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Thursday, 16 May 2002
Page: 2418

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (12:06 PM) —in reply—I thank the honourable members who have contributed to this debate for their support for the Horticulture Marketing and Research and Development Services (Amendment) Bill 2002. The honourable member for Mallee, who has just completed his remarks, rightly referred to the fact that the horticultural industry is of great significance to our nation. In addition, it obviously has a particularly powerful influence on many regional communities. It is a major employer, it is still a labour intensive industry and it has certainly been the lifeblood of many of our most important rural and regional towns.

The horticultural industry has had a history of ups and downs—sometimes there is oversupply, sometimes there are difficulties with seasons and the like—but over recent times the expansion of the industry and, in particular, its capacity to perform so well on export markets have been an enormous enhancement to regional economies and to our nation as a whole. I never cease to be impressed by the innovation and skills of our horticulturalists and by their capacity to enter new markets, to grow new products and to do it wisely and well.

Some horticultural industries have been a part of Australia since the very first days. Some have been slow to change; they have been caught up with changing varieties and changing consumer tastes and have found adjustment difficult. On the other hand, there have been a lot of major new plantings and major new investment. The scale of some of our horticultural operations now is world-class. That is one of the reasons why the food industry strategy that was announced in the budget is of such importance. There is no doubt at all that the horticultural sector will be major beneficiaries of that initiative.

Increasingly, the Australian processing industry has recognised that it needs to supply the global supermarkets. We need to be a part of the major new international processing companies that are currently dominating the food trade. We want Australia to be a destination of choice for many of these corporations when they are setting up new processing facilities. So Australia needs to be a centre of excellence. We need to develop our professional expertise and our support industries, improve our industrial relations and develop the kind of climate that is attractive for companies which have to make a choice between the countries of the world as to where they want to establish their processing facilities. The success of this strategy will have a great bearing on the future of the Australian horticultural industry.

I think all Australians want our products to have more value added in this country. The food industry strategy is all about creating those jobs in Australia, rather than us exporting our raw materials to factories in other parts of the world where they are prepared for the supermarket shelves of the world. So there are tremendous opportunities.

I recognise that the citrus industry is a classic example of an industry that has faced acute difficulties in some areas and yet has been spectacularly successful in others. There has been enormous growth in our citrus exports to Asia and huge plantings of citrus in some parts of the country, whereas in other areas there has been a need to pull trees because the product that is being produced cannot be economically sold on the domestic market.

Those sorts of issues do create enormous personal problems and structural adjustment issues at the local level and they matter very deeply to the affected farmers. I am conscious of the issues raised in the Productivity Commission position paper in relation to the citrus industry and whether or not that industry needs protection from the impact of imported juice concentrate.

The Productivity Commission has completed its final report and the government expects to be in a position to table that in the parliament fairly soon. I can certainly assure the honourable member for Mallee that we will continue to consult with him and other representatives of the citrus industry, and the industry organisations themselves, in an endeavour to find satisfactory solutions to the issues that have been raised. In addition, where structural adjustment is necessary, we will look at ways in which the government can provide support through those difficult times.

You referred especially to recommendation 7.8 of the Productivity Commission report that refers to the operation of a single desk. The passage of this legislation today demonstrates the government's preparedness to support single desk operations and to make sure that they work effectively. We will obviously respond to the Productivity Commission report at the appropriate time but, in the interim, this legislation will help ensure that Horticulture Australia Ltd is able to exercise that single desk if it chooses to do so in the period ahead.

This bill has the essential function to amend the Horticulture Marketing and Research and Development Services Act 2000 to deem Horticulture Australia Ltd in its capacity as the export control body under the act to be a Commonwealth agency for the purposes of section 16 of the Customs Administration Act 1985. HAL is an industry owned company that the Commonwealth has entered into arrangements with for delivery of marketing and research and development services to the horticulture industry. Currently, HAL administers export controls on behalf of horticulture industries as the company has been declared the export control body under subsection 9(ii) of the act. The Horticulture Australia Corporation previously undertook those functions.

As HAL does not meet the criteria of a Commonwealth agency under section 16 of the Customs Act, the Australian Customs Service has advised HAL that it is no longer able to provide export information from its exit database to the company. However, the intention of the act is that the export control body, namely HAL, should be able to exercise similar but no greater powers to those exercised by the former AHC and thus should be able to obtain access to Customs exit database information. This amendment will ensure that HAL can exercise appropriate management over current export control powers in place, and any future export controls that may be put in place, by being able to access export information to show evidence of any breaches that may have occurred in contravention of the export controls.

This bill does not create any new administrative burden and there are no financial implications for the Commonwealth. I commend the bill to the Main Committee and thank those members who have contributed and who have agreed to support the legislation.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Bill reported to the House without amendment.