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How sweet it is

A Harwood sugar mill employee explains some of the finer points of processing sugarcane to NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley. Image Contributed.
The New South Wales Opposition leader Luke Foley and shadow minister for the north coast Walt Secord have told the north coast’s sugar industry that NSW Labor opposes the introduction of a sugar tax. The men visited the Harwood sugar mill and refinery last Thursday July 13. “We oppose the introduction of a sugar tax because we believe it will hit north coast jobs,” Mr Secord told the Independent. “We told growers, workers and the mill’s operators that a sugar tax would be a tax on north coast jobs; and if the government wants to tackle obesity, there are other ways [other than a sugar tax] – it has to be a whole of government initiative.” Mr Secord said that NSW Labor “recognises the importance of the sugar industry and jobs to the north coast economy”. “Sugar is the largest employer in the agriculture sector on the north coast,” he said. “There are 1,200 families who rely on sugar jobs and we think it is important to go to see [and experience] the culture of the workers, the culture of the growers; and to talk to the management of the mill to get a firsthand view of the sugar industry. “In fact, the history of the sugar industry stretches back to the 1860s; you couldn’t think of the north coast without sugar cane.” In November last year, Australian public policy think tank, the Grattan Institute, recommended a sugar sweetened beverage tax to combat the rising incidence of obesity. The institute calculated that obesity costs taxpayers $5.3billion annually, with one in three Australians now classed as obese. However, on the issue of a sugar tax, NSW Labor and the Australian Government appear to be on the same page. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was quoted at the time to have said: “You’ve got to nip these things [weight issues] in the bud, right from the word go. “If you want to deal with being overweight, here’s a suggestion: stop eating so much and do a bit of exercise.” Health Minister Greg Hunt had similar a similar view. “We do not support a new tax on sugar to address this issue,” he said in a statement. Meanwhile, over recent weeks several major media publications have been urging the government to have a “proper debate” about public health issues, with a focus on the consumption of sugar and its connection with rising rates of obesity and diabetes.