OPINION: by De-Anne Kelly BE MPNews Weekly
Coalition defends its sugar package
, June 19, 2004
Pat Byrne, in his article "Sugar package Clayton's package" (News Weekly, May 22), does a disservice to farm families seeking a way forward, by having them believe that there is little in it for them, thus encouraging them not to access it.
The package is not Gold Lotto, but it gives families real options forward.
It contains a Sustainability Payment of up to $7,500 for an average 5,000-tonne farm and then, unlike any other agricultural package, it allows a family to stay on their farm, in their own home, and make a choice about whether they stay in cane production or choose another enterprise.
Although Mr Byrne gives credit for this package to the Sugar Industry Reform Committee, I did not see them present when Nationals leader John Anderson took on the departmental officers and insisted that a Sustainability Payment was required, and won the day.
If farmers stay in cane, there are Restructure Grants capped at $15,000 to allow them to make farm improvements. If they choose to leave cane production, they can sell, lease or keep their farm and continue to live on it and receive up to $100,000 in Re-establishment Grants to grow a new crop or establish another business.
The assets test, both on-farm and off-farm, totals some net $550,000, excluding the value of the farm, and would allow many farmers to access this element of the package if they choose.
This also attracts a $2,000 retraining grant to use at any University, TAFE or accredited education provider, not only for farmers but also for mill workers, to enable them to train for a new career.
Eligible farmers over the age-pension age can pass their farm to the next generation and receive the age pension and stay on their farm in their own home, and the next generation can then access either the Restructure or $100,000 Re-establishment Grant.
There is income support for families, crisis and financial counselling for distressed families, planning assistance of up to $2,500 for families and $100,000 for mills.
Families should be encouraged to use the package to find something, other than just growing cane for raw sugar production, and being dependent on it for their income.
I do not have a crystal ball with regard to sugar prices, but I do know one thing: no family can rely on hope that the sugar price will rise or that the Australian dollar will fall.
The package gives families real choices to make themselves secure for the future.
The Nationals fought hard to get the $75 million for value-adding, and Mr Byrne's comment that this won't go far on a $100 million ethanol distillery shows that he does not understand commercial financing.
My discussions with the major banks show they would lend on a 25 per cent surety and the rest on cash flow for a commercially feasible venture.
A 100ML distillery, for instance, has capital cost of some $50 million, not the figure quoted by Mr Byrne, and would therefore require growers' equity of some $12.5 million - not that much short of the amount to be allocated per region under the package.
If a suitable joint-venture partner were found, such as a mill, the equity may be less. Mills are also required to adopt a constructive approach to value-adding proposals from growers if they are to access the Sustainability monies.
Mr Byrne is right to criticise the Beattie Labor State Government for deregulating the industry, retaining ministerial direction on domestic sugar sales and their paltry $30 million package, fully two-thirds of which is of no help to farmers.
The Nationals' package gives farmers choice about their future and preserves the social infrastructure of communities.
100 years ago visionary people built the great sugar industry. Now visionary people are again needed to build a new future based on higher value products, as well as raw sugar, to give families and their communities a secure future.
- De-Anne Kelly, BE MP is Federal Member (National Party) for Dawson, Queensland