7 December 2023

'Oh, the irony': Leeton's SunRice named top agricultural exporter as buybacks 'threaten' industry

| Oliver Jacques
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SunRice gets exporter award

John Bradford, Director SunRice Group; Belinda Tumbers, CEO Global Rice, SunRice Group; Anthony McFarlane, Head of Corporate Affairs, SunRice Group; Julie Garrard Customer Service Manager, SunRice Group and Nicole Griffin, Head of Agribusiness, SunRice Group at the Australian Export Awards. Photo: Supplied.

Food brand the SunRice group, which is headquartered in Leeton, has won the Agribusiness, Food and Beverages Award at the 61st annual Australian Export Awards at Parliament House.

The top prize was presented to CEO Paul Serra by the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade), which administers the nation’s longest running export awards program.

The decision by the Federal Government department to recognise SunRice came just days before the Federal Senate passed a controversial new bill on Tuesday (5 December 2024) giving the government increased powers to buy back water from irrigators.

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“Oh, the irony,” tweeted Jeremy Morton, a Moulamein-based ricegrower and chair of the peak body National Irrigators Council.

“How dumb is the Albanese Government. On the very same day [Environment Minister] Tanya Plibersek gets Murray Darling Basin Plan wrecking ball legislation through … SunRice [is] exporter of the year … perhaps soon to be importer of the year.”

Ricegrowers were among a number of irrigator and business groups who staged mass protests across the Riverina against the Federal Government’s Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023 in November 2023.

“If you take enough blood from a human, they will die. If you take enough water from these communities, they will also die, ” rice farmer Glen Andreazza told the crowd.

The Restoring Our Rivers bill seeks to recover much more water for the environment than is currently allocated, including by buying back water licences directly from farmers so that the water can be left to flow down the river rather than being used to irrigate crops.

Opponents of buyback say this threatens the future of rural towns across the Murray Darling Basin, as farmers who sell their water licences leave town – meaning a greater reliance on imports, fewer local jobs, reduced population and cutbacks to health and education services.

Griffith protest rally on buybacks

The signs told the story of how Griffith protesters view buybacks. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Supporters of the new law, such as peak environmental body the Nature Conservation Council, argue the economic downside of buybacks is overstated and wrongly conflated with long-term rural decline in Australia.

Mr Serra said the rice sector could still have a bright future.

“Although the Federal Government’s recent legislation around the Restoring our Rivers bill will present new challenges for our industry to remain globally competitive, we are confident to be an exporter of premium rice products around the world for many years to come,” he said.

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According to a media release, the SunRice group’s global reputation and multi-market strategy allows it to source paddy rice from 12 countries, including Australia.

“This strategy helps the SunRice Group to satisfy global demand for our products and manage increasing climate variability that creates supply challenges,” Mr Serra said.

The CEO also praised those who contributed to SunRice’s success at the export awards night.

“This is a great achievement and will be celebrated right across our business and industry, from the paddy to the plate,” he said.

“As a global FMCG business and one of Australia’s leading value-added food exporters with a 70-plus year heritage, our success is underpinned by our great people, our farmers who are amongst the best rice growers in the world, our valued customers and our ongoing commitment to research and development to maintain Australia’s global reputation as a leader in rice products.”

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I’d like to see some evidence that buybacks threaten anyone’s livelihood…. anyone except water speculators of course! Given the owner of rights/licences have a voluntary right to sell to others already, including the Government in the panel of allowed buyers will change nothing EXCEPT prevent those (corporations) with the most money from accumulating what can only be described as ‘excess’ rights with a view to future profit. Damning smaller producers who cannot sustain operations to sell their resources to larger competitors is hardly in keeping with Adam Smith’s vision of market forces at work… if there IS really an issue with public access for communities, let’s *just* nationalise the whole system instead. No? I rest my case.

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