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Thursday, 2 December 1976

Mr KEATING (Blaxland) -This debate is a cognate debate on the Apple and Pear Levy Bill 1976, the Apple and Pear Levy Collection Bill 1976, the Apple and Pear Export Charge Bill 1976, the Apple and Pear Export Charge Collection Bill 1976 and the Australian Apple and Pear Corporation Amendment Bill 1976. The purpose of these Bills is to provide for the imposition and collection of levies on the production and sale in Australia of apples and pears and a charge on apples and pears exported from Australia. The Opposition does not oppose the legislation.

The legislation introduced by the Government is in response to recommendations of the Australian Apple and Pear Growers Association to finance the activities of the Australian Apple and Pear Corporation. Under the present legislation the funds provided to the Corporation are derived exclusively from a charge on apple and pear exports. Over the last few years the export trade in apples and pears has declined and therefore there are insufficient funds available to meet the brunt of the development costs, particularly those related to the local market. With the changed sale picture, the great bulk of apple and pear production is marketed in Australia and it is on this basis that the Apple and Pear Growers Association has proposed in fairness to all growers in the industry that collections should be on the basis of production rather than on exports.

At the time of the dissolution of the last Parliament similar legislation had been prepared for enactment but of course lapsed. These Bills are similar to those that were previously introduced by the Labor Government to finance equitably the Apple and Pear Corporation which was itself a creature of that Government. However, the Bills of the Labor Government provided for the levy on a hectare basis. This legislation is on a per case basis. The only point of objection which the Opposition raises is that it will be difficult to administer the collection on a case basis when so many apples and pears are delivered on a bulk basis. So in that sense we believe that the legislation of the former Government on a hectare basis suited the industry better. I am reliably informed that most sections ofthe grower association also believe that to be the situation. However, the majority ofthe States decided in favour of a per case charge.

Whilst the Opposition supports the equitable collection of levies for the operation of the Apple and Pear Corporation, particularly in respect of marketing, it does not support the inactivity and lack of imagination of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). Obviously the Minister hopes that the Apple and Pear Corporation will solve his problems. At this stage the Government has 2 Industries Assistance Commission reports in front of it on the apple and pear industry but, until this time, it has proposed nothing positive for the industry. This legislation is to finance the operations of the Corporation, but what of the policy underlying the industries problems? What does the Minister intend to do about the fact that export markets are falling off? What does he intend for the Australian domestic market?

The introduction of the Tasmanian Fruit Equalisation Scheme is an indication that the Government does not know what factors are influencing marketing both domestically and on the export front at this time. What happens if all the Tasmanian growers take up the Tasmanian Equalisation Scheme and ship all their fruit to the mainland? Have the Minister and the Government given any consideration to what this will do to prices or what it may do to the livelihood of areas supplying domestic outlets? Obviously the Government and the Minister believe that the Australian Apple and Pear Corporation is to be the arbiter in these matters.

One needs only to look at the final statement by the Minister in his second reading speech to understand that he is out of touch with this industry. In his second reading speech he makes some disturbing admissions which confirm" that he is unaware of the direction in which the industry is heading, the policy needed to arrest the industry's declining fortunes or the way in which such policies can be put into operation.

The Minister says:

I am confident that there is a place in Australian horticulture for a viable apple and pear industry and I believe the Corporation will become more significant as a focal point for the industry's re-organisation and adjustment. It is imperative, however, that its financial support be assured if it is to fulfil its objectives.

Such glib utterances and insincerity can be of little consolation to the apple and pear growers in the Huon in Tasmania or to those at Stanthorpe in Queensland or Manjimup in Western Australia. For 12 months the Government has been in office yet these growers have seen nothing positive from the Minister to arrest the decline in real income in the industry. It would do the Minister good to visit some of these fruit growing areas to see at first hand what is expected of him. Obviously growers in the industry are now sick of talk and sick of promises and require some positive action.

The Australian Labor Party believes that alternative measures designed to facilitate adjustment could provide more help to fruit growers, their families and the communities dependent on them at much less cost to the nation. These measures could also benefit those who remain in fruit growing and facilitate their adjustment to subsequent changes. The Minister should take notice of the Industries Assistance Commission recommendations and should act on the following propositions:

The adjustment of interstate quarantine regulations and other restrictions on interstate trade with a view to obtaining agreement with appropriate States to eliminate unnecessary restraints on trade.

Liberalisation of the Corporation's restrictions on methods of sale in export markets other than Europe and North America.

A maximum exporters' commission being fixed in terms of a percentage of the f.o.b. value of produce and liberalising the requirements for the issue of new export licences.

The Minister should also turn his attention to that part of the IAC report on fruit growing and reconstruction which deals with the structural adjustment measures mentioned. These industries and the people who work in them require some leadership and positive action, not just a pile of measures to collect money from them. That is all that these Bills amount to.

The National Country Party in the past has shown no inclination to promote sensible agricultural policies within Australia. It has relied always on the piecemeal approach of one price support scheme complementing another. The horticultural industry is one of the industries hit most hard by a decline in Australia 's agricultural export activity. In many cases what the Government has on its hands is an urgent welfare problem. Only policies of structural adjustment, sympathetically instituted, can overcome the hardship which is now plaguing this industry. Growers can only look to the national Government for some kind of planned national initiative. After all the promises in Opposition from the Minister for Primary Industry and the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony) it is time they got off their backsides and started honouring them.

The Industries Assistance Commission has set down a blueprint for the reconstruction of this industry. The Government, and the Minister for Primary Industry in particular, must face up to their obligations and give urgent attention to these specific recommendations. The horticultural industry can do nothing now but wait until the Government acts positively to rectify the plight which many growers now face.

In conclusion, the Opposition supports the legislation. It is legislation which it had planned to introduce in Government. But it recognises that this legislation is just a small part of the measures that must be taken to re-establish a viable apple and pear industry in Australia

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