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Thursday, 24 May 2001
Page: 27089

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (10:33 AM) —in reply—I thank those members who have contributed to the debate on this legislation—other than the member for Corio, who did not really make much of a contribution to the debate. The member for McEwen gave a very comprehensive summary of the dried fruits industry and its importance, particularly in Victoria and South Australia. She obviously spoke from first-hand knowledge in that regard, and dealt comprehensively with some of the broader issues that are affecting this industry and others in the agricultural sector. The reference to the initiatives in the budget concerning quarantine and the importance of addressing salinity for water quality are certainly key issues for the dried fruit industry. Most of the dried fruit industry is dependent upon irrigation, and therefore water quality and salinity are key issues. In the areas where the industry has prospered over the years there has certainly been a keen focus on ensuring the skilful and careful use of available water supplies to preserve the industry for the future.

As speakers have mentioned, it is not a large industry and unfortunately it is an industry that has been in decline. However, there has been some significant new investment in the industry. I note that in 1999 Angus Park, a fruit processing company, announced a $5 million project for the Sunraysia. They are therefore expressing a vote of confidence in the future of the industry. These sorts of significant developments help to provide a focus for the future of the industry. It is vital for all Australian industries to have access to the kind of environment that enables them to invest with confidence. The dried fruit industry benefits, as other industries do, from lower interest rates, lower inflation, and also from the additional effort that will be put into protecting its disease free status, and that of others in Australia.

The Dried Vine Fruits (Rate of Primary Industry (Customs) Charge) Validation Bill 2001 and the Dried Vine Fruits (Rate of Primary Industry (Excise) Levy) Validation Bill 2001 are, as speakers have mentioned, relatively technical in nature and will not fundamentally change the future direction of the industry. However, the bills have provided the parliament with an opportunity to talk about an Australian industry which perhaps deserves more public attention than it actually receives. The bills seek to amend the Primary Industries Excise Levies Regulations 1999 and the Primary Industries Customs Charges Regulations 2000 to clarify the rate of excise levy on dried vine fruits that were processed between 1 January and 1 October 2000, and the rate of customs charge on dried vine fruits that were exported from 1 January 2000. The bills have the effect of retrospectively reducing the levy and charge paid by dried fruit processors for the purposes of marketing dried fruit both in Australia and internationally.

Up until 30 June 1999 there was an excise levy and customs charge imposed on dried vine fruits under the Horticultural Levy Act 1987 and the Horticultural Export Charge Act 1987. These old acts were repealed on 1 July 1999 at the commencement of the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Act 1999 and the Primary Industries (Customs) Charges Act 1999. The repeal of the earlier acts would normally mean that regulations made under them would cease to have effect. However, the regulations were kept in force by transitional arrangements under the new act. It was agreed to reduce the rate of levy and charge on dried vine fruits from $10 per tonne to $7 per tonne, and backdate it to 1 January 2000. The transitional regulations were repealed and the main regulations were amended to make the rate of levy and charge $7 per tonne. As the amendments were carried out after 1 January 2000 they were necessarily retrospective.

The regulations imposing the reduced levy and charge rate were later deemed invalid because of subsection 48(2) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901, which invalidates any regulation that is expressed to take effect at a time before it is gazetted and operates to the disadvantage of any person other than the Commonwealth. This anomaly was noted after the various repeals and amendments were effected, and subsequent advice recommended that the prudent course was to validate the reduction via the proposed bills. The bills do not create any new administrative or financial burden to levy payers. It is likely that a few small refunds will be payable to growers who paid the higher $10 per tonne rate, but the quantum is expected to be minimal. I thank the Committee for its consideration of this matter and commend the bill to the Committee.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.