Friday, 12 April 2024

In January, I visited several communities in Far North Queensland that had been severely impacted by Cyclone Jasper, including Mossman.  I met with local sugar cane growers Joe Raldini and Bill Phillips-Turner, who were in the process of cleaning up their damaged properties and calculating their production losses.

However, Bill and Joe didn’t want to talk about the cyclone damage, or what governments might do to help them recover. They wanted to talk about the future of the Mossman Mill, which had gone into voluntary administration in November 2023.  Like many others on Queensland’s east coast, Mossman is a sugar town.

The farmers need the mill.  The harvester contractors and the mill workers need the mill.  All the local businesses in the main street of Mossman that supply the farmers and service the mill workers and their families, need the mill.  Last month, the administrator announced that the milling company would go into liquidation.

For three months, our State and Federal Labor Governments said absolutely nothing.  In late February, Queensland Premier Steven Miles announced a $12 million funding package to support efforts to save the company.  These efforts have failed.  That funding will now be used to “transition” the mill workforce out of the industry.

As Mossman CANEGROWERS Chair, Matt Watson, has stated, the mill’s closure wastes the $14 million already invested by growers in this year’s crop, forfeits the estimated $40 million value of this year’s harvested product and the $190 million annual contribution the sugar industry makes to the local economy.

Worst of all, it puts the 570 direct and indirect local jobs involved in the sugar industry in Mossman on the chopping block.  The Mossman Mill has a proud 127-year history.  This is tragic, given growers and the mill have worked hard on a plan to re-develop the factory as a renewable fuel and bioenergy precinct.

As Mossman ACFA representative, Jack Murday points out, the State Labor Government could save the Mossman community by throwing its support behind the mill’s renewable energy and biofuel proposal.  In fact, it could do so by supporting one of its own policies: to make Queensland an emerging bio-commodity sector leader.

Rising demand for sustainable aviation fuels requires a tripling of land under cane, and Mossman could play a major part in this, but Labor’s decision to ignore a long-running problem and walk away from Mossman Mill means this industry may have to be established elsewhere.

On 29 February, the State Labor Government announced it was establishing a $4 million Bioenergy Fund, declaring land at Racecourse Mill in Mackay a State Development Area to support the development of infrastructure to value-add to sugar cane products, including renewable energy and biofuels.  Sound familiar?

The cruel irony is this was also the same day the State Labor Government made its eleventh hour offer to Mossman Mill.  The company had gone into administration in November 2023 – three months prior.  Why did the State Labor Government wait so long? Why has the Federal Labor Government done nothing at all?

This is a total failure of leadership by Premier Steven Miles and Prime Minister Athony Albanese.  Sadly, the people of Mossman will pay the price for Labor’s disinterest and apathy towards an iconic far northern business, in an iconic Queensland industry.