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Tuesday, 14 May 1985
Page: 1904

Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(4.57) —I thank honourable senators who have commented at some length on the Australian Dried Fruits Corporation Amendment Bill and allied Bills. I wish to make one or two comments. I noted that in the course of the speeches made in this debate few references were made to the Industries Assistance Commission inquiry and report on this industry. I would merely make the point that the industry made its representations to the IAC on these matters and was able to put its position very carefully. In light of that evidence, the IAC made its report.

The basic purposes of these Bills are described in the second reading speech in each case. I would have thought that some comment might have been made about the industry's reactions to this legislation on a more recent basis than was reflected in some of the remarks in this debate, which were based on earlier comments by the industry about the effects of these Bills. In the longer term it is important to address some of the philosophical questions which were raised, particularly by Senator Archer. But whatever such questions involve, it seems to me a matter of reality that the export market for our products will most likely be smaller than it has been in the past. That matter must be faced up to by the industry. I do not in any way derogate from what Senator Archer said about the essential efficiency of the industry, but if it is to be encouraged in any way into a state of overproduction, that will not help its general situation in the longer term.

Senator Macklin has moved an amendment relating to the underwriting of all dried fruits, and I think he particularly referred to currants and raisins. The Australian Dried Fruits Association believes that the new underwriting scheme is a considerable improvement on the old one. But, as Senator Macklin pointed out, it has offered the criticism that the scheme does not extend from sultanas to currants and raisins and that there is no guarantee that the proposed scheme will continue past 1990. As I understand it, the essential thrust of the Australian Democrats' second reading amendment is to pick up those points and to ensure that the underwriting applies to currants and raisins as well as sultanas. Of course it is true that underwriting provides some income support for dried vine fruit producers when their incomes would otherwise be affected by sudden large falls in returns from export sales.

But, as the IAC pointed out, the production of currants and raisins is significantly below that of sultanas. That body took the view that the underwriting should not be extended to these other varieties at this stage. For example, last year the volume of raisins and currants available for export was so low that the equalisation arrangements were not enforced. I understand the point that was made about fluctuations, but that was the situation last year. The Government understands that 1985 season production levels are estimated at 66,000 tonnes of sultanas, 5,000 tonnes of currants and 1,860 tonnes of raisins. The figures for currants and raisins are very small when compared with the figures for the production of sultanas. It is the Government's view that at present the volumes of currants and raisins do not justify underwriting. I think it is implicit in what I have said, and indeed in what the IAC has said, that if that situation required addressing in the future the Government would examine it.

In response to the amendment moved by Senator Macklin I just make the point that at this stage the Government is of the opinion that comprehensive production underwriting should not be extended, though in the future an open mind would be kept on that issue. I commend the Bills to the Senate and indicate the Government's opposition to the amendment of the Australian Democrats.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be added (Senator Macklin's amendment) be added.