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Thursday, 4 August 1921

Senator CRAWFORD (Queensland) . - Yesterday, when I spoke briefly in favour of Senator Earle's proposal, I was under the impression that the price of dried apples was very much le3S than it appears to be according to the quotations in to-day's newspapers. But 1 am desirous that something should be done to assist the fruit industry generally, because there are indications that in practically every State there is even now overproduction.

Senator Gardiner -Are you not sure that the trouble is under-consumption ? We have enough people to eat all you can grow.

Senator CRAWFORD - If they would live on fruit exclusively. I do not know how a greater per' capita consumption of fruit could be brought about in this country. But there is room in this country for many millions more than we have here, and if we had the population that we might and' should have, there would be no difficulty in disposing of all the fruit grown. However, unless the policy of the State Governments' changes, the production of fruit is likely to increase, rather than to diminish, in proportion to population. Not only is there a larger area under fruit to-day than there was some years ago, but the area is greater than it was in proportion to the population. Therefore, it is necessary to prevent the importation of all fruit while the position remains as it is. I understand that our factories not only hold very large stocks of jam and preserved fruit, but also that they have no less than 17,000 tons of pulped fruit, and that so depressed is the market abroad that if they could get sugar for nothing they could not at present find a sale for their goods. Apparently, at present the only market abroad for our surplus fruit is that which takes 1,500,000 cases of apples during one season of the year, and 1 have been informed on good authority that the trade cannot be increased unless growers will accept much lower prices, because there are not enough people in Great Britain - where most of our apples go - with sufficient means to buy apples at what are now considered by our exporters to be profitable prices. I accept Senator Earle's statement that there is not likely to be a combination to keep up the price of dried apples; but undoubtedly the Australian Dried Fruits- Association has kept up the price of currants, raisins, and similar dried fruits. Before the war, the Association used to decide what quantity of dried fruits should be exported, and the fruit was sold abroad for about one-third of the price charged for that sold in Australia. I should not. like that to be done with the fruits now under consideration. The fruit industry in America is at present very depressed, and in a letter which I received some time ago from Sir Henry Jones he says that, bad as things are in Australia, they are evidently, from cabled reports, very much worse in America, where, from latest advices, canned fruits are selling at 2a. per dozen for standard quality.

Senator JOHN D MILLEN (TASMANIA) - And they cost 10s. to produce.

Senator CRAWFORD - I am sure that the containers would o cost more than the price mentioned in the letter. Therefore, there is a danger of dumping, and I think that that could be met better by special anti-dumping legislation than by an increase of the duties. If the American situation has been truly represented, I do not think that a duty of 4d. per lb. would keep out imports, and it may be necessary for the Government to absolutely prohibit importation.

Senator Lynch - Do not you think that we can hold our own against America in the production of fruit?

Senator CRAWFORD - I dare say that we can ; but the Americans may do what the Mildura growers have done: make their profit on their local sales and dump the balance into other countries, including Australia.

Senator Senior - At present, the surplus fruit is being dumped into the distilleries.

Senator CRAWFORD - I understand that a large quantity of apples are used in the making of cider, and perhaps that industry could be extended. Queenslanders are reputed to be thirsty souls, but cider is a beverage which is rarely seen in their State. I do not think that we can pay regard to the circumstances of the fruit industry during the war and immediately afterwards, because there was then a big demand for fruit owing to the purchases of this and the Imperial Government, and we were then getting sugar more cheaply than it could be obtained in any other country. Now conditions have changed. The industry has not the special advantages that it enjoyed during the war, and the production of fruit has increased. Even if another tree or vine were not planted, the production of fruit in Australia would continue to increase for some years. I was a member of a party which in November last visited the Murray River settlements, and although I have a fairly wide knowledge of the rural districts of Australia I never before saw evidence of such general affluence in any locality. But what impressed me most was the fact that, both in Victoria and in South Australia, extensive areas were being prepared for planting. I do not know where a market will be found for the fruit that will be grown there.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Fruit is too cheap for the grower, and too dear for the consumer.

Senator CRAWFORD - Better organization might get rid of some of the middlemen. Orchard fruit is generally grown within a reasonable distance of large centres of population. From Mildura it can be landed in Melbourne within twenty-four hours. There is no question of a three-days' train journey, as is the case with consignments of Queensland bananas.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - In the soldier settlements in -the north-east of Victoria last year it did not pay the orchardists to pick their peaches.

Senator CRAWFORD - I have been informed that, in, one fruit-growing area in New South Wales, last season 200,000 cases of peaches ripened within a fortnight, and that, three years hence, it is expected that 1,000,000 cases of peaches of the same-variety will ripen within ten to fourteen days.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think there is something wrong with those figures.

Senator CRAWFORD - They were given me by a member of the Government. Altogether, the situation with respect to the fruit-growing industry is so difficult that I cannot see how it is to be eased simply by the imposition of a duty of 4d. per lb. More returned soldiers have gone out on the land to cultivate orchards than in respect of any other phase of primary industry. Thus, the matter becomes one which must engage the, serious attention of Commonwealth and State Governments.

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