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Minister discusses sugar sustainability grants.

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Radio interview - 31 January 2005

Transcript of Queensland Country Hour interview on Sugar Sustainability Grants

Date: Monday, 31 January 2005

Presenter: First though, a blow for Queensland sugar industries. $73M worth of payments set to flow to the industry this month will now not go out as scheduled. Federal Minister for Agriculture Warren Truss has today confirmed what many cane growers may have feared that the second round of sustainability payments worth between $1.20 and $1.50 per tonne of cane has been delayed because the industries failed to demonstrate a commitment to reform. These payments were part, of course, of the Federal Government's $444M restructure package delivered last year. Mr Truss says he has advice from the sugar industries' oversight group that not one regional plan submitted from regional growing areas has passed muster.

Minister Truss: I've received advice from the industry oversight group that there's insufficient evidence of industry-wide reform and almost all of the regional plans are only at a preliminary stage. Therefore, they have advised me that they could not recommend payment of the second tranche at this stage.

Presenter: So the second tranche of sustainability grants to both millers and growers will not go out?

Minister Truss: Well it won't go out in January but I'm anxious naturally for it to be paid as soon as possible. I've given instructions that there must be much more urgency demonstrated by the regional groups. We'll be looking for evidence of reform. The industry has indicated to me that they have a number of examples where there have been reforms made at the farm level, the mill level, but we need to identify those and ensure there is a key commitment across the industry to make sure that they're going to put in place the kinds of reforms that will be necessary to underpin this industry for the future. You just cannot rely on fairy godmother solutions, the wish to artificially boost their incomes on a permanent basis. We've got to have a sound basis to believing the industry will be strong in the future.

Presenter: So Minister, it's back to the drawing board with the regional plans is it? I mean do they need to go back now and totally rework those?

Minister Truss: Well those regional plans are at the preliminary stage. They just need to push on with the development of the plans. Some of them have the seeds of what will be required to develop a suitable action plan for the region but certainly they need to be completed and they need to then also be able to demonstrate that they've got the support of the local industry organisations.

Presenter: But what you're talking about could take quite some time so these are not only not going to be January payments, they may not be February or March payments by the sound of it.

Minister Truss: It depends on how fast individual regions are able to move. The money is ready and available to be paid. I won't be waiting for the last plan to come in before the first payments are made.

Presenter: What do you have to say to criticism from the industry that the deadline for those plans were unattainable for a lot of those regions, that Regional Advisory Groups were perhaps appointed late by the Government? The whole process was three months behind schedule, at least?

Minister Truss: Well, I don't accept that it was three months behind schedule but I do agree that the time frames were tight. But there is an urgency about dealing with the industry issues. You can't allow the problems to lull indefinitely. We do need to find solutions and to implement them properly.

Presenter: What do you have to say then to a canegrower in whatever any of Queensland who may well have been banking on these funds coming in their account? The banks will have been watching closely as well as yet here you're telling us it may be quite some time before that time may come.

Minister Truss: It was quite clear in the original statement of intent that the second tranche payment would only be made, and I quote, once the Australian Government is satisfied with progress on industry reform including development of regional plans. When industry organisations signed the original Letter of Intent, they were aware that that condition was in place. I issued a number of warnings last year already that we needed to make sure that we weren't losing the passion for reform, that there was still a commitment out there to make these plans work and to develop a viable industry for the future. Now, we haven't made as much progress as we should and my advice is to those who are concerned that their payments have been delayed, to make sure that their industry organisations and their communities work cooperatively together to develop an effective regional plan, and do it quickly.

Presenter: That's Warren Truss, the Minister for Agriculture.


Further media inquiries:

Minister Truss' office: Tim Langmead (02) 6277 7520 or 0418 221 433