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An Independent Queensland Regional & Rural 

On-Line Publication

(Cairns... Far North Queensland)


Thank you for visiting my on-line office.

I appreciate your interest in the issues that effect not only Queenslanders, but all Australians.

Please let me hear from you about your views on the issues that matter to your Family, your Community and your State.


Selwyn Johnston



One person, with the support of the community, can make a difference



The root causes of the problems for Australian sugarcane producers are the subsidies and tariffs implemented by the Europeans, Brazil and the USA.  

Sugarcane farmers are price takers not price setters. To be able to solve the problems of sugarcane growers, it is critical to be able to identify them. 

In real terms Australia is considered the second most efficient sugarcane producing country in the world, but they cannot hope to compete against corrupted markets. Our politicians naively still believe in the level playing field and they let everyone come here and play for sweet FA at our expense. 

How Australian sugarcane producers can be held accountable for that situation is beyond understanding. It is way out of sugarcane growers’ control. The Europeans started this madness with subsides and tariffs for primary industries because of their recent history of two world wars where many of their population starved. This is deeply ingrained in their psyche. 

Of course, European farmers play on this situation and are more militant than our docile mob here in Australia who allow themselves to be shafted from pillar to post.

Australians have never starved and they presume sugar and other primary products will simply be there on the supermarket shelf for them to consume at the lowest possible price. 

The Brazilian government has the expressed aim of being the dominant sugar producer in the world. To this end they financially support their sugar producers to achieve this objective. They deliberately flood the market with sugar to force naive players such as Australia out of it so they can dominate and hopefully dictate price at a later date. Brazilians have a coordinated effort from government, farm and mill level. For example, the Brazilians will not outsource or purchase any equipment or technology from overseas for their mills. If they cannot source what they need from Brazil they will work their way around the situation using their own products and resources. 

As for the Americans, well, they look after themselves and to hell with the rest. 

The Australian government and sugarcane growers needs to be more proactive by: 

Getting some redress at international forums and courts of law to eliminate these tariffs and subsides promptly. It is time to stand on some big toes! If not, Australians will have to bite the bullet and look after our own sugarcane interests using all means possible, fair and foul. eg. Tying trade agreements directly to defence contracts and support for wars.

Pro-actively dovetailing the sugarcane industry with other future industries and technology such as compostable plastics and ethanol. Oil companies are in bed with the automotive industry and car clubs. Unlike Europe, Canada, USA, Brazil and others, Australia is the only developed country with a fledgling ethanol production . Even New Zealand is pro-ethanol! Government mandating of 10% Ethanol (E10) is an obvious environmental advantage.

The crux of the problem is that our efficient sugarcane farmers are expected to compete against competitor nations who subsidise their industry. This is an unrealistic and unfair expectation. How can you expect to compete against a whole of government approach adopted by our competitors while our governments pretend it is simply market forces at play? Sugarcane farmers pay Australian wages and other cost inputs and are expected to compete on a corrupted subsidised world market. This is not a level playing field! Providing temporary price support for local sugar as has recently been done with the current 3c per kg levy on sugar sold domestically is minimally helpful. This is only a small % of the sugar produced in Australia as we export far more than we consume and a result does not increase farm incomes dramatically. This is helpful to a small degree but expect fierce resistance from the confectionary industry who have been accustomed to paying bottom dollar for a top product.

A more equitable (government enforced) payment system to farmers by millers. Millers will only pay sugarcane farmers on the sugar content of the sugarcane delivered to the mill and not other products that they use and produce from it. Once the miller has the product they "wrongly" assume ownership of all other products made and used from the sugarcane. Eg. a by-product called bagasse is used as "free" fuel for the mill; the nutrient rich "mud" left over from the crushing process is sold back to the farmer; Molasses extracted is sold as a stock feed. It is the mug sugarcane farmer who gets paid zero for all these products and as indicated earlier even pays the mill to get it back! If the current single desk selling arrangement is abolished and de-regulation is introduced, this would reduce the price farmers obtain for their product even further. Eg. How are individual farmers going to be able to negotiate a fair price for their product if CSR or any other company are the only miller in a sugercane-growing region? Millers have a monopoly and are able to dictate price. No wonder they vigorously support “de-regulation”.

Sugarcane farmers must arrive at a single position on their industry. Sugarcane grower representatives have to present to government and Australian community a coherent workable solution. Disunity and apathy have come about as result of the "brain drain" suffered by all rural industries as the cream of the youth have gravitated to where real opportunities are offered in the “subsidised” capital cities. Who in their right mind would be a primary producer in Australia today under present conditions? However, a single, strong and professionally presented position is a must.

If a decentralised population is desirable with all the social and economic benefits that flow from that, a coherent plan has to be in place to encourage people to move to centres other than capital cities. This means jobs for the bush to attract people. This includes sugarcane farmers. Look how underpopulated and underdeveloped the north and west of Australia is after 200 plus years of settlement. For progress to be made government assistance is initially needed to provide the services and infrastructure necessary to make things viable. The only real development that has taken place is in the capital cities. This is one reason why the creation of new states as has happened in the USA over the same period of time is important. Minimal tax zones should be created for the more isolated areas of our country. People living there are doing us all a service by simply being there. This will help make up part of the way for the lack of services and infrastructure in the bush.

I don't pretend to have the answers but I do want the message to get out that Australian sugarcane farmers simply want a fair and just price for the product that they already efficiently produce. 

The prices have collapsed not because of farmers' incompetence but because of corrupted world markets that have been subsidised for years. How sugarcane farmers have survived for this long is a miracle in itself. They should be rewarded and congratulated not restructured out of the industry. 

This is economic rationalismThe one ray of hope they had was the FTA. This was taken away from them by their own kind. As Shakespeare wrote, "… this was the unkindest cut of all". 

Sugarcane farmers are at the mercy of the decisions of foreign governments and the misfortunes of others. They are the new 'peasantry'. 


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Written and Authorised by Selwyn Johnston, Cairns FNQ 4870