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Tuesday, 2 June 1942

Mr ABBOTT (New England) (12:21 PM) ,1 - I bring before the House the serious condition of the growers of apples and pears in certain areas, particularly the Kentucky soldier settlement in the New England district. These men who are practically all returned soldiers from the last war, are suffering desperate poverty. Their orchards are going to ruin'; yet the Government takes no notice of requests to assist them. On the 16th January, 1941, a severe hailstorm struck the settlement. Much of the crop was destroyed and a large quantity of fruit wa3 partially damaged. Immediately after the storm, officers of the State Department of Agriculture visited the district and assessed the damage. Those assessments are still in existence and can be obtained by the Commonwealth Government. The growers claim that they could have sold a large quantity of the fruit but that they were prevented from doing so by the Apple and Pear Board. That statement is borne out by the report of the committee which inquired into the administration and financial operations of the apple and pear acquisition scheme. In its first progress report the committee stated -

The committee has found both from evidence tendered and from personal inspection that in some districts a number of crops has been rendered unmarketable under the board's regulations although the fruit for the most part is only superficially damaged by hail. Some of these had been record crops, but there were no returns. In some cases storekeepers and merchants had backed the orchardists with credit and supplies for the production of this year's crop. As a result, both orchardists and their creditors were now in a serious position. The policy of the Apple and Pear Board is that no fruit damaged by hail shall be sold, and although it could be disposed of in some centres growers were not allowed to market the fruit. Suggestions were made in some quarters that a system of insurance against damage by hail should be instituted on a contributory basis, or otherwise. It is obviously too late to consider the creation of any such system this season; and the committee considers that some immediate compensation should be made for the loss of this season's crop.

Although the growers were told that compensation would be paid to them, the only amount that one grower received in respect of 5,800 bushels of fruit was a payment of £17 after eleven months had elapsed. He and other growers claim that had they been allowed to market the damaged fruit they would have received substantial returns. Conditions on the settlement are disastrous; I am informed that spraying has ceased on many of the orchards and codlin moth is taking possession of the orchards which are fast going to ruin. Of about 60 growers on the settlement, 28 have already abandoned their holdings. These and other growers in New South Wales have asked for the establishment of a compulsory hail insurance scheme. In its report the committee recommended a scheme of this kind -

That there should be a hail insurance scheme to .be 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.

Notwithstanding that recommendation, nothing whatever has been done in the matter, yet the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) and the Minister for External Territories (Senator Fraser) as well as the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson), who is a supporter of the Government, signed the report. Meanwhile these growers are suffering hardship; they and their families are practically starving. I urge the Government to introduce a scheme of compulsory hail insurance for either the whole of Australia or those States which are willing to participate in it. I shall not be put off by being told that the latter scheme would be unconstitutional. I understand that there is ample power in the insurance provision in the Constitution to establish such a scheme even if one State did stand out. I urge the Minister to bring this matter before Cabinet with a view to introducing a scheme to be made retrospective to the date on which the disaster to which 1 have referred overtook the settlement.

I" refer now to the seizure of boats in various ports, particularly in the Port Stephens area. I am informed that many of these vessels have been placed in Claypot Creek, which contains the worst borer-infested waters in that area. The result is that the boats are being ruined, either by borer, or through having been drawn up on the land and left to rot. In some cases, I understand that boats have been returned to their owners, whilst others have been prevented from gaining possession of their boats. Some owners have repossessed their vessels. It would appear that there has been discrimination and favouritism.

Some of these, which are rowing boats, belong to farmers in areas which' are liable to be flooded by the Hunter River, which sometimes rises suddenly. There is some arrangement by which local police constables can release boats when a flood is imminent, but they have first to apply to the commodore in charge of the naval establishment at Garden Island. Before a reply authorizing the release of the boats could be obtained from that source, a flood could drown numbers of farmers who could not get away. I ask the Minister to cut through the red tape and put some energy into the committee which deals with these matters. Particularly do I ask that police constables be given authority to return boats to owners, so that they will have a means of escape from rising flood waters. It is ridiculous to say that the small number of boats concerned would be of any great use to the Japanese in the event of an attempted invasion. The waterways in which many of these boats are used are situated well away from the coast. Only red tape and officialdom has caused these vessels, to be seized.

The Government of New South Wales has implemented regulations under the Rural Workers Accommodation Act, requiring that all shearers' accommodation huts shall be flyproofed the work on which has to be done immediately.

Mr Rosevear - Quite right!

Mr ABBOTT - It is all very well for the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) to say, " Quite right ! "

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