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Tuesday, 14 May 1985
Page: 1906

Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(5.15) —The essential purpose of this legislation which in a sense would be thwarted if not frustrated or disposed of by Senator Macklin's amendment, and indeed the foreshadowed action of Senator Collard's Party, is to provide two additional members with special qualifications for the Australian Dried Fruits Corporation. The reasons for that are not sinister, as might have been implied. The implication is that if the growers fund most of the activities of the Corporation they should therefore have an exclusive right to have a majority on that Corporation with no other specialist experts added. The Government's policy point is to try to improve the effectiveness of the Corporation, which the Government views as being hampered by the Corporation's present composition and range of expertise, if I may put it in those terms. Earlier, in the second reading debate, there was a lot of discussion about fluctuations in production and sales by this industry. I think this industry is like any other in that probably it has suffered in the past from a lack of expertise in marketing its products and so on. The assumption is that the producer always knows best about these matters. I am not criticising the way Senator Macklin put it but I read in his remarks the assumption that because growers pay the money they call the tune, and that therefore this is good for the industry in terms of its capacity to market its product.

Senator Collard —It is their product. They not only pay the money.

Senator BUTTON —Yes, I know. It is arguable that implicit in all that is the suggestion that they have not been as successful as they might have been in marketing their product. That is true. I am not singling out this industry for that criticism.

Senator Macklin —We are not opposing the appointment of experts to the Corporation by our amendment.

Senator BUTTON —No. I am saying that the purpose of the legislation is to enable two extra people of particular expertise to be appointed to the Corporation Board. The Government believes the appointment of two members with particular skills in commerce, finance or marketing would increase the general level of expertise available to the Corporation and would allow it more adequately and independently to address the increasingly difficult marketing environment with which the industry is faced.

We are talking about an industry which is sick, for goodness sake-everybody agrees about that-which has enormous problems. The response is: 'Let's leave the board of the Corporation exactly the same as it has always been because these people on the Corporation will have the capacity to address these problems'. As I have said, this requires particular skills and expertise, particularly commercial and marketing skills. The fact that one is a businessman does not mean one has the capacity to sell one's product well. In any industry, the fact that one is a grower does not mean necessarily that one has the capacity to market one's product well. That simply is the point the Government is seeking to make in terms of the composition of the Corporation. There is no reason why the membership of the Corporation should not be consulted about appointments made to its Board of this category of persons with financial, commercial or marketing expertise. It is not fair in a sense to say that the Government is seeking to impose public servants on the growers, this beleaguered group, or something like that. That is not true at all. The Government is trying to give the Board of the Corporation additional balance in terms of the skills, talents and expertise available to it.

As I understand the Democrats' proposal, instead of two extra members with special qualifications, they want one, the second of the two, as it were, being a grower member. The idea behind that is to keep what has been called grower control. At the moment there are four growers on the Board of the Corporation, two specialists who traditionally have been packers appointed after consultation with the industry-not marketers or finance people or commercial people necessarily, but people who have businesses involved in the packing of dried fruits-one independent chairman and one Commonwealth Government representative. It is not intended that there should be more than one Commonwealth Government representative. While there are four growers on the current Board of the Corporation, in effect there are six industry people on it-that is to say, growers and people who pack the products of the growers-but there is very little balance by way of independent specialists. The proposal is to give the Corporation broader in-house expertise and marketing and financial talent which, in the agreed state of this industry, we feel would be an improvement. There is always in a board of wider composition some capacity for a little more lateral thinking, some imaginative thinking, and so on; and that is all the Government is proposing. As I understand what my colleague Senator Collard intends to do--

Senator Collard —That is as bad as currants and currents, isn't it?

Senator BUTTON —Much worse, if I might say so, in the honourable senator's case! The point of Senator Collard's proposed action is to dig in on the number eight and on the traditional principle of grower control. I understand that from his point of view. I am trying to look at it from the point of view of the industry as a whole, and in that regard this amendment may be very important. If the Democrats' amendments were carried, I can quite sincerely say, I do not think it would be a particular advance for the industry. If one were to look back on the industry in four or five years time from an objective point of view and to see that these sorts of changes might have been made to the approach adopted by the industry but were defeated by this Democrats' amendment, that would be a source of great regret to me, but I hope that people at the time would express their regret to Senator Macklin rather than bothering me about it. I commend the Government's legislation to the Senate and I oppose the amendments simply on the basis that I think they are a little traditional, a little short-sighted and a little conservative in an approach to an industry which requires considerable change.

Senator Haines —Oh, my bleeding heart!

Senator BUTTON —Seeing that Senator Haines interjected, I think that somebody such as she would be an ideal member of the Board of this Corporation because she would lend, I am sure, an imaginative and hard commercial approach to the deliberations of the Board, and that would be a very good thing.