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Thursday, 2 December 1976

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - I have listened with some interest to the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) who has just resumed his seat. I was amazed at his lack of knowledge of the industry, considering the fact that he spoke on this Bill. He talked about the value of having a levy based on an acreage or hectare basis. Any one who is conversant with this matter will know that the Apple and Pear Growers Association did recommend a production basis as a basis for a levy but problems were associated with the collection and we recognise that. At least the honourable member for Fraser does know that much. Nevertheless, one has to look at what is fair and reasonable for the assessment of any levy. There is no doubt that a levy based on a

E reduction basis is fair and equitable. The honorable member for Fraser emphasised this when he said that the imposition of a levy on a tree basis was considered and that is correct also. The honourable member said that he would not agree to a levy being imposed on a tree basis, if I heard him correctly, because there are more trees on some hectares than on other hectares. What is equitable about that on a hectare basis? The basis of Queensland's objection to that proposition was that it had not been able to produce per hectare the amount of apples that are produced in other areas. Yet, it is a viable industry, a good industry and an industry on which the town of Stanthorpe is based. All that Queensland required was that production would be the base of a levy. Nothing can be fairer than that. I ask honourable members to examine other systems of the collection of levies. The honourable member for Fraser referred to the egg industry. I am not sure about it. But I do know that in most instances it will be found that the levy is usually assessed on a production basis and that is a reasonable way of doing it.

The honourable member for Fraser spoke about rash electoral promises made by the Government. He referred in particular to Stanthorpe. I suppose that Queensland has a smaller production of apples than most other States. Therefore, one would not get the amount of electoral support from applegrowers in Queensland as one would get from applegrowers in many other areas who must have argued that the levy be based on production. The honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) who lead for the Opposition in this debate asked why the Government did not implement the recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission.

Mr McLeay - He did not read the report.

Mr CORBETT -He possibly did not read it. What the honourable member for Blaxland recommended was a dollar a bushel support for the Tasmanian apple industry, if he wants the IAC report implemented.

Mr Goodluck - He does not want them coming on to the market.

Mr CORBETT -Apparently, the honourable member for Blaxland does not want the Tasmanian people to have a reasonable opportunity to export their apples and maintain their export to the traditional markets. This Government was generous enough to say that it would give 2 dollars a bushel as export support. The Labor Party must accept that. Its leading spokesman on this matter said that we should have implemented the IAC report. I hope that the Tasmanian apple growers are listening to me tonight and will remember my words at the next Tasmanian State election. I am sure that this is something which will give them a great deal of concern. I make no apologies for Queensland asking that the levy be on a production basis. We are quite unequivocal about that point. It was not an election promise but it was a logical argument and it was accepted by the Government. I hope this Government will continue to accept logical arguments coming from that great State of Queensland. I am sure it will

We are having a cognate debate tonight on 5 Bills relating to the apple and pear industry. The first 4 Bills will form a new basis for financing the activities of the Australian Apple and Pear Corporation. These proposals conform to the original recommendations and are accepted by the Australian Apple and Pear Growers Association which represents apple and pear growers throughout Australia. The Apple and Pear Levy Collection Bill will enable a levy to be placed on fruit marketed in Australia and defines that the rate of levy will not exceed 6c a box for apples and pears sold for consumption as fresh fruit, that it should not exceed 60c per tonne for juicing fruit and $1.40 per tonne for processing fruit other than pears for the production of canned fruit. From the commencing date of the legislation, 1 January 1977, the levy has been fixed at Se a box for fresh apples and pears whether marketed in Australia or exported, 50c per tonne for juicing fruit and $1 per tonne for processing fruit. Income for the Australian Apple and Pear Corporation as a result of this levy should be in the vicinity of $850,000, which is some $600,000 more than the amount which would have become available from the present levy being applied on apples and pears exported. That was the previous basis. This new levy will give the Corporation the finance necessary for it to perform the many duties it will have to perform, particularly in the promotion of sales on the domestic market and abroad. I believe that that money is necessary and that it will benefit the industry that provides it.

The honourable member for Fraser said that we would not be able to estimate what that income will be. If he goes to the trouble of getting a list of statistics he will find the figures set out every year. I have them for every year from 1971 up to and including an estimated figure for 1975-76. The statistics show a variation from one year to another. It is true that there is alternatively a big crop and a small crop but the results are assessable. There is no problem in that regard. Anyone looking at these figures will see that they go up and down- that they vary every alternate year- but the whole industry is well aware of that situation. It will be necessary, no doubt, for the Apple and Pear Corporation to regulate its budgets because those variations certainly are likely to happen.

The relevant Act will be amended so that the annual reports and financial statements of the Corporation will be based on a calendar year instead of a financial year. That is a good idea. It is more appropriate to have this done on the basis of a calendar year because of the time at which funds flow to the Corporation under this levy scheme. It is very important that we note that when a proposal of this kind went before the previous Government the idea was for the Corporation to be financed from the proceeds of a levy on an acreage or hectare basis. The honourable member for Fraser confirmed what I am saying. As I have mentioned before, and I want to emphasise it again, that was a very distinct disadvantage to those areas which, while being quite capable of having a viable industry, had to overcome the problem of not being able to produce the same amount per hectare. We believe the present proposal is an equitable basis for the levy.

One very important factor which must be considered and which will be beneficial, despite what has been said to the contrary, to returns for fruit exported from Australia is the recent devaluation of the Australian currency. Obviously the devaluation decision will substantially benefit people exporting fruit. If we are to maintain a stable apple industry in this country we must continue to enable our fruit exporters to supply the traditional export markets. We also want to try to build new markets and I hope the Apple and Pear Corporation will be successful in doing so. There is no doubt that the devaluation of the Australian dollar will greatly assist those people, particularly traditional exporters of fruit. This applies particularly to Tasmania. I hope that the Tasmanian growers are listening to what I have to say and I hope they will remember this during the current election campaign in that State.

The apple and pear industry is very important to a number of electorates throughout Australia If it were not for the fact that we are hoping to be able to get through the legislative program by Thursday of next week more honourable members would have put their names on the list of speakers for this debate. I made a note of a few members of my own Party who would have spoken. They are the honourable member for Calare (Mr MacKenzie), the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher), the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd ) and the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Sullivan). All those honourable members from my Party alone would have liked to have spoken in this debate. We thought we would be only allowed one speaker and what I am saying reflects their views to a large extent. They are concerned about the welfare of the industry. I have no doubt that that applies also to my colleagues from Tasmania. They would have been anxious to support these Bills, as they were supported so splendidly by the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck). While honourable members from Tasmania were not allowed the number of speakers that they would have liked in this debate they can take some consolation from the splendid effort of the honourable member for Franklin. I commend him on his address.

Although I may not always agree with the ideas of honourable members from other States when we are trying to solve a problem of this kind, the real way to tackle a national problem is to look at it from the points of view necessary to arrive at a program or a policy which will give the greatest national advantage. We must always remember that in this national Parliament. I recognise the importance of the apple industry to Tasmania and the effect that it has on the economy of that State in comparison with other States. I must take up one point with the honourable member for Fraser. He said that New South Wales apples could be sold in New South Wales but Tasmanians could not sell their apples as well to the Tasmanian people. I suggest that he overlooked the populations of the 2 States. He did not take that factor into consideration. We should be fair. He did not consider the number of people to whom the apples could be sold. You can sell only a certain number of apples to a certain number of people, no matter how much they might like to eat them. If we had the relevant figures we might find that Tasmanians eat as many or more apples than the people of New South Wales on a per capita basis. My honourable friends from Tasmania would agree.

A great deal of work has to be done by the Apple and Pear Corporation. Added finance will be available to it for research and other purposes which were mentioned by my colleague the honourable member for Franklin. However in my opinion its important role, its prime objective, should be sales promotion. Let us consider the situation in round figures. If the Australian demand approximates IS million bushels or thereabouts- on the average we export approximately 4.S million to 5 million bushels- and we increase domestic consumption by something like 10 per cent and another 1.5 million apples are absorbed by the domestic market, we will substantially reduce the percentage of apples that have to be exported. This would give people dependent on exports a better opportunity to choose better markets and they would not have to contend with so many apples. More apples could be absorbed on our mainland markets.

There are many aspects of this industry that the Apple and Pear Corporation will have to consider. Another aspect worthy of mention in connection with the apple and pear industry is the processing and selling of apple juice. In my own area the people of Stanthorpe have endeavoured, to their credit, to provide a juice production plant. One of the reasons is the hailstorms which hit the area. They spoil the fruit to the extent that it cannot be put on the fresh fruit market, but it is excellent fruit. It could be processed into juice. It would be a very healthgiving food. Scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation have developed a formula which they hope will make apple juice more popular as a fresh fruit juice. This is something at which we should look. It is one way by which the products of this industry could be diversified. Fruit which otherwise might not be made available to the community or utilised economically could by utilised. The drink, which could be appearing this winter, has a special flavour. It will not have a sweet flavour, which is common to many apple juice drinks and of which people are not so fond. At least they will have the option of having either kind of drink. That would be a very good aid to sales for those people who are producing apple juice. The formula was developed by Sydney based scientists of the Food Research Division of CSIRO. It shows what can be done. I believe that this is something which we should follow up and which the Government should encourage to the maximum extent.

I am the only speaker from this little corner. It is not always talked about in a complimentary fashion, but it is an effective corner. It has done a grand job for the national Parliament and for Australia generally. If I take a little more time than I usually do, I feel justified because of the performance of members from this corner. I know that my colleagues are in accord with me on many of the things that I am saying. We want to promote the sales of fresh fruit and of apple juice in Australia. We want to look at our export markets and to do everything we can to assist this industry, which is a valuable one and which, it must be borne in mind, provides a very healthy food for this nation and for those people to whom we export. The old saying 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' has a very sound basis in truth because an apple is such a health-giving food. We need to remember that. I hope the Australian people will take this opportunity to buy the fruit on our domestic market.

I regret that sometimes the cost of fruit in some areas is higher than I think it ought to be. However, transport costs are heavy. I think we should look at a means of providing this health-giving food, fruit- apples and pears in particular- to the consumers in this nation at a cheaper rate so that the families, the children in particular, can enjoy and benefit from the fruit available to them.

I commend the Government and the Apple and Pear Growers Association, which has advised the Government in relation to many of these areas, on the results they have achieved. I believe that the approach now being made could bring worthwhile results to the apple and pear industry of Australia. Along with representatives of other apple growing areas throughout Australia, I wish the Corporation every success in its endeavours to increase the sale of and to improve the distribution of the Australian apple and pear crop, not only for the benefit of those people who are producing the apples and pears but also for the benefit of consumers in this country.

Mr FitzPATRICK(Darling) (9.55)- I was very surprised to hear the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) refer to some uncomplimentary remarks that are made about the corner from which he is speaking. I assure him that there are very little grounds for his so doing. It is not the Opposition that leaves him on his own. Members of his Party have left him there tonight on his own to defend these apple and pear Bills.

Mr Armitage - Not one of them is there.

Mr FitzPATRICK - Not one of them is there. I was very surprised to hear him criticise the ideas of the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fife) on the method that should be used to collect these levies.

Mr Corbett - You would not know how to collect them, either.

Mr FitzPATRICK - I have had more experience collecting levies than probably anyone in this House. As Secretary of the Barrier Industrial Council I have collected thousands and thousands of dollars in levies. I assure the honourable member that everyone paid. In Broken Hill people are not very concerned about the method of collecting the levy, but they are concerned about the purpose of the levy and the way the money is spent once it is collected. I believe this evening the House should be more concerned about that than about the method of collecting the levy.

It has already been pointed out that the various Bills are legislative proposals to give effect to the recommendations of the Australian Apple and Pear Growers Association for a renewed basis of financing activities of the Australian Apple and Pear Corporation, that it is intended to do so by the imposition and collection of levies on the production and sale of apples and pears in Australia and by a charge on apples and pears exported from Australia. When the Corporation took over from its predecessor, the Austraiian Apple and Pear Board- a Bill was presented to this House in November 1973 for the establishment of the Apple and Pear Corporation- it was made clear that financing through the export charge would be only an interim measure. I recall that at that time it was considered that policing the collection of a levy on all apples and pears produced and sold would present great difficulties because ofthe high percentage of fruit disposed of through undocumented or cash sales in some of the major producing States and that these sales lend themselves to an easy evasion of the levy and require a disproportionate effort to police. The honourable member for Fraser has already pointed out some of the problems connected with that.

When the Bill to set up the Corporation was debated it was pointed out that some of the fruit growers were unable to put their fruit on the export market because they knew that if they did their fruit would be sold at a loss, and they could not afford to pay for the picking and the freight costs to send the fruit away. Therefore, as the honourable member for Fraser said, a good deal of fruit was sold at the orchard. Some of it, we were told, was sold already on the trees. Buyers would buy the full crop and would pick the fruit themselves. I am not too sure that some of these problems will not be still with us once these Bills are passed. However, it was pleasing to hear the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), in his second reading speech, say that there is a place in Australian horticulture for a viable apple and pear industry and that these Bills were designed to ensure a firm financial base for the Apple and Pear Corporation. No doubt additional funds placed at the disposal of the Corporation, as provided by these new levy arrangements, will enable it to make a more positive contribution to market development.

However, it must be obvious to all who have studied these Bills and who have given some consideration to the apple and pear industry that this finance will have to be provided by near bankrupt producers. They are the ones who will have to provide these additional funds that are to be placed at the disposal of the Corporation. Therefore it is hoped that the Corporation will have some success in its marketing development. However, from reading the various reports, it is clear that many of the producers do not expect to remain in the industry to enjoy the increased marketing opportunities, if they are obtained by the Corporation, unless they are given some other form of assistance. From my observations and reading of various reports dealing with the whole industry, including the report of the Australian Apple and Pear Corporation, I believe that very huie can be achieved to bring about a viable apple and pear industry merely by changing the basis of collecting the levy on apples and pears from a system of deriving funds from a charge on apple and pear exports to a system based on a levy on the quantity of fruit marketed in Australia and overseas.

When the Bill to establish the Apple and Pear Corporation was introduced in 1973, it was pointed out that financing through export charges was an interim measure only which was to be replaced by a broader financial base for the Corporation through a levy on all apples and pears. However, it was pointed out further that apple and pear producers would not get out of their present financial predicament merely by forming the Apple and Pear Corporation. At that time, apple and pear producers were facing grave economic problems brought about by Britain's entry into the European Economic

Community, and rising costs, especially freight costs. A proper solution could be achieved only by tailoring the quality and quantity ofthe fruit to the market outlets and by introducing the most economic techniques and practices. It was coupled with these proposals only that a highly skilled, effective and nationally organised body could come to grips with the marketing problem.

We all hope that the extra finance provided by the growers through these levies will allow the Apple and Pear Corporation to play a more meaningful role in obtaining marketing outlets. But we should be asking ourselves: Are we giving the Apple and Pear Corporation an impossible job? In 1973, the apple and pear industry was facing a very bleak future. What kind of a future has the industry today? We need only to turn to page 3 of the report for 1 975-76 of the Australian Apple and Pear Corporation to decide that point. Under the heading 'Assessment of Overall Industry Position', the report states:

In its First Report (1974-75), the Corporation provided a summary of the industry's basic problems, emphasising the imbalance between current levels of production and the opportunities for economic disposal through export outlets, domestic fresh consumption and processing.

The 1976 apple season has been characterised by 'off year production, particularly in Victoria and NSW. This has resulted in an overall improvement in prices for fresh local sales. However, despite substantially lower export quantities, particularly to UK/Europe, returns from major overseas markets have been most disappointing and in fact represent a distinct deterioration compared with last year's results. In the processing field, there has been little improvement in demand for solid pack apples althought the prospects for increased consumption of juices (single strength) and cider appear brighter.

The recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission, which amount to a virtual phasing out of large sections of apple growers, added a further dimension to the general pessimism and uncertainty prevailing in the industry; however, there have been widespread and strongly based objections to the Commission's findings. The Corporation, together with the Australian Apple and Pear Growers Association, has made detailed submissions to the Government regarding the industry's future.

The fresh pear industry, which in recent years has enjoyed reasonable returns from export markets, suffered a setback in 1976, particularly in North America and Britain. This decline will further aggravate the position of growers in the Goulburn Valley, already suffering the effects of problems in the canned fruits industry.

From reading that report one can conclude that the future of the apple and pear industry does not look very bright. We might well wonder: Is it a fact that we are giving the Apple and Pear Corporation an impossible job?

The recommendation of the Industries Assistance Commission on the phasing out of many apple growers has only convinced the producer that this Government will not do much except put those in the industry on the skids and get rid of them. I remember when Mr Duthie, the previous member of Wilmot, used to speak on this legislation in this House. Members of the Liberal and National Country Parties often used to tell us what they would do when they were again in Government. I say tonight that there is certainly a big gap between their promises and their performance. Even now, Government members instead of searching for an answer to many of the problems of our primary industry are trying to escape all blame by claiming that the present situation was caused by the previous Labor Government. It seems strange to me that they should do this. We all know that the Labor Party had to fight 3 elections in 3 years and that all the progressive legislation of the Labor Government was held up in the Senate.

The producer is entitled to know how long the Government will hide behind the old dodge that the present situation was caused by the Labor Government. Surely 12 months in office is long enough to produce something positive instead of continuing to knock more and more industries out of action. Surely 12 months in office is long enough for the Government to produce something more than a reduction in everyone's savings by 17'/2 per cent and an increase in the tax rate to provide for a national health scheme. Surely 12 months in office is long enough to produce something other than a record number of persons unemployed. There certainly is a big gap between the promises and performance of the Liberal-National Country Party.

It is not always the fault of the Government of the day that some sections of our economy are facing a crisis. I believe that it is the duty of all of us to try to come together and to find a way out of these problems. It is not much good if the Government continues to blame previous governments for what is taking place. What we should be looking at is a way to find better markets, to achieve better overseas prices and to really help the industry. What this country needs is a government that has the courage to take a positive role, not a government that takes the negative stance that present problems were caused by some previous government.

I am prepared to admit that adjustments are necessary. What we must guard against is the destruction of sections of the industry which have a long-term future beyond the existing adjustment period. I point out that it takes time and experience to grow apples and pears and to get the expertise to prepare and to market them. Tree pulls should be carried out in selected areas only where there is no possibility of a return to viability in the long term. In the meantime, the Opposition supports the Bills presently before the House as there is no doubt that spreading the levy over the whole production and sale of apples- sales in Australia and export sales-is the most equitable method of collecting the levy.

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