Sugar farmers poised to win Senate victory over David Leyonhjelm

Gareth Hutchens
Sugar cane is harvested on a farm in Bundaberg, Queensland. Growers have been lobbying to save a code of conduct accused of ‘imposing free trade’. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Queensland’s sugar cane growers appear to have won a major battle against the New South Wales Liberal Democratic senator, David Leyonhjelm.

The Senate will be voting on a controversial motion on Tuesday, moved by Leyonhjelm two months ago, to disallow the Coalition’s mandatory code of conduct for the sugar industry.

The code was introduced in April in a bid to prevent sale agreements between sugar growers, millers and marketers from breaking down completely, following a toxic years-long dispute that affected Queensland and federal politics.

But in August, Leyonhjelm moved a disallowance motion to torpedo the code of conduct, arguing it was imposing free trade.

The Turnbull government will need the support of One Nation and the Greens to defeat the motion, and it is understood that will happen.

Labor will be voting with Leyonhjelm to disallow the code of conduct, arguing it was cobbled together at the last minute and a better code of conduct needs to be written after proper consultation.

Last month, the peak lobby group for sugar farmers, Canegrowers, called on all major parties to defeat Leyonhjelm’s motion in the Senate, saying the code of conduct was a “vital safety net” for sugarcane farmers.

“We need all parties to reinforce their support and defeat Senator Leyonhjelm’s misinformed attempt to confuse the issue and put misguided ideology ahead of what is needed in the real world,” said the chairman of Canegrowers, Paul Schembri.

“We’ve written to Senator Leyonhjelm inviting him to Queensland to meet with growers to hear how important this code is but, as yet, he has not made any contact with grower representatives while pursuing this disallowance motion.”

When Leyonhjelm first said he would be moving the disallowance motion in August, the canegrowers slammed the NSW senator for attacking Queensland farming families.

“We are affronted the Senator David Leyonhjelm would do that from across the border without talking to growers and their representatives,” Schembri said.

Leyonhjelm has argued the code of conduct restricts the rights of sugar marketers to sell sugar as they see fit.

“This idea that after I’ve sold something I can still have some say over it, you know it’s ridiculous, and I don’t know of any other commodity where the farmers think they control it after they’ve sold it,” Leyonhjelm told the ABC at the time.