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Thursday, 15 March 1973
Page: 666


Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) (Minister tor Immigration) - The honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has just resumed his seat on a note of high dudgeon. He talked about respect for honourable members and other people. Before I come to the subject on which I rose to speak I want to say a few words in defence of Mr Norman Foster, a former colleague of ours who served with distinction in this Parliament and was honourably defeated at the last election. I might say that he was not given an appointment in the way that defeated members of the Liberal Party have been given appointments. He served his country with more distinction than most other members I know. He was not appointed as an ambassador at 3 times his present salary, or as an administrator or to some such position. He is serving in a very humble but dedicated capacity and I am sure that he will do a fine job for his country in peace as he did in war and as he did in this Parliament.


Mr MacKellar - How much did he get?


Mr GRASSBY - Not as much as your people appointed to high positions. I have no quarrel with that, but I would like a little consistency from honourable members opposite, remembering their record of patronage over almost 24 years. This morning the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) in a personal explanation claimed to have been misrepresented in regard to statements associated with his handling of payments to canning fruit growers in my electorate of Riverina in New South Wales who supplied last year the Leeton Co-operative Cannery.' I sent a message to the honourable member for New England and gave him just as much notice as he gave me this morning but I received in reply a rather cryptic note which stated: 'Mr Sinclair has gone home'. I wish him well.

The burden of the honourable member's complaint was that the honourable member for Riverina and the growers have misunderstood, or more specifically misrepresented, what he had said and what he had done as Minister for Primary Industry. I think it is important that the background to the situation be known. The last Government made certain pledges to pay canning fruit growers who were not paid for fruit delivered in the 1972 fruit season. In November last year certain arrangements were entered into by the New South Wales Government, the Leeton Cooperative Cannery and the Federal Government regarding payments to canning fruit growers for fruit delivered in 1972. When Mr Sinclair was Minister for Primary Industry he wrote to me in a letter, the date of which I will not state as it might embarrass him, the following:

In a separate letter of today's dale 1 have referred to the steps that have been taken to provide loans to co-operative canneries through State governments to enable the canneries to accelerate their payments to growers on 1972 fruit. The Commonwealth last week provided some $781,000 to the New South Wales Government for this purpose. A condition of the loan is that all funds provided must be passed to growers in cash for their retention.

I want to stress that these arrangements were made in November. This followed 2 effective currency revaluations in December 1971 and May 1972. For ease of reference I will call them the McMahon Government revaluations. So they had been taken previously. These particular arrangements in relation to currency were known and recognised by November when an agreement was made to pay the canning fruit growers in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area for fruit delivered in 1972, to the extent of 85 per cent.

On taking office we found on auditing the nation's books that there was no reference to, no provision for and certainly no money to pay any compensation for the 2 McMahon Government revaluations. So the agreement in November was based on the fact that at that time no compensation was contemplated. The Federal Government was therefore concerned particularly to enter into an agreement knowing full well that there was to be no compensation. Of course, this was entered into with the 2 other parties concerned. So we have this November agreement under which the growers concerned have been paid $500,000 of the $781,000 that was mentioned before the election. The moneys paid represented 64 per cent of the value of the fruit delivered, not 85 per cent as referred to by the former Minister in letters and in previous correspondence. But the fact that I wish to make is this: The statements by the then Minister for Primary Industry before the Federal election misled the growers and indeed misled the honourable member for Riverina. The Minister said that he was misunderstood and misrepresented.

Let me just place on record the last statement of the former Minister, made in my electorate, in which he spent, incidentally, 2 weeks during the last Federal election compaign. Let us have a look at his last words on this subject. Let us go to 4 o'clock on Thursday afternoon, 30th November - 2 days before the election. The editor of the newspaper in the Griffith district, the 'Area News', rang the then Government's campaign headquarters. He spoke to the then Minister's Press secretary. This was such an important and vital statement to all the growers concerned that the editor rang back to check the statement. The then Minister agreed with the editor of the newspaper as to the facts of the release. So let us look at what the then Minister actually said, which was so good and so important that the editor put it on the front page with a magnificent heading: Christmas bonus to canning fruit growers'. I point out that the growers concerned had received only 64 per cent of what was owing to them. We are talking here about the balance -the $281,000 - that had gone to the New South Wales Treasury and which the growers desperately wanted before Christmas. So the statement that was made on Friday 1st December, the day before the election, was a vital statement. The statement read:

The Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Ian Sinclair, announced in Griffith this afternoon that NSW had agreed to the offer by the Commonwealth Government to help canning fruit growers of the MIA to receive some of the money owing to them for their delivery last season. Mr Sinclair said: 'I had a telephone conversation today with the NSW Minister for Agriculture about the basis of payment to these growers'.

As a result of those talks agreement has been reached on the basis of payment of up to 85 per cent of the proceeds of fruit delivered to the cannery at Leeton'.

As soon as the amounts involved have been supplied by the cannery to the State Government and then passed on to the Commonwealth payment will be made'.

So wc have the position that the growers were promised $281,000, as were the banks, the produce stores and the local businessmen. In fact, on the strength of it they have entered into commitments that amount to about $500,000. But this amount was not paid. I might say that I was concerned that it should be paid. I took the then Minister and the then Government at their face value and I said surely to goodness they can get it paid.

When later I mentioned this matter to the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) he said that of course that must be all red tape; get it paid. But on taking office it took us 3 months of conferring with the Treasurer and the Minister for Primary Industry to find out what had happened. The key to it all was contained in the personal explanation made by the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) this morning when he referred to the reservations which made it impossible for the growers to receive $281,000. Indeed we now find that they could never have received under that agreement more than $30,000 and the indications are that under the agreement that he entered into they will receive nothing at all.

This is quite a disaster in terms of credit. These people borrowed against the promise and the promise fell to the ground. I must say tonight that the growers were misled; the honourable member for Riverina was misled; businessmen were misled; all the banks and the entire area were misled. Perhaps it is that we are just too simple to understand the convolutions of the last Government. I want to tell the House tonight that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) and the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) have authorised me to say that they have to find help to remedy the situation and some help will be forthcoming. But let me make it clear to the House that we are all suffering from this situation. I think that the last words within 24 hours of voting condemn the then Minister and the then Government for in fact letting a situation arise in which so many people were misled to their detriment and hardship. I am glad to say that we will be doing something to retrieve the situation.







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