How ‘asleep’ governments let down Mossman and Qld’s sugar mills

Nov 23, 2023

Katter’s Australian Party candidate for Cook, Bruce Logan, has taken aim at the Queensland Government’s neglect in policy and investment towards North Queensland infrastructure and industries following news of the Mossman Mill entering voluntary administration.

Mr Logan said while “a perfect storm” of lightning strikes, labour shortages and supply issues have reportedly contributed to the mill’s current predicament, a wider view must also take into account the role of the Queensland State government in building and nurturing sustainable industries across North Queensland.

He said the Mossman Mill’s financial difficulties were shining a spotlight on the Queensland State government’s neglect of housing and infrastructure in the Far North as well as policy decisions related to the state’s ethanol mandate – a value-adding mechanism which would help financial viability of every sugar mill.

“Acts of God aside, the fact is labour and housing shortages have never been properly addressed in the Far North,” Mr Logan said in response to reports workforce shortages impacted the bottom line of the Mossman Mill.

“While the whole nation now seems to be in the grip of a housing crisis, the adequacy of housing for workers in the district has been an issue for decades.

“If you can find a house in Mossman, good luck.

“The efforts to the support a self-sustaining biofuels industry in Queensland are also undermined by the State government’s refusal to properly enforce an ethanol mandate,” he said.

The blend of ethanol and regular unleaded fuel known as E10 accounted for almost a third of all regular unleaded fuel sold in petrol stations up until the pandemic, with demand dropping away after the State government cancelled its “E10 OK” advertising campaign.

“As recently as last month the ALP, LNP and even the Greens voted against a KAP bill which would have put teeth into the current 4.5% mandate by forcing petrol retailers to comply with the mandate.

“A sustainable, sugarcane-based biofuels industry in Queensland isn’t possible without a corresponding policy setting which encourages a demand for ethanol made from sugar cane,” Mr Logan said.

KAP Federal MP for Kennedy Bob Katter said while he was always a strong advocate for Australian-owned and operated mills, he understood the need to escalate the administration process to provide growers and workers with some security.

However, he said the warning signs had long been ignored by both sides of government in relation to production levels and value-adding to cane crops.

Mr Katter said expansion of supply would help ease viability concerns and issues with the mill.

“Both State and Federal Governments need to come in and build a dam to expand sugar production in the Mareeba-Mount Molloy region. At the junction of Mary and Rifle Creek, off the Mitchell River would be an ideal dam site and open up to 20,000ha of additional sugar cane production.

“Obviously transporting it to Mossman has been a challenge, and so we need a front-end processing facility at the Mary Creek junction, with a tunnel down to Mossman feeding the liquid product.”

Mr Katter said both ALP and LNP governments had been asleep at the wheel when it came to shoring-up North Queensland’s agriculture sector.

“The wokie double-degree done nothings in the ALP and the LNP are all about Brisbane. What have they actually achieved for Mossman?

“It was the old Country Party that gave that region a tourism destination status.

“The people of Mossman and Mareeba must realise a vote for the ALP or LNP is a vote for Brisbane, and if they must start speaking to North Queenslanders – the KAP – if they want to build their region.

“The KAP has achieved the 4.5 per cent ethanol mandate, but it’s not being enforced by government.

“Now how good would it be for every farmer to receive about an additional $6 per tonne if we all switch to ethanol, it’ll keep the mill running, and for all Australians – they get cheaper, cleaner fuel.”

With next year’s crop already in the ground and fertilized, Mr Logan is concerned about the future of cane-growing in the region should the mill go under.

“We’ve seen the Member for Cook sit back and let her Brisbane-based ALP mates destroy the fishing industry in the Far North.

“In politics you reap what you sow.  But here’s a chance for redemption.

“In 2020 when Virgin Airlines was considering moving its headquarters from Bowen Hills in Brisbane to New South Wales, the Treasurer entered into the fray in a bid to stop that from happening.

“He said ‘There’s nothing more dangerous than Queenslanders with their backs to the wall … we will stop at nothing to ensure the headquarters of Virgin remains in Queensland.’”

“The treasurer offered the company $200 million to stay in Brisbane, which the foreign-owned airline operator gleefully accepted.

“What I am calling for is what would happen if the Mossman Mill was located in Brisbane.

“The 60 growers around Mossman have poured everything into getting a crop going for 2024.

“The crop has been priced for next year.  Growers have spent $10 million getting the crop in, and realistically there is no alternative destination for that crop other than the Mossman mill.

“Financial ruin faces the growers around Mossman with potentially generational ramifications flowing through the 500 or so businesses and individuals in the community all connected to the cane industry there.

“We will see how the current talks go, but if required, I would like the State government to come forward with the necessary support to make sure the 2024 crush goes ahead at the mill, which will buy everyone time for a long-term solution to be found,” he said.

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