10 February 2004

Nats to take on PM in party room

The National Party MP Ian Causley, a former president of the NSW Canegrowers Association, said the outcome of the negotiations was 'deeply disappointing' and promised to take his complaints direct to Mr Howard in the party room.

The FTA is 'probably good for Australia, but not so good for rural industry,' he said.

Mr Howard's suggestion that canegrowers should leave the land with government compensation raised particular concern.

'The solution is not just another reform package aimed at getting farmers off their farms,' said Peter Lindsay, the Liberal member for the sugar seat of Herbert.

'That just undermines the whole industry, by making the mills uncommercial.' The answer was a comprehensive package encouraging alternative use of cane, in 'power generation, biofuels and other areas'.

The National Party whip and member for the highly marginal sugar growing seat of Hinkler, Paul Neville, said encouraging some farmers to leave the industry risked serious flow-on effects, because of its integrated nature.

The independent and former National Party MP Bob Katter, who holds another sugar seat, was more blunt.

'Specifically on the 15th, 23rd and 28th of January, [the Trade Minister] Mark Vaile said sugar was a non-negotiable part of the deal,' he said. 'The growers believed there would be no deal without sugar. I believed it myself.

'We were lied to and stabbed in the back. Then they deliberately held back the news until after the Queensland election.'

Mr Katter predicted that the Government would lose at least five marginal sugar seats in Queensland and northern NSW as a result.

Someone please wake me when the Nats have finished going through the motions and the Man of Steel has finished giving them promises, such as sugar being non-negotiable.

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