Sugar cane harvesting at Gregory River near Proserpine.
Sugar cane harvesting at Gregory River near Proserpine. Peter Carruthers

Competition watchdog support for sugar code a 'game changer'

THE national competition watchdog has endorsed strengthening the Sugar Industry Code of Conduct, in a "game changing" marker of support for growers.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, in a submission to the Federal Government's review into the Sugar Code of Conduct, has recommended not only keeping the code in place but strengthening it by making it compulsory for mill operators to provide growers with "Grower Choice" and to introduce fines for breaching the code.

The ACCC also revealed that it has dealt with eight sugar industry related complaints since the code came into being in 2017. Every complaint alleges that a sugar mill operator has breached the code, in addition to breaches of the Australian Consumer Law. Two of those complaints are being investigated separately.

This is a marked increase from the 21 industry related complaints the ACCC received between the de-regulation of the sugar industry in 2006, and the ratification of the code.

Canegrowers Queensland chairman Paul Schmebri said the ACCC's support for the code was "very significant"

"That's an important point, that the ACCC believes there is a need for the code... we've now got the ACCC supporting the growers' position, and that is we need to keep the code," he said. "That is a game changer for us, because hopefully this now sets aside the view of the Productivity Commission, that there was no need for it."

The Federal Government brought in the Code of Conduct in April 2017 in a bid to resolve a long-running dispute affecting cane growers in North Queensland. Growers across factions have demanded the code be kept in place or risk the industry descending into "chaos". The government is expected to deliver a final report by December 2018