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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- This measure is comparatively simple in its intentions. Those who are familiar with the Australian apple and pear industry in the primary sense and in the export sense are aware that all export operations are supervised by the Australian Apple and Pear Board.

Under the act governing it, that board is charged with certain functions relating to the export of these fruits and I would say that over the long number of years that this instrumentality has been operating, generally speaking it has done a very good job indeed. I would hesitate to support any action that would be detrimental to its operations. I believe that it has substantially benefited the growers in all the work it has carried out. Under the existing act the growers of apples and pears can be levied by the board to an amount not exceeding Id. per case of all apples and pears exported from Australia in any one year. It is now discovered that that amount is insufficient to cover the administrative and operative expenses of the board and to provide also a fund sufficient for the board to engage in publicity in the export markets of the world for the purpose of encouraging the consumption of more Australian fruit overseas. It is perfectly obvious that, in the circumstances that have arisen in the last few years, when the Government of this country has allowed galloping inflation to run its course, that a board like the Australian Apple and Pear Board could not possibly carry on effective work with the revenue derived from a levy charge of Id. a case. Consequently, it is essential that additional funds be found for it.

Mr Falkinder - There is some difference in prices overseas, too.

Mr POLLARD - The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) points out that there is some difference in prices overseas. I take it that he means that prices overseas are higher now than when the Id. a case was first levied. That is perfectly true, but that does not get away from the fact that if it had not been for the galloping inflation in this country an increase in the charge levied on the grower would not have been necessary. If the economy had been stabilized, as was promised in 1949 by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his famous policy speech when he said that he would put value back into the £1, the present levy of Id. a case would be ample. But we have to face realities, and the Government is proposing to levy a charge not exceeding 2d. a case. A charge less than 2d. can be levied, and it may reach 2d., but not more than 2d. a case. T have no alternative, nor have members of the Opposition, as realists, but to agree to that proposition. We regret that it is necessary. It is no fault of ours that this additional charge must be inflicted on the apple and pear growers of Australia. The blame for it must rest fairly on the Government, which has been in office from 1949 to 1957.

Mr Falkinder - What about competition from overseas countries?

Mr POLLARD - The honorable member is no doubt referring to competition from the United States of America, South Africa and other countries. Competition in the United Kingdom has made the position more difficult for the Australian exporter of apples and pears. Consequently, it is necessary to spend more money on propaganda in overseas markets. The day has gone when the United Kingdom Government bought fruit direct from the Government of Australia, as it did during the war period. We have to face realities. There is not a member on this side of the House who does not wish this industry well. It is conducted by a large number of primary producers, particularly in Tasmania, Victoria and, to a smaller extent, in other States, lt is a very healthy industry. It is highly technical, and the type of people engaged in it are most competent. If any honorable member visits an apple and pear growing district he will be impressed by the tidiness of the farms and the homes of the growers and the general appearance of the district. To be successful, the growers have to devote infinite care and attention to the industry throughout the whole year. The practice of keeping their orchards clean and trim is reflected in the neat appearance and condition of their homes and farms generally.

Unfortunately, the Minister (Mr. McMahon), in his second-reading speech, did not provide much information. He says that the revenue expected by the Australian Apple and Pear Board for this year from the penny a case levy will be about £20,000. A simple calculation would show how many cases were to be exported. Can the Minister say whether that calculation has been made?

Mr McMahon - I have not made it.

Mr POLLARD - If the £20,000 were reduced to pence that would indicate the number of cases that will be exported this year. The growers are depending on the home market, which is a very important and growing market. The consumption of apples in Australia is about 8,000,000 bushels a year. 1 am speaking in round figures.

Mr Falkinder - It is about 12,000.000 bushels.

Mr POLLARD - That is excellent. I assume that exports amount to about 6,000,000 cases. At the outbreak of war, the total crop in Australia was about 13,000,000 bushels, of which 6,000,000 were exported and 6,000,000 consumed locally. Now we are informed that the local market absorbs 12,000,000 bushels, and that 6,000,000 bushels are exported. That is a lot of fruit, and it is clear that this is an important industry. It should be assisted by every possible means at the disposal of this Parliament.

I should like some information on a matter relating to the administrative operations of the Australian Apple and Pear Board. Essentially, the board has to know where any exporter is sending his fruit. It must know who are the exporters, and in those circumstances it requires each exporter to have a licence before he can operate. Recently, I learned that some practices which were, perhaps, essential during war-time were still being followed. At the outbreak of war, a number of agents in Perth, Western Australia, had a monopoly of the exporting trade for the duration of the war. No new exporters were allowed to intrude or to get a licence. During the war, that was a satisfactory arrangement. It was not necessary for new exporters to engage in exporting apples and pears. The policy of the government of the day was not to waste man-power, but to control industry in the interests of the over-all war effort. Now I have heard that it is contended that since the six agents operating in Perth during the war were adequate to deal with the apple and pear export trade no one else should be allowed to obtain a licence to export. Now that the war is over it is believed that these operations should be carried out by private enterprise. The fostering of private enterprise is one of the principal planks of this Government's policy. I have learned that recently a situation has arisen in which, if an export agent in Sydney applies to the Australian Apple and Pear Board to become a buyer and exporter of fruit from Hobart, Tasmania, he is barred. He is told that the particular function of exporting fruit from Tasmania is confined to export agents already licenced and resident in Hobart. If that condition applies, as it could apply in other centres also, then surely it is a most improper ' interference with the freedom of trade and with the right of an agent in Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide to be an exporter of fruit not only from any of those cities, but also from Hobart or

Perth. The principle could be extended throughout the Commonwealth. I ask the Minister whether this practice, which is operating under the jurisdiction of the board, is not most improper.

Mr Freeth - The apple-growers are fairly satisfied with it.

Mr POLLARD - The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) would not know, and I take it that he is not authorized to speak for the apple-growers of Hobart. He represents a Western Australian electorate.

Mr Freeth - They grow apples in Western Australia.

Mr POLLARD - The honorable member is highly intelligent if he has discovered that apples are grown in Western Australia for export. He says that the apple-growers are satisfied. I ask him: Does he know the mind of the apple-growers in Hobart? Does he know whether the Hobart apple and pear growers would like more buyers as competitors for the purchase of their fruit. Does he or does he not know? I do not profess to know, either, but I ask whether it is a fact that this policy is at present being operated. This House is entitled to know.

Mr McMahon - Exactly.

Mr POLLARD - The Minister agrees with me, and thereby rebukes the honorable member from Western Australia. I think my request is a fair one. We should know those things, and I think some growers would be astonished to find that competition for their export apples is being deliberately limited, if that is the case. I may have been wrongly informed. I know that representatives of the exporters are members of the board. A complaint was made to me that those exporters have access to the detail of the business dealings of competing exporters. I know that, perhaps, it is difficult to avoid that happening, where members of a board represent growers, exporters and other sections of the trade. In those circumstances, it could happen that an exporters' representative on the board would know the details of the markets, the prices and the destinations of fruit produced by a competitor. If these things are true, I ask the Minister to take steps, to the extent that is practicable, to see that this position is corrected.

I wish the bill well. I support it, and all 1 say, finally, is that I regret that an additional charge has proved to be necessary.

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