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Thursday, 12 November 1914
Page: 520

Senator READY (Tasmania) .- The complaint I want to ventilate this afternoon is mainly directed against the previous Government, and the High Commissioner's office in London, and concerns the recent inquiry into the fruit industry with which I had the honour to be associated. The Royal Commission on the Fruit Industry tabled two progress reports, and two final reports, in each case a majority and minority. In these, which were issued after we had travelled over 20,000 miles up and down Australia, we particularly asked for an inquiry overseas. There were many reasons that led us, as a Commission, to press the Government of the day - the Cook Administration - for an inquiry in London. Numerous grave allegations were made before us on oath in connexion with the sale in London of fruit coming from overseas. The matter particularly concerns Tasmania as the largest fruit-growing State, and probably the largest fruit-exporting State. But it is of interest to the other States also, inasmuch as the fruit industry promises to become second in importance to few in the Commonwealth in the next few years, and in anything which concerns its welfare we can reasonably ask Parliament to take a judicious and natural interest.

Nearly every witness complained of Covent Garden Market, London. To pick out one complaint from a thoroughly representative and admirably informed gentleman, which is indicative of the majority of the complaints made concerning the selling of fruit at Covent Garden, and shows concisely the reasons why we were anxious for an inquiry, I quote the following evidence given in Melbourne by Mr. W. J. Williamson, fruit-grower, barrister and solicitor, of Portland, Victoria -

I went round to James-street, close to Floral Hall, and I noticed the names of Jacobs, Thomas, Isaacs, and so on, over different wholesale shops. I went into one of the shops, and said, "You sell in the Hall as well as dere ?" He said, " Yes." I said, " Do you get through much business?" "Yes," he said, "we do a large business all over the kingdom." I said, " Where do you get the apples?" And he said, "In the Hall; of course we have to get our profit." I then went back to the auctioneer to have a conversation with him, and I said, " I see you sell privately," and he said "We all do." I said, "Where do you get the apples?" and he said, "In the Hall there." I said, "How can you be a buyer and seller both?" and he said, "They are different departments." I said, " What does it matter if there are 50 departments, if you are head of them all?" and he said, " Our managers come here and compete in the open market." I said, " Who knocks down to them?" but I was so disgusted at the man's blindness to business ethics that I did not go any further.

That has been the continual complaint - that the auctioneers., both " wholesale " and retail fruit. We had also statements made of absolutely incorrect account sales being rendered in which the growers were deliberately robbed by some of the firms in question in the distribution of their fruit in London. Mr. Williamson also said -

On another day, I had a small shipment of from 200 to 250 cases of Borne Beauty apples, and I went to Floral Hall to see them sold. They had 40 cases out of the shipment in the Hall, and these 40 cases were stacked by themselves. ... I saw the 40 cases were all in good order, in hardwood cases, and clear of water stain. I could see the apples through the spaces in the cases, and they were all in good order and dry. When my apples came on the catalogue, a case was brought out from near the rostrum, all discoloured with water. The head of the case was wrenched off, and there were the apples, with paper hanging round them, wet. They were knocked down for 4s. a case on that sample, including portions of the shipment which were not then in the Hall. I jumped down from where I was standing and looked at my 40 cases again, and they were perfectly free from water stain. I said afterwards, "Where did you get that case from? Why didn't you tip it in the rubbish heap?" and he said. " We always try to sell on a fair sample."

That is indicative of many of the methods pursued in Covent Garden Market, and we rightly asked for a thorough inquiry. We also requested the then Government to send the Fruit Commission Home to investigate these charges personally.

There were many other things that required investigation, including strange discrepancies concerning charges and the methods of the agents at Home. When the Commission could take from the correspondence in the office of a big Tasmanian firm a letter such as I am going to quote, honorable senators can see the- rotten state of affairs existing in connexion with the distribution of Australian fruit in London. We seized this letter from Henry Jones and Company, Hobart. It is from Moore and Company, who are really controlled by Henry Jones and Company Co-operative - a great firm which controls eight or nine others. Moore and Company, writing to Jones and Company, said -

Mr. M.Fitzpatrick ;

He is a big fruit-grower at Lovett - . wrote to us to know if we could sell for him 5,000 cases for next year, made up as follows : - he stated that he would not send any apples under 21/4.

Mr.R. J. Grant (Messrs. Knill and Grant)-

That is one of the biggest broking firms in Covent Garden market - came in to see us about this, as he had exactly a similar letter which had been addressed to him at Covent Garden. This suggests that Fitzpatrick has written to several firms. Knill and Grant would not do anything without reference to us, and we suggested that he had better write to Fitzpatrick declining to buy, as it would be so much better to leave it to you to see what you can buy them for. Grant is doing this, and we doubt if any one else will trouble about buying just now.

In other words, Moore and Company influenced Knill and Grant not to quote for Tasmanian fruit. Practically there was a ring, and the consequence was, as Moore plainly tells Jones in the letter, " competition having been removed you can easily buy the fruit." We know as practical business men that that would be at Jones' own price in Tasmania - a most pernicious condition ofaffairs. These cases are indicative of dozens which came before us in taking evidence, and surely warranted an inquiry.

There was something further. Whereas, up to the time the Commission commenced to take evidence, the big firms inTasmania, the bigger firms in Victoria, and other firms throughout the Commonwealth, had been continually telling the grower that all they made out of apples was the 2d. or 3d. a case they charged at this end for agents' fees, when we began to inquire closely and see documents, we found that there were two or three other profits not previously disclosed. One of the most important was a little fee that they called a retaining fee. Nobody knew anything about it, least of all the growers, yet it ran as high as 6d. per case, which would amount to a considerable sum on a big shipment of apples.

Senator O'Keefe - Could they not be dealt with under the Secret Commissions Act?

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