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Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Mr ABBOTT (New England) . - The difficulties which confronted apple and pear growers when, almost overnight, as the result of the war, they lost about 50 per cent, of their market, need no emphasis. It was a wonderful performance on the part of the Apple and Pear Board to dispose of 8,000,000 cases of apples in Australia last year, but that left an unsold surplus of 7,000,000. It is not my purpose to whitewash the apple and pear acquisition scheme; on the contrary, I shall say plainly what I think about certain aspects of it. No scheme for the marketing of primary products has been more criticized or damned in the press or in .the minds of the people than the apple and pear acquisition scheme, but in order that that scheme may be improved, I propose to make some constructive suggestions, not suggestions such as those in the mind of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). The theme of the honorable member's speech was what the last Government did or failed to do. Recrimination is useless, and I am concerned with the future, not with the dead past. The honorable member for Batman said that he would like to know why we were able to export large quantities of beer, whereas no shipping space could be found for apples and pears. I do not know whether the honorable member is a beer drinker, cider drinker, or nondrinker.

Mr Brennan - That is irrelevant.

Mr ABBOTT - No, it is most relevant. Apples could not be sent through tropical seas to London in holds similar to those in which beer can be shipped. Unless exported in refrigerated holds, the choicest apples which we sent abroad would, on their arrival, be a fermenting mass of vinegary cider. The honorable member knows probably as well as I do that apples cannot be shipped in ordinary holds as can cases of beer. The honorable member's criticism in this regard was absurd.

The report of the Apple and Pear Committee indicates that there has been the grossest mismanagement of the marketing of apples by the State committees. If the people on those committees are the best in the industry, God help the fruit industry. On page 4 of its report the committee stated -

Evidence given before the committee revealed an unsatisfactory position in many centres so far as the payment of advances and final settlements were concerned. In some cases long delays have occurred and incorrect payments have been made.

In its first progress report the committee was more specific and pointed out -


New South Wales Apple and Pear Committee.

Various witnesses at Orange, Armidale and Kentucky South expressed dissatisfaction with the State committee's administration with regard to incorrect accounts and payments. At Orange one grower was said to have been paid three times for the same consignment, and many men were overpaid. At Armidale and Kentucky South the committee was informed that delays in payments up to a period of three months took place. One orchardist received a cheque for £17 10s. for fruit which he had not sent, but received £1 13s. 3d. for a, consignment of pears for which ho should have been paid £21 3s. 3d.

Similar instances came to my notice. One grower entitled to £21 received a cheque for £1 3s., and another grower received two cheques on the same day, one for 6d. and the other for 9d., and, since the State committee had made his initial "N" on one cheque and " M " on the other, he had to pay6d. exchange on each. The Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) must put these State committees in order. They have been guilty of shockingly bad administration. The fourth recommendation of the committee was -

That the Auditor-General should be asked to conduct a full inquiry into the financial arrangement and accounts of the officers of the board and the committees in the various States.

That is a very good suggestion. The ninth recommendation of the committee was -

That during the intake period a free distribution of apples should be made in the schools, both State and registered, and also to charitable institutions.

When I asked the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) to suggest a means of disposing of the surplus fruit, he made a proposal along those lines. But that would not overcome the difficulties of the Government or of the growers. Unless the growers were paid for their fruit, they would be in queer street, and unless the Government could obtain some return from the public for the fruit for which it had paid the growers, it would be in queer street also. However, I make a suggestion to the Government, based on the 1939 report of the Secretary of Agriculture in the United States of America, on the subject of that country's Food Order Stamp Plan. The report stated : -

The food-order stamp plan, which was inaugurated on 16th May, 1939, was developed by the department in response to the need for still more effective ways of increasing the home market for the American farmer. The greatest opportunity to increase the domestic consumption of food lies in the field of farm products for which there is an clastic demand. The consumption of dairy and poultry products and of fruits and vegetables goes up and down with consumer income. When income is low the consumer is likely to go short on these commodities even though his diet and health may suffer. The stamp plan gives lowincome consumers the buying power to secure these needed foodstuffs.

Such a scheme would overcome many of the difficulties which the honorable member for Batman raised. The report continued : -

Under the stamp plan, which is entirely voluntary, relief families may purchase orange-coloured stamps at the rate of $1 a week for each member of the family as a minimum, or at the rate of $1.50 a week for each member of the family as a maximum. For each dollar's worth of orange-coloured stamps purchased, 50 cents' worth of blue surplus stamps are given free to the family.

Both typos of stamps can bc used for food in any grocery store in the area in which the plan is operating. . . . The blue surplus stamps represent a 50 .per cent, increase in food purchases by relief families.

The stamp plan was inaugurated iu Rochester, New York, after which the programme was put into operation on an experimental basis in five other cities during the summer of 1939. The report stated that -

By the end of the summer preliminary studies showed that the mechanical operation of the plan was satisfactory and that the results accomplished were encouraging enough to warrant gradual expansion of the plan to other cities throughout the country. . . . Actual purchases made with the blue surplus stamps up to this time indicate that lowincome consumers, given increased buying power, will purchase sharply increased amounts of dairy aud poultry products, and fruits and vegetables, as well as other agricultural commodities.

I submit that to the Minister as a method of assisting lower-range income earners to obtain the beautiful apples and pears that are produced in this country, as well as of assisting the growers. On the subject of hail insurance for growers, the Apple and Pear Committee made the following recommendation : -

That there should be a hail insurance scheme to hu financed by a percentage levy being made by the board on the assessed value of the crop in each State for the purpose of compensating growers for loss sustained by hail damage.

I entirely disagree with the contention of some honorable members that it would be impossible for the Commonwealth to undertake a hail insurance scheme. On the advice of the highest legal authority available to the Commonwealth Government - the Solicitor-General - I believe that the Government could inaugurate a, hail insurance scheme, and that it would not matter one rap if one or more of the States remained aloof from it. I have been advised by the Solicitor-General that the power to introduce such a scheme could be derived from an original power of the Constitution relating to insurance, and. .that the Commonwealth would not be liable to the restrictive condition, applicable to taxation measures, that there must not be discrimination between States or between parts of States. The Government could implement a scheme, and any States which wished to remain aloof from it could be allowed to do so. The. growers in the other States at any rate would benefit. The 27th recommendation of the committee was: -

That the Government should not only urge but encourage and assist by every practicable means the extension of the manufacture of by-products of apples in the Commonwealth: and if such encouragement is given, processing should bc carried out in the districts where the fruit is grown.

T agree entirely with that proposal. On page 9 of its report, the Committee stated -

In the United States of America the volume of . . . by-products has been increased to such an extent that a considerable portion of the surplus of apples over marketing has been consumed with great benefit to the industry.

The Government was very unwise to impose heavy rates of sales tax upon the by-products of the apple and pear industry, such as cider and pure fruit juices. Whilst these impositions may increase revenue from sales tax, they will certainly damp down the consumption of the by-products, and that will necessitate heavier subsidization of the industry. I suggest that the Minister appoint a research committee of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to investigate further uses for apples and pears and their by-products. On the worn-out Mississippi cotton-lands in the United States of America, the Departments of Agriculture suggested to the suffering growers that they should plant peanut crops. The growers did so, but they produced such quantities of peanuts that the market was glutted and they were faced with ruin as the result of excess production of peanuts, just as they had been faced with ruin as the result of poor cotton crops. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics of the United States of America employed a negro professor of the University of Mississippi to investigate the problem. As the result of careful research, he discovered 300 additional products that could be made from peanuts, and to-day the peanut industry in that area is one of the most flourishing primary industries in the United States of America. Similar research in Australia might solve many of the problems of the apple and pear industry. The Minister might also investigate the possibility of subsidizing some of the orchardists who are growing worthless varieties of apples that should not be marketed. When I was in England in 193S I saw, on Charing Cross railway station, Australian apples which were a disgrace to the Commonwealth and to the people who exported them. Some of the orchardists who grow this class of fruit could be subsidized, over a period, while they replanted their properties with better varieties of fruit. I suggest this because, although the acquisition scheme certainly gives something to growers, it offers no solutions to the problems. I sympathize with the Minister, who has to deal with this and many other problems. However, I hope that lie will investigate the suggestions which I have made.

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