September 6th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: How to help democracy in Hong Kong

Australian Senate backs Hong Kong democrats against China

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Government stumbles over Manildra, Tuckey fiascos

STRAWS IN THE WIND: J'accuse / Shape of things to come

WATER: Murray River farmers face man-made 'permanent drought'

NATIONAL PARTY: Why John Anderson should stay

LETTERS: Sugar price

LETTERS: Rail the key to rural infrastructure

LETTERS: Amrozi death sentence

Ethanol, sugar and free trade

EDUCATION HISTORY: Social justice in education - self-interest disguised as altruism

FAMILY: Quick facts on marriage

BOOKS: GULAG : A HISTORY, by Anne Applebaum

BOOKS: The Maverick and his Machine: Thomas Watson Sr and the Making of IBM

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Sugar price

by B.V. Sartori

News Weekly, September 6, 2003

The basis of an interview on ABC Country Hour last month revolved around the impasse between State and Federal Governments regarding further deregulation of the sugar industry. Ian McMaster, CSR Sugar Division urged cooperation by all parties in order for a decision to be made, after all it should not be difficult to arrive at a sensible and constructive conclusion which we can work with and "move forward".

The fact is growers cannot afford to keep accepting the wrong decisions. The key issues under negotiation; CPAs, Single Desk and Agreements and arbitration between millers and growers, cannot be shrugged off. Have we forgotten so quickly that these key issues were given a thorough coverage during the sugar industry review of 1996? As the report handed down by the working party recommended. "In our opinion it is a balanced package, in as much as the recommendations retain the best features of existing arrangements."

So the key issues being debated went from best features in 1996 to impediments in 2002. It has been stated that these same issues are stifling the industry's progress. Isn't it ironic that by CSR's own admission, the Burdekin will produce a record crop with no deregulation. With regards to production, the weather and an early finish to crushing are predominant features.

With regards to Australian farmers keeping up with the Brazilians, give us the same equity between the Australian dollar and the American dollar as the Brazilian Real enjoys.

The problem is not our production or costs, but the price we receive. Farmers have always been aware of productivity and costs, and any farmer in any facet of primary industry is still in business because he has been addressing these issues. The fact is Australia's standard of living is so high.

The price we received last season of approximately $27 a tonne hardly covered costs. The average costs of production in this area including as expressed by Canegrowers Organisation living on the smell of an oily rag, is $26-27 a tonne. The problem is not confined to the growing sector alone. The costs of packaging refined sugar in the Australian Canegrower Magazine (October 2002) is between 15 and 23 cents a kilo. When you consider the total raw sugar industry received 27 cents a kilo it's hypocritical to suggest farmers are unproductive and inefficient.

Indications are the world price is unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future. Yes, we must diversify from main stream crystal sugar, but we don't need to deregulate the single desk on our domestic market to achieve this. We are the only country which receives a corrupt world price for its domestic needs. Even our Prime Minister acknowledges the corrupt nature of world prices, yet our domestic price is tied to it.

It's time to direct all the energies and resources which are being expended on non-productive debate of deregulation and look to the mechanisms which will keep that pool of long time experience (growers) within the industry until viable alternatives to crystal sugar are up and running. Our domestic prices needs to be looked at together with obtaining a greater share of the American market in our present negotiations with that country.

B.V. Sartori,
Ayr, Qld

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