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Friday, 22 March 1985
Page: 685


Senator ARCHER(3.47) —I wish to speak only very briefly to the Industries Assistance Commission report on frozen peas. It is a hallmark inquiry and report. This was the first reference to go to the Industries Assistance Commission in connection with the operation of our closer economic relations with New Zealand. This report is the first appraisal of the operation of the agreement and the effects that it may have. It highlights the fact that the industry is spread through five States of Australia. It is a major industry amongst the smaller industries inasmuch as it has a considerable effect on other rural commodities that are produced in those areas. It is not a high profit crop, but it is very much an integral rotation crop.

Peas are a very favoured vegetable in Australia. We eat between 45,000 and 50,000 tonnes of peas a year. Of those, we import about 8,000 tonnes, and it was on account of that fact that the inquiry was set up. The growth in import has been rapid and it appears that the growth will continue and be very disruptive if something is not done. After potatoes, peas are the top processing vegetable in Australia. They are of great importance to the farmers and processors. The volume of peas, which is quite large in vegetable terms, assists both growers and processors in maintaining volume and so containing costs.

Much has been said in the report about the efficiency of the industry and the protection that goes with it. I have followed the pea industry for many years and I have been a grower of peas on occasions over the last 12 or 14 years. I have seen the average crop rise from 2,700 lb of peas to the acre to about 6,500 lb of peas to the acre, and I have seen top crops of up to about 9,500 lb. There surely has to be a limit to how much more efficient the growing of a crop like this can become. It is absolutely crazy that we now look upon this industry as an industry in trouble when, by any standards in the world, nobody grows peas more efficiently than we do.

So, why does our pea industry seek an inquiry, as it is low priced and efficient? This is where I wish to draw attention to the IAC's attitude, which is the same attitude as it adopted 10 years ago. It is a strictly economic approach to a very practical problem. The IAC has to realise now that everything in the world has changed in trading. Everything in Australia has changed as far as our cost structure is concerned, but the attitude of the IAC has not changed. The rules are all so different. The Committee on Industry and Trade is looking at the New Zealand aspects of CER at the moment. It has been put to us that the trend is that low priced efficient industries are probably in more trouble than the high priced inefficient ones. This is absolutely contrary to anything that was intended to be the case under the CER agreement. We will be investigating this further, to see how much that is likely to be the case.

The question of currency is the other factor that was not dealt with in any significant way in the Industries Assistance Commission report. The question of New Zealand currency parity to our own is of paramount importance. At $1.20 to the Australian dollar I believe we could cope, but at $1.55 or $1.65, or whatever it may be, we certainly cannot cope. It is unreasonable that we should be expected to compete on a level basis. I suggest that the countries on both sides of the Tasman wish to see this work. It will require voluntary restraint to be undertaken to see that we do not interfere unduly with each other in some of these areas.

Question resolved in the affirmative.