The government’s $444 million sugar bail out

for the bleating, moaning, sugar farmers has outraged Crikey, so read
on to find out why, and to have your say on the issue send your
thoughts to letters

Here we go again. The great free marketers in the Howard
Government throwing hundreds of millions of public money at a bunch of
moaning and chronically inefficient Queensland sugar farmers.

John Howard and John Anderson travelled to Australia’s home of sugar,
Bundaberg, which coincidentally lies in the marginal Nationals seat of
Hinkler, to announce a $444 million “reform program” for the sugar

This is a bit like the decision to hand over huge
value to Australia’s wheat farmers or bail out the dairy industry to
the tune of almost $2 billion, which is still hitting consumers for 11c
with every litre of milk sold. Moaning farmers have disproportionate
power in any Coalition government that includes the National Party and
today is just the latest outrageous example.

See the PM’s press release here – Sugar Industry Reform Program

Under the bribery package, $146 million will go towards one off
grants to milling operations to cover for their inefficiency and
structural flaws. Another $75 million will be set aside for communities
and regional diversification projects even though Queensland is fast
rising up global affluence rankings. The package also includes a
payment of up to $100,000 for farmers who decide to leave the land. Oh,
and they get to keep the proceeds of land sales in a booming market too.

Canegrowers Council chairman Jim Pedersen said the package would “lift
the blanket of uncertainty suffocating individuals and families by
allowing them to make informed decisions about their futures”.

Howard, in front of a crowd of about 200 sugar industry
representatives, said the package was a direct result of the failure to
include sugar in the recently concluded US FTA.

“This plan is
about providing hope, sustainability and reform,” he said. “There will
be some who will not think it adequate, there will be some in other
parts of the country who think it to generous.”

latte-sipping Crikey down here in cosmopolitan Melbourne resents paying
some of the highest tax rates in the world to bail out these blundering
buffoons on the land.

Where’s our $100,000 payout to leave the
internet industry as we suffocate under our crazy defo laws and relying
on gouging outfits like Telstra and the world-beating banking cartel?

environmental vandals in the sugar industry would be better off
contributing to the tourist industry pouring lattes, rather than
flushing fertilisers and insecticides down river systems and into the
sea, where they have been degrading the Great Barrier Reef for years.

could all do without that crazy sugar burn-off each year creating
mustard clouds of smoke in large parts of northern Queensland.

who’s going to pick the tab for all the damage caused by those pesky
cane toads? Introduced at the behest of the beetle infested cane
farmers, the cane toad has been devouring native fauna for generation,
with little sign of slowing.

It’s not the taxpayer who owes the
cane farmer, it’s the other way around. Why won’t anyone stand up to
this bleating free-lunch brigade? And if you’d like to comment on the
moaning, subsidised farmers, send your thoughts to
[email protected]

Subscriber feedback:


I agree 100% with your spray in the latest newsletter.

be good getting the opportunity to vent our collective spleens but how
is all that spleen going to reach the obvious targets – the
representatives of the sugar industry and the leeches themselves? Do
you have a channel available to do that?


Hey champ

regards to the burn off of cane these days is very very rare due to the
so called beneficial effects that you get from leaving all the trash
(technical term believe it or not) on the ground to help nourish the
cane and help it grow faster, also penalties are applied for anyone who
does burn off in north Queensland.

As to booming land prices,
well, not exactly unless it is down south because everything north of
the Burdekin for sugar cane land has shown little appreciation at all.
There are a couple of exception in a few places close to the cities
they are in. For example Belveder in Innisfail, is just a little tiny
bit out of town and Ayr has also been okay. When I worked in these
towns, the price of land for cane was very depressed and although they
have had a couple of good seasons, crop wise, the prices have been
rather ordinary.

Some banks try not to foreclose on farms
because some owe so much money and if they foreclose on the farm the
amount of money they get back is nowhere near as much as what they lent
to the client. This is mainly due from the last sugar boom where the
price of land is around twice what it is now.

That’s just my
little spiel about sugar cane. Some farmers winge all the time and try
and get every little hand out they can get.

Usually the ones who
live off the bank loans they happen to have and everyone seems to think
how rich they are cause they have the latest cars and boats and
harvesters and haul out bins. When, as a matter of fact, they are just
borrowing the bank’s money and increasing their loans and having to pay
more interest and then they winge more!

That really irritated me when I was working as an accountant in Tully.

All the best.


Nicely wielded environmental arguments! I didn’t think you had it in your chainsaw wielding corporate hearts.

Good to see, Crikey,

Keep it up!


Dear Crikey,

find out the facts then report on them rather than doing a half-baked
and distorted op ed piece full of opinion and bluster!

What is the productivity and quality levels of Australian cane farmers
and their produce compared to any other country in the world? And while
you’re at it, try looking at the PPP of it. Geez, it just might not be
what you’re saying!

2. Look at and report the structural
problems concerning milling operations – as opposed to FARMERS. Why
should farmers be expected to pay for the poor structural situation
incurred by Australian governments – their taxes go to the government
too you’d be surprised to learn.

3. Look at the monopoly
selling situation put in place by GOVERNMENTS not the individual
FARMERS. Why should farmers be expected to pay for the salaries of all
the bureacrats and other leeches with their fingers in the pie?

Northern Qld and burn-off? Get your facts straight! Australia and Nth
Qld in particular are world first pioneers in green trash cutting. And
if you don’t know what that means then go find out.

Environmental degradation and fertilisers. You have no idea!!! Go and
read the studies that show that nutrient drainage from cane growing
areas is equivalent to (or less than) the nutrient drainage from
rainforest areas into the Reef (PS – don’t ask Bob Brown for a second
hand opinion – get some FACTS before spraying).

Yours with a handkerchief

Son-in-law of a Nth Qld farmer


a question. What huge value has been handed over to wheat farmers?
Don’t think you can lump all farmers together. Like saying everyone
lives in Melbourne is a gangland thug.



ironic. They stopped the Ord River farmers from producing cane in
commercial quantities because it was identified the yield per hectare
on the Ord was something like seven times what could be produced on the
same area in Qld. There screams at the time that it would send them
broke. Should have sent them broke then and saved us squillions in this
hand out.

No other taxpayer would get it if they left their
place of employment. Every one knew that sugar would not be included in
the Free Trade deal so what are they crying about they have had fair
warning and still did nothing. These buffoons deserve to be made
redundant. Now they will know what the average worker feels like.

Regards, Adrian


agree more with your comments re this outrageous bribe to keep Hinkler
– and possibly wrest Kennedy back from that red-neck twit Bob Katter.
Having just returned from FNQ, as one drives south from Cairns, there
are so many of these dilapidated, run-down sugar mills. I imagined the
level of investment required to thoroughly modernize these mills would
run to tens of millions.

Does this package also allow for the
necessary investment in infrastructure? And, if so, would this be done
on the basis of a loan or a direct grant? But what is more outrageous
is that this industry has always been in trouble – continually being
propped up by governments so that it can employ – wait for it – 15,000

Also consider that the Tully River as it reaches the
ocean is one of the most polluted rivers not just in Australia, but
globally, on par with some acid-rain deluged rivers of Eastern Europe.

– it would be interesting to know how many social capital and national
infrastructure projects this amount would finance. How many schools,
university places, research projects, desalination projects etc, etc
could one get for $444m? How many health programs?

It certainly does leave one with a sour taste.


I agree 100% with your latest anti-sugar-subsidy spray. At one point
about 20 years ago one of my relatives was high up in the Queensland
Sugar Board.

At that time there was central control, and this
helped trade negotiations, currency hedging for the sugar pool, and
preventing too-rapid expansion of sugar production in Queensland. Then
there was deregulation, and now here we are paying for the
‘efficiencies’ that deregulation has produced.

Unsweetened from QLD


want to nationalise the losses and privatise the profits. As a city
person and last time I looked most of us are in Australia we have to
pay for a bunch of farmers to live the dream of living in the “bush”.
If I had a city based business and was running at a loss no one in
Canberra could give a toss. Spend the $444 million on the war on terror
and let the market take care of the cane farmers!

Sick of hearing about sugar farmers.


better? I am not in the sugar industry and would share some of your
concerns but your outpouring was way over the top and far beyond
anything I have previously seen on your site. Not very constructive to
say the least. Irrational would be more appropriate.




piece on the cane (not sugar!) farmers was seriously ill-informed.
While you may well be right that the bail-out is over-generous, what is
needed is structural adjustment to ease Australia out of sugar
production. Some of your allegations are wildly wrong.

Australian sugar industry is anything but inefficient; it is probably
technically the most efficient in the world, but suffers from several

* a world glut of sugar, and

high labour costs compared with most competitor producing countries,
notwithstanding the very high levels of mechanisation of the Australian
industry and low labour numbers used per tonne of sugar produced

* highly protected beet sugar production in the US and Europe.

for environmental pollution from burning, very little burning off is
done now in Australia– that was phased out years ago. Burning off was
necessary when cane was hand cut, but once machines were available to
cut the cane green, burning off stopped. Green cane stalks resulted in
higher recovery of sugar from the cane and a lower burden of impurities
to be removed (at considerable cost) during milling.

It’s also
unfair to blame the farmers for cane toads. They were introduced by
Government on scientific advice as a biological control to deal with
the cane beetle. It’s easy in hindsight, and in the light of recent
scientific advances, to know that the decision was unwise, but at the
time the sugar industry was extremely important to both the Queensland
and national economies and was being hit hard by the beetle. The toads
worked well initially, they eradicated the cane beetle. It was many
years later that their inexorable march through Queensland and then
into the NT became a big problem.

Your piece bears all the
hallmarks of bush bashing by an intellectually arrogant townie who has
probably never produced anything concrete in his life and hasn’t the
slightest idea of what he’s criticising. Please check your facts before
writing this kind of nonsense again.



Agree with every word you wrote and I’ve sent it on to 20 people at least.

Lets hope this disgraceful waste of tax payers money ends at the next election.

Mark, Perth

Boy, I bet you must have felt better after writing that one on the sugar growers! Think you were a bit harsh on them?



Dear Crikey,

Go hard on those sugar farmers, or should I say, go hard on that prodigal federal government.

It is a disgrace that the agricultural industry is the handoput capital
of the universe. It’s fair enough to think that a struggling
developing country might protect it’s abilities to produce essential
foods, but the fact is that the richest countries are the worst
offenders. Why do we have to protect all these people who insist
on producing sugar that no-one wants to buy, or that no-one wants to
buy at a fair market price. What do you call a business
that is allowed to continue to produce a product that is not required
and then is able to put is hand out for subsidies. (a bloody
charity maybe)

Heaven forbid how angry I would be if if were a small business
owner. I don’t see why every small business run in
the city receives nothing while any joe blow farmer in a bit of
trouble gets handout after handout. Enough is
enough. If we really started to look at the figures, how the mug,
city-dwelling pay-as-you-earn wage earner is subsidising just about
everyone there would be a riot.

Farmers are responsible for destroying huge tracts of this country with
inappropriate farming and irrigation practices. Guess who is
going to pay the bills for the multi-billion dollar restoration of our
lands and rivers?

Capitalise the profits, socialise the losses. It’s a winning formula.

Andrew Lewis


Hear hear on the Cane growing whiners. Sugar was a get-rich-quick
cash crop in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and much of the
land back then was given to the farmers – often in exchange for
fighting in WW1.

Apart from the toad introduction, the barrier reef destruction, and the
pollution, obesity is escalating alarmingly because so many foods
contain too much sugar! It begs the question, is there anything at all
non-destructive about this industry?

The main lesson to be learned here is that it’s in everyone’s best
interests to make their electorate into a marginal one. Poll the whole
electorate and get coordinated about how you all intend to vote, so you
too can be assured of being rewarded for all your sins, in any given
election year.

SME Numbers Guru


Congratulations on your article regarding Howards disgusting pork
barrelling in Queensland. It is absolutely outrageous that people
running uncompetitive businesses are being subsidised by the rest of
Australia in direct contradiction to the usual free-market harping of
the Liberals. If sugar farming is not economical, let the farms go bust
like any other small to medium sized business that isn’t profitable. If
I can’t find work in a particular industry or city, does the Government
give me $100,000 to sell my house and move to a better job market?

I hope that Labor and the Greens are smart enough to use this against
Howard in marginal suburban seats. Half a billion dollars belonging to
the Australian people that could have been spent on schools, hospitals,
roads and social programs is being thrown away for a few votes.

Keep up the good work!



If only you new how hard life is on a farm. I grew up in the City and
frankly now wish I had stayed there. We are intelligent compassionate
people on the land who create the food you eat. We do look after the
environment because it is what gives us a living. We are in a crisis
due to Government Policies (which were introduced in the 80’s from the
Hawk/Keating Government and subsequent Governments have been too
pathetic to correct) and corrupt World Sugar Price.

Maybe when all food is imported and there is increased unemployment
from the demise of the Sugar Industry just as the Diary Industry has
just about collapsed. The deregulation of the Dairy industry started in
Victoria so they could transport Milk to Queensland on the belief that
it was going to make Milk cheaper for the consumer! Its cheaper alright
only for processors to buy off the farmer and dearer for the consumer.
Do you pay less in the shops for sugar when we Sugar farmers are being
paid below production costs. I challenge you to take a 50% pay cut and
continue to live with your present commitments. As for cashing in on
selling the land on a booming market – who’s buying?

We can only sell as a farm acreage not subdivide into blocks due to
Government Policies so I am not sure which boom market you think we are
going to cash in on! If only you new the truth you would hang your head
in shame at your ignorance and callous disregard for the suffering of
your fellow Australians. My husband fortunately had a trade so he now
works off farm 4 day on 4 days off so we will not be accessing alot of
the package. Rising costs (which are alot to do with the State
Government) combined with the impact of a low sugar price are
having a devastating effect.

Even with off farm Mining Industry income it is still difficult to
just meet the farm commitments but we are lucky that we have a fulltime
job. Our 13 year old son does not play sport because after school he
has to do Farm work. If we were pathetic farmers with poor farming
practises and low production I would accept your criticism but we are
not and there are not many people like that around anymore. We
consciously developed our farm in 1993 by addressing environmental
issues and concerns such as drainage, layout and water recycling. All
we ask is a fair price and if Government Policy contributes to that
lose then sorry mate but the Government has to pay. We will test their
sincerely in saving our industry by seeing what Policy changes happen
because that is the real indicator on wether we will be here in 10
years time or not. I hope not to be. Want to buy a highly productive
Cane Farm in Mackay?

Kerrie Long



I drive a taxi for a living and am stuggling to make a quid. Can I please have $100,000 to quit the industry?


PS: Thanks for all the cane toads down here now!!


As I understand it, Australian and other world sugar producers are disadvantaged because of the hug
subsidies producers get in Europe and the United States.
Europeans actually get their sugar from sugar beets which is laughable.

Australian farmers are not necessarily inefficient nor are other countries with sugar industries.
Mauritius used to derive one-third of its income from sugar. Not
any more! Europeans have dumped beet produced sugar on world
markets thus destroying the Island’s sugar industry. Other
African countries have similarly suffered.

The Europeans pretend to be humane but they are all talk. We might need
our sugar industry when the EU’s agricultural sector collapses under
the weight of subsidised inefficiency. Furthermore, I understand that
Europe’s subsidies are more than double that of the United States.

Richard Cox