JUST one week remains before submissions close on proposals for the sugar industry's future - and stakeholders remain divided.
Canegrowers and the Australian Cane Farmers Association (ACFA) filed a joint submission calling for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to be given greater regulatory power over anti-competitive behaviour. They also recommended the federal government facilitate "real choice" in sugar marketing.
In early September, the Senate moved for the current and future arrangements for the marketing of Australian sugar to be examined by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee.
The committee has until April 30, 2015, to examine submissions and produce a report for the Senate.
As of Tuesday evening, 36 submissions had been received and published online.
Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri said the decision by Wilmar, Tully Sugar and MSF Sugar to withdraw from QSL marketing arrangements had enormously eroded grower confidence in the industry.
"From our perspective, this is a misuse of market power by the mills because most of the cane in the industry is not able to access other mills on a competitive basis," he said.
"We think that the mills action in coupling the process of cane and the marketing of sugar is anti-competitive so we are calling on the federal government to beef up competition and consumer laws to either outlaw or impose strong financial penalties on the mills who are acting as monopolies."
In its submission Queensland Sugar Limited stated its primary concern was due to the monopoly position held by most mill owners, growers might not have a choice as to which entity markets 'grower economic interest sugar' and not be able to obtain fair and reasonable terms for their cane.
Wilmar Sugar executive general manager for North Queensland John Pratt said they did not believe there were grounds to re-regulate the industry.
Mr Pratt said it was very clear the ownership of sugar rests with the milling company, however they also recognised growers had an exposure to the sugar price that was realised at the point of sale.
"The marketing plan that we have put forward is consistent with the industry reforms that were brought about back in 2006," he said.
"The overriding objective from Wilmar seeking to market its own sugar production is to be able to generate better returns for our growers and ourselves.
"What Wilmar is able to bring to the table is that it has a global network, marketing skills and abilities to achieve the best return from our production."
In its submission, MSF Sugar stated it had been, "independently and successfully marketing raw sugar produced at the Mulgrave and Maryborough mills since marketing deregulation first took effect (2006)."
MSF Sugar CEO Mike Barry said it was possible to operate successfully outside of a single desk system.
Mr Barry said the Maryborough and Mulgrave mill's decision to operate outside of the QSL system had taken place prior to MSF purchasing the mills in 2009.
"The Maryborough mill was selling domestically and QSL weren't allowed to cover domestic sugar sales under the rules set down by the ACCC, there wasn't much of a choice," he said.
"Back when it was a co-op they elected themselves to exit QSL for their own reasons, we acquired them in 2009 and continued on.
"Ironically, the outcomes have been very similar financially but in terms of the operation it's given growers greater access to customers."
Queensland Senator Barry O'Sullivan said his sole objective in launching the inquiry was to ensure growers had choice in a free market.
Sen O'Sullivan said a lot of other agricultural industries were watching this space carefully.
"That does not prevent Wilmar from competing for growers' sugar but we also cannot restrict marketing options for farmers," he said.
"If it has been good enough to recognize grower economic interest for the past 100 years then I say it's good enough for the next 100.
"My support will come down heavily in whatever proves to be in the best interests of grower-producers and the sugar industry - in fact I can't separate the two."