Barnaby Joyce and George Christensen.
Barnaby Joyce and George Christensen. Emily Smith

Cocaine jokes and funding vows: Barnaby Joyce hits town

BARNABY Joyce didn't let George Christensen's slip up in over-stating the price of sugar go unnoticed during a press conference in Mackay this morning, following the overestimation the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia roared "that's the price of cocaine!"

It wasn't just joking with the Federal Member for Dawson that had Mr Joyce in high spirits, but the positive reception to a $3.5 million funding promise he came to announce.

The $3.5 million investment into research and development, which would be matched by a $4.5m commitment from the sugar industry, would go towards more efficient harvesting technology, designed to ensure more sugar cane made it out of the paddock and into the mills.

WATCH: Barnaby Joyce calls George Christensen on his slip-up:


Currently, it was estimated up to 20% of a crop remained in the paddock, costing the industry upwards of $150m a year.

"With prices at 20c a pound, $600 a tonne, you don't want to be leaving 20% behind in the paddock," Mr Joyce said.

"You want to be picking that up and putting it in your bank account."

Queensland Canegrowers Chairman Paul Schembri said the investment in research and development was vital, given Australia's cane industry was the most exposed globally to world sugar prices.

And he said for every $1 of public investment into R&D, the net benefit for the community was $11.

Although the technology was already available, Mr Schembri did not question why the Federal Government waited until just before an election to make the announcement.

"You've got to cover literally many bases in the industry. These guys have spent $8m on Yellow Canopy Syndrome. Sometimes you have to allocate your resources on an immediate threat," Mr Schembri said.

Canegrowers Mackay Chairman Kevin Borg believed the investment could also make mills more productive and reliable, as the increase in cane harvested would result in more money back to mills and more funds available to put into maintenance.

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