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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4990

Ms SAFFIN (Page) (19:09): I am going to talk about the importance of the sugar industry to the Northern Rivers and its importance in my seat of Page. The sugar industry has been a part of life in northern New South Wales for more than 100 years. The New South Wales Sugar Milling Co-operative is a major employer on the North Coast and employs more than 400 people across major sites and accounts for $230 million of regional economic output. Total and indirect employment in the region is estimated at 2,200. This includes 450 mill and refinery employees and 550 cane farmers.

The New South Wales Sugar Milling Co-operative was formed when canegrowers purchased the three New South Wales sugar mills in 1978. These three mills are located at Condong on the Tweed River, in the seat of my colleague the honourable member for Richmond, and in my seat of Page at Broadwater on the Richmond River and Harwood on the Clarence River. In addition, the cooperative now operates a sugar refinery located alongside the Harwood mill. The New South Wales sugar industry occupies approximately 34,000 hectares of the Northern Rivers region and extends from near the Queensland border in the north to Grafton in the south. Some of this is on the cooperative's website and, from there, you start to get the picture that the sugar industry is an important industry in the Northern Rivers region on the North Coast.

I have listened to the contributions and have read the motion of the member for Dawson. I completely understand the member for Dawson's motivation of wanting to protect the sugar industry. I have also heard the contributions about food, nutrition and science. All things in moderation—that is always the key, but so many people are so aware now. They read so much and there is so much information on the internet that it can be hard to see the wood for the trees and to work out what is the good science about nutrition and all those things. It is incumbent on us to be involved in that debate.

I will say a couple of other things about defending the sugar industry in the Northern Rivers. One is about the Clean Technology Investment Program, which helps local manufacturers improve energy efficiency, reduce power bills—the member for Hinkler was talking about power bills, but it is not just the cost of power which has impacted on the industry; there have been a lot of other things—improve competitiveness and cut carbon pollution. The New South Wales Sugar Milling Co-operative at Harwood applied for and were awarded a grant under the program. The grant, for over a million dollars, was put towards a $3 million project—the cooperative is investing more than $2 million. The project will improve the efficiency of the sugar mill boiler and will cut carbon emissions by 53 per cent. But the great thing is that it will result in savings of $660,000 per year in energy costs. That big saving is being achieved while the project delivers good environmental outcomes at the same time.

The project involves installing an economiser at the Harwood sugar mill boiler. It will transfer energy from the exhaust gases to the boiler feedwater, heating the feedwater from 105 degrees Celsius to approximately 160 degrees Celsius. That improves the boiler's thermal efficiency and reduces energy consumption. These sorts of things are happening all over the Northern Rivers and are helping us move to a clean energy future there. We have one of the highest take-ups of renewables in our area—and it is really pleasing to see the New South Wales Sugar Milling Co-operative Ltd and the Harwood sugar mill coming on board with that.

I would like to make one other comment, very quickly: that the Regional Development Australia - Northern Rivers partnered with NSW Sugar and the Australian government to fill farm labour shortages with the introduction of a labour pool. It talks to the sugar industry because it helps sugar, macadamia and tea-tree farmers fill short-term and seasonal worker shortages in the Northern Rivers region.