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Tuesday, 30 August 1994
Page: 606

Senator MARGETTS (6.17 p.m.) —I rise to speak on the Horticultural Levy Amendment Bill, the Horticultural Export Charge Amendment Bill and the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill. I have been over time in contact with the Western Australian industry. The message that is coming through fairly strongly is that levies are only as effective as the extent of consultation. I need hardly remind the chamber of the level of disturbance there was within the wine industry when a tax was imposed after only certain sections of the industry were consulted and, even then, only marginally. Even during the process, it was not until the last minute that somebody thought it might be useful to talk to people on the other side of the continent.

  Western Australia does exist and there are ways of going about problems which often arise in the industry in Western Australia and which are quite different and require a different approach. The government seems to consult only with the national bodies in respect of many of these kinds of issues. These national bodies are often representative of the eastern states and do not necessarily consult fully with their branches in Western Australia.

  In this instance, I remind honourable senators of my remarks on 7 December 1993 in responding to a report on the functions of the Australian Horticultural Corporation. I spoke about the fact that a levy charged on the gross value of farm gate production to farm marketing programs by the Australian Horticultural Corporation was not considered to be as useful by the Western Australian growers because it was geared towards specific marketing situations in the eastern states and not in Western Australia.

  It is true that, because of the level of disquiet, efforts are being made by the Western Australian Fruit Growers Association to withdraw from the Australian Horticulture Corporation. The Australian Apple and Pear Growers Association voted to withdraw from the AHC, but it is having trouble at the moment as it might not be legal for it to do so. However, the fact that that association is currently attempting to withdraw from the AHC indicates the level of disquiet among that association's members about their standard of effective representation at the national level.

  It has been pointed out by the Western Australian Fruit Growers Association that the majority of growers would support the HR&DC levy. So the members of that association are not opposed to this particular type of levy. However, in view of the results of the apple, pear and citrus industry's involvement in the AHC, it would seem that many of its members would be unwilling for this association to be formed. The response from the executive officer of the Western Australian Fruit Growers Association is that its growers are unequivocally adamant that they want nothing to do with the AHC and are not prepared to recognise the Australian Fresh Stone Fruit Growers Association as their national peak body.

  I cannot say that I know enough about the particular concerns that this association is expressing, but I think there is enough evidence that there is considerable disquiet in the industry from the Western Australian point of view. Therefore, when there is a move at a national level that is meant to benefit the industry—and it seems that this kind of levy is not opposed by the industry—in order for it to work and have maximum benefit, before such a levy is imposed there must be real efforts at consultation in the regions not just with peak bodies. One lesson which we have learnt again and again is that if we want schemes to work, the regions have to be part of and own such decisions. One way for that to happen is for those regions to be consulted effectively before such decisions take place.

  Once again, whilst we are not objecting to the levy and will not oppose it, we need to make the point that, not just from the Western Australian point of view but from the regional perspective, it is extremely important that those people putting together legislation and national bodies take the legitimate concerns of states and regions into consideration before making this kind of decision which involves collecting moneys from organisations within an Australia-wide industry.