Canegrowers CEO Steve Greenwood.
Canegrowers CEO Steve Greenwood. Bernard Milford

Launch of Sugar Research Australia may be delayed

THE July 1 target date for the start of the sugar industry's new research body, Sugar Research Australia, is starting to look decidedly shaky.

Sugar growers last year voted overwhelmingly in support of the new body, which is designed to replace the roles of the Sugar Research and Development Corporation, the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations and Sugar Research Ltd.

Some very good research people, senior people, invaluable people, are very disenchanted at the present time and if they were offered good jobs somewhere I think they'd go.

The aim has always been to have the body up and running by July 1, but the proposal still needs to get approval from the Federal Minister Agriculture, Joe Ludwig, pass through both houses of parliament and receive Royal Assent before it has the legal authority to operate.

And with the budget session of parliament the only sitting between now and the preferred start date, even Canegrowers CEO Steve Greenwood says the timing will be tight.

Outgoing SRDC chairman, former NSW agriculture minister and former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Ian Causley, says it is highly unlikely the proposed start date can be met.

Mr Causley, an opponent of the new body, said the budget session was the only parliamentary sitting before the federal election.

"I've had a fair bit of experience trying to get legislation through parliament and that only ever happens quickly when you're going to war," he said.

"I've had legislation ready but not been able to get priority in the house - something more important comes up - so it's unlikely it's going to go through before the election.

"There seems to be a mad rush by the Australian Sugar Alliance to put it in place, and they maintain they want it in place by July.

"I don't know what the rush is because, quite frankly, I think it has been handled very poorly. What they have done is disrupt BSES and SRDC, and that is having a fairly big effect on research in the industry.

"Some very good research people, senior people, invaluable people, are very disenchanted at the present time and if they were offered good jobs somewhere I think they'd go. And that's not good for the industry."

Mr Greenwood, who was in Canberra this week working on getting the new body up and running, said the timing was tight, but he thought achievable. Proponents had worked through the timing again this week.

"We're still able to do it, but things will need to line up pretty well," he said.

"We're pretty confident now that the department and minister will make the necessary recommendations to the executive, but it means the bill will need to get priority."

He said there was bi-partisan support for the changes, so there would be no need for time consuming debate.

He said the timing would be organised in such a way that the BSES and SRDC would not be left "hanging".

Some research positions might go, but Mr Greenwood said he hoped it would not be many.

"We have called for the senior positions for SRA and once the board is formed they will work through the process and bring the final structure and staff," he said.

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