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Tuesday, 25 June 1996
Page: 2722

Mr HICKS(10.35 p.m.) —Late in the life of the last parliament, in connection with the Horticultural Levy Act 1987 and the Horticultural Export Charge Act 1987, a levy of 0.05 per cent was imposed on a number of vegetables. The levy was to be calculated at the first point of sale of the produce. This levy was imposed to provide funds for research and development within the vegetable industry. The levy was imposed by the previous Labor government, following representations by the Australian Vegetable and Potato Growers Federation, known as Ausveg.

Only a few days after the bill was assented to by the Governor-General, I received telephone calls from vegetable growers of the MIA, the Murrumbidgee irrigation area, saying that they were totally opposed to the levy and neither they nor any of their vegetable growing colleagues had been consulted on the levy. They did not believe that Ausveg was speaking on their behalf when asking for a research and development levy to be imposed.

Since those telephone calls, there have been various gatherings throughout Australia debating the issue of the levy and, in most cases, expressing concern that growers were not informed about the proposed levy before its implementation by legislation. At a meeting of vegetable growers I attended in Griffith, it was made clear to me that the local growers and those from Hay totally opposed the levy.

At other meetings held throughout the country many growers expressed the belief that the legislation would be hard to remove and suggested that other forms of obtaining research and development levy money could be imposed. One suggestion was that growers be registered and the money obtained go towards the levy. Another was that a levy be placed on vegetable seed. But, as I have said previously, in my electorate growers are totally opposed to the levy.

I would point out that one of the main reasons for vegetable growers opposing that research and development levy at the point of sale is that, besides being an additional cost burden, it adds further to the paperwork of micro-business at a time when governments say they are trying to remove that problem. Many vegetable growers are of non-English speaking background and they would find it extremely difficult to complete the paperwork that would enable them to meet the requirements of the levy being imposed at the point of sale—and I think both the member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) and the member for Macquarie (Mr Bartlett) would back me up with that statement.

There is a great deal I could say, but time does not permit. I acknowledge the difficulties the government faces because the legislation has already passed through the parliament and is in operation. However, most growers throughout Australia believe that money is required for research and development but, significantly, do not wish the levy to be placed at the first point of sale. As I said before, other ways of imposing the levy have been suggested.

Growers want a say in where the money is raised and spent in terms of research and development. They are still very angry at the lack of consultation before the levy was imposed by the previous government. I must thank the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Anderson) and the parliamentary secretary, Senator Brownhill, for the work they have done in contacting vegetable growers throughout Australia and explaining the levy. I must make it clear, however, that the growers who have contacted me from throughout the Riverina are opposed to the levy and consider it another cost impost on production.