examples that are a bit outdated now, but the core concepts within the book are still very, very relevant.

The book argues that governments already understand that in order to maintain the living standards of their people, they must be able to assist the business community to compete in an increasingly tough world marketplace.

It says governments understand they need to look for ways that major industry sectors can better target higher value international markets.

But to achieve this, the book argues, trustworthiness is an absolute necessity across the business supply chain.

And as the word itself implies, an exchange partner is trustworthy when it is worthy of the trust of others.

A fortnight ago, myself, alongside Senators Williams, Canavan and Mackenzie sponsored the establishment of a Senate Inquiry into the red meat processing industry.

While many of us believe this review is long overdue, it was announced in-part because, as the most recent example at the Barnawartha saleyards demonstrated, the trust between processors and producers is seemingly in dire straits.

When widespread mistrust reigns across a $12 billion industry, where more than 60 per cent of that product is exported, government has a responsibility to review the disputes to ensure the long term viability of the sector.

There is little doubt our beef sector is currently facing a tougher marketplace with overseas competitors challenging Australia’s export markets by offering an ever improving  product, and alternative suppliers of protein, such as chicken and pork, increasing their grip of market share domestically.

International economic drivers of farm gate profitability, such as world prices, subsidisation and protectionism, are outside Australia’s control.

But as one of the world’s largest exporters of beef, Australia must never shy away from making home grown, strategic improvements to its competitiveness.

We must work to change the perception that our product is competing in a commodity marketplace, because when viewed as a commodity, the prospective customer will almost always choose based on price.

Simply put, by creating value and using it as a selling point, we are able to change the perception of our commodity.

Whether through better genetics, improved pastures or new technologies, Australia’s beef producers have a range of ever increasing options at their disposal that provide opportunities to evolve our beef industry from a mere commodity to a premium product.

Even though the traditional comparative export advantage of Australia’s red meat producers has been in producing lower-priced manufacturing beef, there should be potential for the red meat industry to increase profits by striving to increase the amounts of higher-value product we export, in addition to sales into the existing, mainstream markets.

One of the most obvious steps to increase higher value trade in the future is by improving the strategic alliances between producer and processor.

But we can only achieve this if there is trust along the supply chain. That is why it is among the most fundamental ambitions of this Senate Inquiry.

As the terms of reference reflect, a giant spotlight is about to be shined on supply chain transparency.

In order to measure supply chain performance and to identify areas for potential improvements in the beef industry there is a need for transparency.

It is important because it enables producers to understand why their product has received a specific grading and a specific price.

It enables producers to be able to adjust their operation, if needed, to improve the quality of their final product.

When producers can better meet processor requirements, it enables processors to better market its premium product to the marketplace.

When producers and meatworks are able to jointly supply a consistent, high quality product to the marketplace, especially overseas markets, it increases the likelihood of providing better returns for all segments of the supply chain.

The increased attention being given to agriculture in the Canberra hallways as the sector reaffirms its place as a major driver of exports is reflected in the sheer volume of reviews underway.

Consider the near ‘perfect storm’ of reviews our red meat industry is currently engaged in:

  • Federal Government white papers into agriculture and Northern Australia;
  • AusMeat Beef language review;
  • Cattle Council & MLA’s independent analysis of the United States Packers and Stockyards Act;
  • An industry-led redesign of the grass-fed levies structure.

We can now add the Senate inquiry into the processing sector.

I share the same worldview as my colleague Barnaby Joyce that achieving a better return at the farm gate must be the bedrock of all agricultural public policy.

The family farm is the best business model for our rural communities and we must do our utmost to defend it.

There is an argument that producers have few productivity gains left to make on farm and so there is a need to look at how risk and reward is distributed across the chain.

Shining a spotlight on the supply chain will allow us to better understand how the money is apportioned, and whether it is fair and reasonable.

When producer margins are increasingly under threat it is important significant attention is given to the industry structures underpinning the sector to determine where there is room for improvement.

I expect the producers and processors alike to play their role in this inquiry with a genuine focus on making our sector stronger.

Because our beef sector will only improve its international competitive advantage through fierce debate about its practices, standards and general direction.

Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Bananas on a slippery slope”

20 March 2015

To understand the real threat the recent outbreak of Panama disease poses to Queensland’s banana crop, you have to understand the alarming impact the different strains of soil fungus diseases in the history of global banana consumption.

For most people around the world born prior to the Second World War, the Gros Michel or “big ben” banana was the most likely variety to be on the shelves at the local greengrocer or supermarket.

This was a period of time when growers and retailers were only just beginning to realise the true economic potential of the fruit.

In the early years of the 20th century, the banana had gradually overtaken the apple as the most popular fruit in the world.

It is easy to see why when you consider that in the United States in 1913, twenty-five cents bought a dozen bananas, but only two apples.

Yet even as bananas became the fruit of choice, the biosecurity threat of Panama disease was already causing havoc through Latin America and across the Caribbean.

As the disease spread further with each passing year, the major banana growing regions struggled to harvest a viable crop of Gros Michel bananas and supplies spiralled downwards.

In fact, the disappearance of the popular fruit from supermarket shelves due to Panama disease even made a cultural impact, with the Broadway song, “Yes! We have no bananas” said to be inspired by a New York greengrocer’s spruiking during another stock shortage.

But Panama disease – named after the nation it is thought to have originated –would have the last laugh on the Gros Michel variety, which were all but extinct by the 1950s.

In response, the industry rushed to replace Gros Michel plants with the Cavendish variety, which was thought to be resistant to the soil fungus strain that wiped out Gros Michel.

Cavendish has been the staple banana variety in Australia and around the world ever since.

The global destruction that all but wiped out the Gros Michel variety had only minimal impact in Australia because the industry only existed in isolated pockets until the 1960s.

However, there is much at stake for Australia following this latest outbreak.

Our banana industry has developed into a sophisticated and profitable trade where about 28 million cartons of bananas (equal to about 372,000 tonnes) are sold in Australia.

It is worth $600 million directly, and more than $1 billion indirectly, to the national economy.

About 95 per cent of growers work in North Queensland.

For many years the Cavendish variety has soared in popularity (it represents more than 80 per cent of Australian grown banana), which allowed industry confidence to recover.

But now we find ourselves on the cusp of another global disease problem in the form of the Tropical Race 4 (TR4) strain of Panama disease, which we are now battling in Queensland.

TR4 was first detected in Asia in the 1990s and gradually spread to Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia, China, the Philippines and the Northern Territory.

In 2013 the disease drew worldwide headlines when it was also detected in Jordan and Mozambique.

It was the first time TR4 was discovered outside the Asian region and there are still no clear indications as to how it took hold in these nations.

What the spread did show was that TR4 was now a growing threat to global banana supplies.

Latin America and the Caribbean, which combined account for more than 80 per cent of global banana exports, have taken increasingly tougher measures to reduce the likelihood of TR4 taking hold through its crops.

In fact, in Costa Rica the agriculture department has declared a “national crop emergency for bananas.”

Some scientists believe if the disease take hold in these regions, it could possibly lead to the eventual demise of industrial farming of the Cavendish banana variety.

This is especially bad news for more than 400 million impoverished people across the globe that relies on bananas for up to one-third of their daily food intake.

So where does this leave us?

About 60 years after the world confronted a soil fungus disease that all but destroyed another banana variety, we again sit on the precipice of a new biosecurity obstacle that threatens to obliterate global supplies.

In the past Australia has felt confident that our world class biosecurity measures would keep the Panama disease from our major banana growing regions.

But distance, like Mozambique and Jordan have also discovered, has proven no barrier.

This is an international problem, with scientists increasingly warning that plagues of bugs and fungal infections are threatening the global supply of the fruit.

It questions how we remain vigilant against the risk of disease when we live and trade in an increasingly transient, global village.

I have spent much of last week in North Queensland, meeting with growers and speaking with biosecurity officials.

These growers have proven resilient and able to rebuild, following the significant production losses following cyclones Larry and Yasi.

We know some councils in North Queensland rely on a successful crop for almost half its total agricultural economic contribution.

Containing the spread of disease and providing assistance to growers should be above party politics at all times.

But containing the spread and providing assistance will take money and it will take time.

Now that we know the disease is present in North Queensland and are firmly on the list of nations that carry the disease in our major growing regions, we will need to make a long term commitment to minimising the economic and social impact of TR4 on our banana industry.

Because despite its previous brush with near extinction, the banana reigns supreme today as the most popular fruit in the world.

We know thousands of workers, families and businesses are reliant on this industry.

Governments cannot afford to let them down.

$2 million in Federal funds to upgrade Somerset bridges

20 March 2015

QUEENSLAND LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan has welcomed much-needed upgrades to local bridges under the Australian Government’s $300 million Bridges Renewal Programme.

The Abbott/Truss Government is committing $53.36 million in federal funds—matched by funding proponents—to improve bridges across Queensland’s road network.

“The injection of $1.995 million to upgrade our local bridges in the Blair electorate will make using them safer and more reliable, while also being a huge stimulus for freight providing major benefits for the community and the region,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

Local bridges approved for upgrade in the Somerset Regional council area are listed below:

  • Taylors Bridge over Cessbrook Creek, on Esk-Crows Nest Road, Biarra.
  • Scrubby Creek Bridge, Villeneuve Road, Villeneuve.
  • Jenkinsons Bridge over Sandy Creek on McCauleys Lane.

“In particular, our programme will improve road access for local traffic and increase efficiency on local roads, which will be a relief to all.” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“By upgrading these bridges from, for example, by replacing one-lane timber bridges with two-lane concrete bridges, residents will enjoy better and more reliable road access. Freight from farms and local factories will be able to pass safely along quicker routes with greatly improve productivity.”

“Councils will play a significant role in managing these projects, ensuring these bridges can continue to contribute to productivity and community access.”

The Australian Government is committing $114 million over Round One of the Bridges Renewal programme, committing a total of $300 million over five years from 2014–15.

O’Sullivan welcomes red meat processing inquiry

19 March 2015

19 March 2015

Queensland LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan said the announcement of a Senate inquiry into the red meat processing industry was an opportunity to review transparency and accountability through Australia’s beef supply chain.

Senator O’Sullivan said the Senate inquiry would enable stakeholders to share their concerns about price transparency and processor market powers, which have often been cited as points of frustration for producers.

He said with more than two-thirds of the national herd in Queensland, Senator O’Sullivan said the inquiry could have a wide ranging impact on the state.

“I have travelled extensively through Western Queensland since becoming a Senator last year and have heard repeatedly from producers that they are concerned about the market influence and lack of transparency across the processing sector,” he said.

“The Nationals have listened to these concerns and have successfully pushed for a Senate inquiry.

“I encourage as many producers as possible to participate in this process. We will only have a strong beef sector if the right information is getting in front of the key decision-makers.”


Surat Basin News – “Never laugh in the face of father time”

18 March 2015

There’s an old Slim Dusty song I’ve always enjoyed that I can’t help but recall when we speak about Australia finding itself at a major economic and demographic crossroads.

In the song, Slim sings that the ‘road to destruction is paved with good intent’. He warns the listener that they shouldn’t ‘fool around or you might find a lifetime has been spent.’

But most importantly, Slim warns that you should “never laugh in the face of father time.”

No doubt these are wise words everyone would agree you should live by.

And I don’t pretend to know what spurred Slim Dusty to pick up his guitar and sing these words – it definitely wasn’t macro-economic public policy – but there’s a moral in this story for our nation.

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey recently released the latest Intergenerational Report, which projects what the Australian population, economy, and budget could look like in 40 years.

It provides the information we need to prepare for the future and ensures we are well placed to address the demographic changes that Australia faces.

The picture it paints of Australia in 2055 is a nation dependent on the action we take in 2015 and beyond.

It will be a time where there will be a higher than ever number of elderly people across the Surat Basin, as well as, with correct planning, the necessary productivity enhancing infrastructure to provide the nation with earnings to the support the population.

It is clear the Australia of 40 years ago was forward thinking enough to provide the high living standards and economic security we have all since benefitted from.

We only have to consider how far we’ve come in the past four decades – average incomes have doubled in real terms and this increased wealth has been broadly shared across the community.

Today, Australians produce twice as much in goods and services for each hour they work compared with around 40 years ago.

Australians are living longer and we have one of the longest life expectancies in the world – we rank equal first along with Iceland in terms of male life expectancy and fifth in longest life expectancy for women.

Over the next 40 years the Australian economy is projected grow at 2.8 per cent per annum, slightly less than the 3.1 per cent per annum we saw over the past 40 years, but still a level of growth that would see Australia’s prosperity rise significantly.

It is therefore essential we continue to look at our national debt.

We are currently living beyond our means. The Australian Government is spending over $100 million per day more than it collects and we are borrowing every day to pay for this shortfall, so we are living beyond our means.

Continuing to work at keeping spending under control will ensure we can deliver the services the community needs and expects to improve Australia’s capacity to respond to future challenges and opportunities.

It is essential we continue this task today, as we confront the declining rates of workforce participation in the coming decades.

The Intergeneration Report explains that we are on the verge of an ageing population boom, which will require more money to be dedicated to health and social services.

In 1975, there were 122 Australian centenarians. Today there are around 4,000. And in 40 years’ time there will be around 40,000 people aged over 100.

With social services spending currently about $150 billion per year, or about one-third of the national budget, there is a clear need for a debate about how we ensure this area is more sustainable in the long term.

The Intergenerational Report predicts that more than one-in-five Australians will be aged 65 and over by 2054-55.

It is with this backdrop that the gas industry ramps up across the Surat Basin and we look to finalise the related productivity enhancing infrastructure that will generate wealth for the nation.

This is a conversation we need to have immediately and the Intergenerational Report is a good starting point.

Because there is one thing I am certain about – if we don’t lay the foundations today, father time will be wiping the smile off our faces tomorrow.

Growers turn out for sugar inquiry hearings

17 March 2015

Senator O’SULLIVAN (Queensland—Nationals Whip in the Senate) (13:43): Without making light of the

contribution of the previous speaker, I too want to speak about a group of mammals—or mammalia, to use

a scientific term—that are under threat of extinction. That would be the cane farmers of my home state of

Queensland. It is now a matter of public record that significant changes are being proposed within the sugar

industry to do with the marketing arrangements that have been in place over the last 100 years. I will approach

my contribution very carefully, acknowledging that we currently have a live Senate inquiry into the question.

I will confine my references only to matters that have been taken in public evidence in the hearings that we

conducted recently in northern New South Wales, Mackay and Townsville.

With respect to those hearings, in order to bring to the attention of my fellow senators the depth of the anxiety

about this issue, some very seasoned senators who sat on the inquiry during a number of those days indicated

they had never seen crowds of the size of those that attended the public hearings. In Mackay, there were in

excess of 200 people from small, family owned farms attending. In Townsville, it is reported that the number

swelled to some 350. These farmers were very, very engaged in the process and provided me, as a member of

the committee, with a further opportunity to speak with them, as I have been doing over the last 12 months,

about this most vexed issue.

It was recognised in the very early stages of the development of the sugar industry in Australia, a national industry

which just happens to be confined largely to my home state of Queensland, that it suffered because of a perception

that the millers, the ones who processed the sugar cane, had an unfair advantage over the growers of the cane.

As a result, there was a royal commission, in 1912, I think, but certainly a bit over 100 years ago, that examined

this very important issue.

Whilst life moves on, and oftentimes legislation changes to keep pace with the issues of modern life, the issue at

the heart of this in the sugar industry has not changed. For those who might not be conversant with the production

of sugar, it is a crop that when propagated has an almost five-year economic cycle. That means that when a

farmer makes the decision to grow sugar cane their commitment, in terms of amortising the cost of production

and the net yield they might receive, is amortised over a five-year period. It is a crop that is harvested within a

very tight time frame at a particular time of the year. Farmers have only 11½ to 12 weeks to harvest the crop and

get it to the processors, because the cane starts to lose sugar content and cannot be harvested after a certain time.

It is at the point of harvest the real challenge occurs. Harvested cane is a very perishable commodity. It is unlike

any other soft commodity that we produce in Australia, in that its life in being able to yield content is measured

in hours—not days, not weeks but hours. It is not a commodity that can be stored. It has very limited options

with respect to its transportation from the point of production to the point of processing. Anyone who has driven

through sugar country will remember the image of the tens of thousands of kilometres of very light rail that is

owned by mills and the very light, open cane-carriages that the product is put in. If you were to plonk yourself

on top of a load of cane and take that little light-rail journey you would arrive at only one place—your mill. In

modern times, even if there were a mill close by—there is at least one geographic arrangement in Queensland

where growers do have an option between mills, and it is interesting that, recently, cane growers exercised that

option as a result of this issue in the industry—you may well arrive at another mill that is owned by the same

miller. We are talking about the market power of millers.

The royal commission decided that to offset the power of millers they would invest what is described as a growers’

economic interest in the product that they produce. We are not talking about ownership and equity; we are talking

about an economic interest, which has allowed the cane growers to have input into the marketing arrangements

for two-thirds of the yield of the crop that they deliver to their local mill. In effect, they hand a stick of cane,

as they have done for well over 100 years, to the miller. That is the miller’s reward for processing their cane.

Two-thirds of the output that comes from the processing remains, economically—at least its fortune is in light

—in the hands of the grower, the producer.

A long time ago, they decided to create what I refer to as an artificial single desk at what is currently Queensland

Sugar Ltd, which is owned between the millers and the growers, which means that they join as an industry and

they rise and fall on the decisions taken within the marketing environment. The industry was deregulated. I think

the issue that presents at the moment was an unintended consequence of deregulation. I am not an advocate of

reregulation—I think that there is only one policy worse than deregulation, and that is reregulation—but in this

instance we have an anomaly where a number of very powerful millers want to take the economic interest of the

grower. They want to extinguish the choice of the grower in deciding who will market their cane or their sugar

and the terms on which they sell their produce. These are foreign owned companies; I am not against foreign

ownership but I am against any corporate ownership within the agricultural processing sector that can make

decisions which will impact on growers and on the whole industry—where the industry is not taken into account.

The hallways here in Parliament House are full of lobbyists. Millers are going door-to-door trying to convince

some of us that the best thing to do this is to leave the market commercial arrangements to sort themselves out.

It is not a free market when you have only one buyer of your commodity or where you do not have the market’s


Senator Heffernan: I want to make sure they have not been to my door and they will not be coming.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: I think they would know better than to come to your door, Senator Heffernan. The fact

of the matter remains that, as a parliament, we have an obligation to four and a half thousand small and corporate

family farms, which happen to be in Queensland, and to all of the communities that rely significantly on the

outcome of this inquiry. It is not only of interest to the national economy but to the economies of hundreds of

small communities and districts in my state. I urge all fellow senators to keep a close eye on the process of the

inquiry and to have an input. I am sure common sense will prevail, and we will find a way to protect the interests

of these farmers, as we ought.

Shadow Minister Frecklington & Senator O’Sullivan tour banana frontlines

10 March 2015

10 March 2015

Queensland’s $600 million banana industry is this week preparing to confront one its greatest tests in living memory as it awaits the results that will determine whether the tropical race four (TR4) disease has taken hold in the state.

The fungal disease, which wiped out the Northern Territory banana industry in the late 1990s, was first suspected at a farm near Tully late last week.

Biosecurity Queensland quickly commenced a tracing, surveillance and sampling program in the Tully region on Monday to try and locate the source and determine whether the panama disease had spread.

A department spokesman said lengthy and crucial planning procedures as well as the logistics of moving soil between Tully and Brisbane for testing meant the program commenced late last week.

Results from these tests are expected in the coming days.

Opposition spokesperson for agriculture Deb Frecklington toured the North Queensland banana growing regions this week with Federal Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan and State Member for Hinchinbrook Andrew Cripps to listen to growers and speak with industry leaders.

Ms Frecklington said State, Federal and local government were working closely with industry to combat the potential outbreak.

She said while there was definite concern among growers, most understood that every available measure was being taken to quarantine the area in question and minimise the risk of further contamination.

“Senator O’Sullivan and I have participated in a number of meetings during the past few days,” Ms Frecklington said.

“It is clear that every effort is being made to assist industry and keep major stakeholders informed as developments arise.”

Ms Frecklington said while these were confronting days for the banana industry, she had been impressed by the stoicism among growers who gathered at a public meeting in Mareeba on Monday.

Senator O’Sullivan said the North Queensland tour would be used to collect important ‘on the ground’ information from growers to be taken back to share with other public policy makers in Canberra and Brisbane.

He said with the banana industry supporting almost 10,000 full time jobs, directly and indirectly, the government had an ‘absolute’ responsibility to keep the sector strong across North Queensland.

“Matters of biosecurity are above party politics – we will kick down any door that is needed to ensure our growers are looked after,” he said.

“This industry has a long history of confronting adversity – it fought an inspirational war against foreign banana imports – and it won.

“I can’t tell you what the outcome will be from this potential outbreak.

“These days would be listed among the industry’s greatest challenges in recent memory – but we are standing shoulder to shoulder with them. That’s why we are in North Queensland.

“I have been relaying the information to (Federal Agriculture Minister) Barnaby Joyce’s office and will continue to do so.”

Nationals Senators answer call for red meat processing inquiry

10 March 2015

10 March 2015 Calls by farming groups for an inquiry into aspects of the red meat processing industry have won the support of Nationals Senators Barry O’Sullivan, John Williams and Bridget McKenzie. As producers in Victoria express concern at the saleyards boycott by buyers several weeks ago and producers in New South Wales see another buyer about to exit the market through the takeover of Primo, Senators O’Sullivan, Williams and McKenzie said it is time to bring the issue into the public domain. Terms of Reference for a Senate Inquiry are currently being drafted, which will cover collusion of buyers, market powers, pre and post-sale weighing and other aspects. It is expected the Senate Inquiry could be approved by parliament as soon as the next sitting fortnight. Senator O’Sullivan said the concentration of foreign ownership in the processing sector and ongoing producer concerns about potential market imbalances in the beef supply chain justified a Senate inquiry. “There were a lot of questions raised about farm gate profitability and price transparency during the recent Senate Inquiry into grass fed beef levies,” Senator O’Sullivan said. “I have also travelled extensively through Western Queensland since becoming a Senator last year and many producers have expressed ongoing concern over the market powers of the processing sector. “These Senator inquiries are important to take a closer look at our beef industry and determine the steps we need to go forward. “We must ensure the underlying structures of our beef sector remain strong.” Senator McKenzie said there should be a level playing field across the supply chain. “As if drought, the high dollar, low commodity prices and the live exports ban has not been enough to battle through, now they are being knocked down again,” Senator McKenzie said. “The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is investigating the buyer boycott at Barnawartha saleyards earlier this month – an action that has led to allegations that processors are mistreating farmers. “No-one can explain to a cattle producer why his returns are diminishing yet in the supermarket the retail price for beef has continued to rise upwards of $16 a kilo.” Senator Williams said he was disappointed with the JBS /Primo result last week. He added that current competition laws needed to be reviewed to stop similar occurrences into the future. “Producers and those in the livestock industry are adamant this will reduce competition,” Senator Williams said. “I am extremely concerned at the buyers boycott in Victoria and glad the ACCC is investigating if any laws were broken. “An inquiry into the red meat processing industry will explore many issues because producers should not be battered from pillar to post.”

Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Sugar supply chain should not turn sour”

9 March 2015

The sugar supply chain is unique among almost every other agricultural commodity.

At each point of being harvested, transported and sold onto the world market, sugar cane remains a highly volatile crop.

It is volatile because it can only be grown in select climates, meaning more than 90 per cent of Australian sugar originates in Queensland.

It is volatile because the final price the sugar receives can fluctuate significantly in response to the whims of international supply and demand.

But, crucially, it is volatile because, when it is harvested, it must be transported to one of only a limited number of mills in Australia within about 12 hours.

Yet despite these difficult odds, the sugar industry has remained a foundation stone for many rural communities across North Queensland for much of the past century.

In fact, the success of Northern Queensland is inextricably linked with the story of our national sugar industry.

It has supported countless families – in fact, generations of families – who moved into these areas to stake their claim in the sugar industry.

The wealth generated across these family-owned farms has enabled governments to build roads, schools and hospitals in the region, which have in turn brought more families and increased prosperity for our nation.

Next week we will turn a new page on the industry as we commence what is arguably the most significant public policy process for the Australian sugar industry in 100 years.

The Senate Inquiry into the Australian sugar industry that was initiated by myself and NSW Nationals Senator John ‘Wakka’ Williams will hold a series of public hearings along the eastern coastline and northern NSW.

Chief among our investigations will be how the viability of family-owned cane farms can be protected from any proposed changes to the long standing marketing arrangements and whether growers’

economic interest can be formally recognised, if necessary, through legislation.

It is no secret our inquiry was launched amid serious concerns that Singapore-owned agribusiness-giant Wilmar’s intentions to exit the QSL single desk arrangements from 2017 could pose a strong

threat to future profitability of Australian canegrowers.

The need for an inquiry is only further evidenced by the announcement that MSF and Tully Sugar will also remove themselves from the QSL system.

And while there is no talk of arbitrarily enforcing the existing single desk system into the future, there is a very real need to ensure such a dramatic change to the sugar supply chain does not result in regional monopolies with no options for growers.

So as we prepare for the first hearings next week, it is worthwhile to understand the scope of other major turning points for the sugar industry, such as the landmark Royal Commission of 1912, which is a document that is just as relevant today as it was a century ago.

The Royal Commission initially set out to determine whether sugar could be an industry that could be successfully rolled out to encourage the settlement of northern Australia.

In the days of the White Australia policy, the commission was established by the then-Labor government, led by Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, amid concerned that our unsettled northern regions were susceptible to invasion by our Asian neighbours.

While there are sections of the report that definitely show their age, many of its statements and findings could have just as easily been written today.

In 1912, Australia still imported more than two-thirds of its sugar intake (by stark contrast we export more than 80 per cent of our sugar product today).

The mills were privately owned at this time.

At each of the commission’s hearings, cane farmer after farmer lined up to detail how they received a price for their product that was only slightly above their cost of production.

Throughout the commission, no company had more impact and influence in the Australian sugar industry than the Colonial Sugar Refinery Company (CSR), which owned about one-third of the Australian output of raw sugar.

In fact, CSR took legal action against the Federal Government in an attempt to, firstly, prevent the CSR board and General Manager from appearing before the commission and secondly, to stop the release of the final report.

When they did finally appear, the leaders of CSR had few answers to the problems of their farmers.

As the transcript of one of the public hearings shows, when then-CSR General Manager Mr E.W Knox was asked what legislation existed that ensured a fair return for cane farmers – he attempted to cite Moses’ Ten Commandments, which was quickly rejected as insufficient.

The belligerent attitude of Colonial Sugar Refinery Company would deliver the organisation no favours.

The commission found there was no other industry in Australia where the determination of prices was to such a large an extent in the hands of one party.

The report found this was compacted by the fact that competition between mills was almost impossible due to the bulk and the perishable nature of cane.

Crucially, the commission concluded there was no mechanism in place to ensure there would be a fair profit for cane growers.

As a result, the commission determined that the price of cane should be directly dependent on the price of raw sugar.

This concept laid the foundation for the grower economic interest platform (where mills have a one-third interest and growers hold the remaining two-thirds interest to reflect the risk taken in the supply chain) that has been commonplace within the industry ever since.

This report built confidence for families to move to the northern coastal regions and build an imposing sugar industry that would transform Australia into the third largest sugar exporter in the world.

These farmers would also construct their own mills, built as co-operatives, which would ensure a fair farm gate return for generations.

These sugar mill co-operatives have served as a strong example for other industries looking to establish their own co-operatives and mutuals.

Next week we have provided a forum for the various stakeholders in the sugar industry to share their thoughts and concerns.

I hope that we can follow in the leadership of the politicians who conducted the 1912 commission and work diligently to ensure farm gate profitability is at the forefront of the decision-making process.

The links in the sugar supply chain are so mutually reliant one another that we must be prepared to use all options at our disposal to keep every part of the sector profitable.

Release of the ‘Not Now, Not Ever’ family violence report

4 March 2015

Senator O’SULLIVAN (Queensland—Nationals Whip in the Senate) (13:14): I rise to speak on an issue relating

to violence against women and children in our society. I made a pledge in this place on a number of occasions

to continue to keep this discussion alive; to keep it in front of colleagues and in front of legislators. Each day

that we make decisions in this place and in other place, we need to give consideration to the impact of those

decisions on progressing culturally, and otherwise, measures that will mitigate and hopefully extinguish, this

terrible practice in our society.

Today in particular I want to make reference to a report very appropriately named Not now, not ever, published

as a result of an inquiry into these matters by the Queensland government. The inquiry was conducted under the

very professional eye of the Hon. Quentin Bryce, past governor in that state, and a very respected Australian.

Ms Bryce brought together a panel of people made up of some legislators, people representing pastoral care

organisations and community representatives. They were eventually to publish a very detailed report listing their

findings and making no less than 140 recommendations.

Whilst the report itself is directed at measures that can be implemented, in this case by the Queensland state

government, I think it is rich in ideas that ought to be considered by all of the legislative chambers in the country,

including our House of Representatives and the Senate in which we sit.

I want to open with a statement that is in the preface of the report from the Hon. Quentin Bryce, because I think

this really goes to the heart of the issue:

It is beholden upon all of us—every single citizen of this diverse, vibrant state—

She says ‘state’; but I say nation—

to take a stand against domestic and family violence; to commit to protecting the vulnerable; and to make it clear

to those who would hurt another, within a relationship of intimacy and trust, that we will not tolerate, excuse,

condone or accept their behaviour.

That has effectively set the tone of the objectives that this inquiry decided to pursue. I quote another section:

Domestic and family violence, in all forms, is a violation of basic human rights. Everyone, regardless of their

sex, religion, nationality, race, language, relationship, or living arrangements, has the right to feel safe and be

safe in public and at home. Domestic and family violence, which is perpetrated in the home or among family

members, is as much a matter of public concern as crime in the streets. It must not be accepted or excused.

Not now, not ever.

The course of this report is impossible for me to go across in any detail in the time I have today. But I will be

continuing to articulate the objectives and the recommendations of this report for some time to come. The inquiry

found fundamentally that there are to be three phases in the nation’s response—in this case, the states’ response

to this problem. It talks about looking over the horizon. I look up today and there is a fine body of young men

here from one of our nation’s colleges looking down on this legislature. This report and the journey that we need

to make is in their hands as much as it is in the hands of our respective governments.

The report focuses on recommendations for the now to see that we immediately and properly resource those

professionals in the community that are at the coalface of this particular problem. It talks about policy upgrades.

It talks about elevating the importance of the response of our agencies and ensuring they have the financial,

human and physical resources to be able to do their job. It talks about the upgrade of the response, meaning that,

for example, our law enforcement agencies need to treat their response to incidents of domestic violence right at

the top of the pinnacle of the services that they provide to our community.

It is well known that I am a retired police officer. I know that oftentimes responses to domestic violence can be

treated in a secondary fashion due to other things going on in the lives of these professionals who provide this

service. It is time now for all the agencies to make sure that that first line, that immediate response, is enhanced.

The report then makes recommendations about the medium term—again with an emphasis on restructuring

policies about how we respond. There are recommendations about further resourcing needs that will require

ongoing debate and of course provision by both the Commonwealth and state agencies to provide that financial

support to allow these professionals to do their jobs.

The development and implementation of training and also the operation of some public awareness campaigns

will be directed at ensuring that every single Australian, no matter who you are, no matter where you are and no

matter what it is you do, involve themselves in the appropriate responses to stamp out this cowardly behaviour

by these grubs—I have no other name to call them. But, in the long term, the report emphasises that this requires

a cultural change. This requires us beginning to educate our young men in their formative years to deter them of

the practice, to ensure that our young women know what options are available and to know that they are loved

and supported by their family and their community as we all battle this insidious disorder.

In closing, to all the young men in our nation I say that, in effect, this is a man’s problem. The vast majority of

the instances are men exercising the power on women and children. If we are at the heart of the problem, we are

at the heart of the solution. Every man in this country must now wake up each day and determine what they can do.

The time for establishing that we have a problem, I say, is behind us. We know what we need to do. We must

now demonstrate the will to do it and we must do so under the umbrella of the wonderful name of this report in

relation to domestic violence on women and children: not now, not ever.