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Tuesday, 14 May 1985
Page: 1909

Senator MACKLIN(5.43) —The Australian Democrats will not be supporting these requests. The industry prefers the requests which I have circulated. The situation we are talking about, in terms of both Senator Collard's requests and the requests I hope that I will have a chance to move if his are not successful, really turns on the 15 per cent equalisation payment that the Government is proposing. The 15 per cent has to be seen in the context of the material which I circulated during my speech at the second reading stage of the debate. Obviously, due to the wild fluctuations in prices, the 15 per cent would certainly not be useful if wild fluctuations occur again in the following years.

Dried fruits are not a dietary stable food. They are, as I emphasised during my speech at the second reading stage of the debate, very susceptible to price fluctuations. If the price of our dried vine fruits increases at anywhere near the rate that it could under the conditions referred to in the figures which I have presented, the consumer will simply reject them. Furthermore, about 50 per cent of Australia's consumption of dried vine fruits is by manufacturers who are incorporating those fruits into other types of products. For example, such fruits are now increasingly used in breakfast cereals although the traditional areas of cakes and biscuits still absorb a fairly large percentage of dried fruit production in this country. As indicated by the table that I circulated, the price of Australian dried fruit could be expected to fall possibly by more than 60 per cent in the next four years if we have adverse seasons and difficult international trading arrangements.

As I have suggested, the 15 per cent equalisation payment is, on average, one which the Government wishes to set. In allowing the percentage to fall to that level we will be putting the industry into probably totally unacceptable troughs and highs. I admit that there is a certain amount of arbitrariness in opting for any percentage level. The level that is proposed by the industry-the level which I have proposed in the requests which I hope to move later-is 25 per cent. I believe that this would be a better level and would better meet the aims of the industry.

For example, under the Opposition's requests the rate of equalisation payment on currants would be 27.8 per cent, sultanas 23.6 per cent and raisins 42.2 per cent. In keeping with the type of amendment I moved on the Australian Dried Fruits Corporation Amendment Bill 1985, I have tried to accept the thrust that the Government is working towards. Hence, I have moved through to the later seasons; in other words, I have gone through the whole exercise and in my requests sought an equalisation payment of 25 per cent. In the long run, targeting at that level is much more likely to achieve stabilised industry in this country than if we moved to a 15 per cent level. The nominal rate of 25 per cent, which is incorporated to some extent in the Opposition's requests, will not be achieved, on average, as indicated by the various highs. The industry is likely to continue in the way in which it has in the past. It is likely to continue as a labour intensive industry; it is likely to continue with the types of fluctuations that it has experienced. If the industry, in particular the Victorian industry-does not have this type of support a significant number of people could be thrown out of the industry. I admit that when one tries to settle on a percentage figure in this area one is open to a number of criticisms. However, if we support equalisation payments of down to 15 per cent we will certainly place unacceptable levels of pressure on the industry which could result in very significant unemployment prospects facing it in a very short period.

The way that the Government has approached the matter in terms of moving through each year with a predicted percentage of equalisation payment is an excellent idea. I hope that the Government would have tried the same approach with the Dairy Industry Stabilization Levy Amendment Bill which is now in the other place; in other words, it would be giving a very firm percentage of equalisation payment to the grower so that everyone would know where he would be in the coming season. One does not then have to take a stab-by the application of a formula, the contents of which are unknown at this stage-to try to work out what it is that the support will be. I think the approach the Government has taken here is the correct one. My only opposition to it is in terms of the base level. I believe that if that is changed to 25 per cent it will satisfy both the Government's objectives and the industry's objectives. Hence, I indicate that the Democrats cannot support the Opposition amendments at this point. I hope to have an opportunity at a later stage to move the amendments that I have circulated.