SUBJECT: Queensland sugar dispute

SUBJECT: Queensland sugar dispute

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Today we are thinking of every one in Queensland facing the scourge of cyclone Debbie and we stay with them and offer any support we can give at these difficult times. Today Pauline Hanson is threatening to withdraw support from any Government legislation unless Malcolm Turnbull delivers some mythical intervention in the Queensland sugar dispute, something that Barnaby Joyce and George Christensen have been promising and threatening now for weeks. The reality is the Queensland Government has been doing an excellent job resolving this dispute and they are so close to a resolution and the worst thing that could happen to Queensland growers now, facing a cyclone, is for Malcolm Turnbull to be further protracting the dispute by offering some mythical resolution to the problem. The fact that Pauline Hanson is withdrawing support just demonstrates again how weak and wounded Malcolm Turnbull is. He is now at the end of the string being held by One Nation. If he further protracts this dispute because of pressure from One Nation, then that will be at the expense of not only the growers but of course the thousands of people who work in the sugar mills in Queensland. This whole things has been protracted because the LNP and minor parties have been interfering at the Queensland level, cheered on by people here in Canberra, people in the Liberal National Party. It should have been resolved a long time ago. It’s very close to being resolved and the worst thing that could happen now is for people to offer growers more false hope of some magical solution just to suit their own political needs. They need to put the growers first, not their own political interests first.

JOURNALIST: Why is a mandatory code of conduct a mythical and magic solution? What is your issue with that course of action?

FITZGIBBON: Well neither George Christensen or Barnaby Joyce have been clear that their so called solution is a code of conduct. It only seems this morning that people are now talking about a code of conduct because they are desperate to put some meat in the sandwich. There could be a place…

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

FITZGIBBON: Well George Christensen during the election campaign said a code of conduct was no longer needed because the Queensland legislation, put in place not by the Government but by the LNP and minor parties, had fixed the problem. We all knew that was not true and that was simply designed to get George Christensen through an election campaign. Just like it was the case in Capricornia with the defence land grab, people were saying things just to get themselves re-elected rather than acting in the interests of their local constituents. There may be a place for a code of conduct, a code of conduct developed in consultation with all the players over a considerable period of time, properly considered and properly implemented. The case has not yet been made but there could be a case for one. A code of conduct is not going to fix a problem that needed to be fixed last week or even last month. So what they are doing and what they have been doing for the last 18 months is offering false hope to growers and all that has done is protracted the dispute. Now we are facing a critical time in the growing season, we are facing potentially a cyclone and we need this fixed and fixed quickly. The last thing we need is Malcolm Turnbull out of political weakness to be joining with Barnaby Joyce and George Christensen and the Queensland LNP and further dragging out this dispute. The big losers if they cause this dispute to be dragged out further is of course the growers.

JOURNALIST: I’m sure this idea has not sprung from nothing though, the growers seems to be behind a code of conduct. What’s your quick fix if you say this needed to be fixed last week?

FITZGIBBON: These disputes aren’t fixed with a quick fix. It was John Howard who deregulated the sugar industry. Tax payers forked out some $400 million to compensate those who were adversely affected. It was a sector which has been working well. John Howard did the right thing, but of course now we have the LNP in Queensland intervening and minor parties in Queensland intervening in a dispute that is best resolved between the parties. That is just about resolved because of the leadership the Queensland Labor Government has demonstrated. Even if there is a case for a code of conduct, and code of conducts do have their place, a code of conduct thought of today is not going to have any effect on this dispute tomorrow or next month. This dispute needed to be resolved months ago. It would have been resolved months ago if it wasn’t for the inappropriate intervention of the LNP, minor parties and the likes of Barnaby Joyce and George Christensen who have been offering false hope. When you offer false hope, you cause negotiations between the two parties to break down. The Queensland Government has initiated both mediation and arbitration by highly regarded figures in Queensland. They are this close to resolution. George Christensen, Barnaby Joyce and the Prime Minister and every other member of this Government in Canberra need to get out of the way and allow the parties, with the leadership of the Queensland Government, to finally resolved this issue in the interest of the growers and of course the interest of the millers and indeed the interest of the whole Queensland economy and community.

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