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Thursday, 28 November 1935

Senator HARDY (New South Wales) . - Unlike the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings), I do not seize this opportunity to demonstrate, as he did to his own satisfaction, that the citrus industry has failed, and that the only way to revive it is to institute complete governmental control.

Senator Collings - I did not say that.

Senator HARDY - There is a world of difference between producer-control secured by co-operative action between grower and Government and direct governmental control. Past experience in connexion with the Dried Fruits Export Control Board has shown that once a framework is built - and, I trust, it will be built according to the advice of those engaged in this industry - producercontrol will place the citrus industry on a sound basis. This bill represents what can be called " interior " help to the industry. It is not of such great interest to honorable senators representing other States as it is to those representing New South Wales. This is not because citrus fruits are not grown in the other States, but because, of the collapse of the export market, the industry in ' that State suffered most, and I do not hesitate to say that as a "result of that collapse the growers in New South Wales are now in a critical position. I make an appeal on behalf of the citrus industry, primarily because it represents the essence of closer settlement ideals. Although there are many advocates of the stabilization of the wheat and wool industries, those industries, while of tremendous value to the nation, are not so effective as citrusgrowing in promoting closer settlement. That fact will be demonstrated to any one who flies over the irrigation areas of New South Wales. The farms are so numerous that they resemble a chessboard. Therefore, I submit that any industry which promotes closer settlement, and directly provides much employment, should be supported by adherents of all political parties. The volume of capital invested in the citrus industry is not generally known. It is certainly not a fly-by-night industry; neither is it confined to backyards. It has been estimated that the money invested in the industry amounts to between £8,000,000 and £10,000,000, and it employs thousands of people. As this legislation is designed to help the industry over a stile - and it has had many stiles to surmount during the last few years - it should be supported by every honorable senator, particularly as the difficulties of the industry have increased through the loss of the profitable export market.

Now I propose to examine the main difficulties confronting the industry. The Leader of the Opposition, no doubt, will immediately say that the industry is in trouble because orderly marketing with Government control has not been imposed.

I shall be quite frank. To a large extent, the citrus industry has lacked orderly marketing in the past, both within Australia and without, but that is no indication that the growers are averse to greater organization and control, providing it is producer-control. If only because of the crucible of adversity into which they have been plunged, we may assume that they are eager to establish orderly marketing, if they are satisfied that the move will bring financial stability. Broadly, I separate the difficulties confronting the industry into three divisions. First, as I have already admitted, orderly control of marketing within and without Australia is lacking. Citrus fruits in large areas of the States reach maturity simultaneously, and, although cool storage is available in many centres of production, gluts are at times unavoidable under the present marketing system. Even assuming that co-operative organization existed among trie growers, it would still be most difficult to control the individual grower. The position in this respect is not similar to that prevailing in the dairying industry. In the citrus industry a man may have an acre or two under cultivation, and be content to do his own packing and sell his products at the best prices offering in his local centre. This attitude will make very difficult the institution of co-operative control with its consequent price stability. The second difficulty confronting the citrus industry is the lower prices prevailing not only in Australia but also in the export markets. The Assistant Minister (Senator Brennan) has already pointed that out and the citrusgrower must face the fact, that this year when he exports his oranges to the United Kingdom, he will not get the same price as he secured a year or two ago. The United Kingdom is not so profitable an export market as is New Zealand. The third, and greatest, difficulty confronting the industry, particularly in New South Wales, is what is commonly known as the New Zealand embargo-. It is .not within the province of honorable senators during the discussion of this bill to say why that embargo was imposed. Still we must recognize that in spite of all the efforts we may make to establish a remunerative citrus trade elsewhere, one of our greatest and most profitable export markets should be New Zealand. I am sure that the Government will, as it has done in the past, endeavour to get that embargo lifted. It seriously affects the growers in all States, but it operates particularly harshly on the growers of New South Wales. In 1931-32 the total quantity of oranges exported from Australia was 166,254 centals, of which New South Wales growers produced 116,557 centals, or 70 per. cent, of the total export. Thus one can easily realize that the export trade is vital to the New South Wales growers. Of Australia's total export of 166,254 centals of oranges, New Zealand took 130,S58 cental's, or 79 per cent, of the total export, therefore, remembering that the New South "Wales grower produced 70 per cent, of the total exported in 1931, it is easy to imagine the present plight of the citrus-grower in that State, following the collapse of the New Zealand trade. Without wishing to be parochial in this matter I point out that the loss of the New South Wales export trade has been South Australia's gain because the New Zealand embargo has been partially lifted in respect of the latter State which, to-day, is exporting a large quantity of oranges to the dominion, while the position in New South Wales has remained unchanged. Thus New South Wales growers are faced with the problem of finding new markets for their products.

Now let us examine the result of the loss of the New Zealand trade. In 1931-32 Australia shipped to the dominion oranges valued at £119,870, for 70 per cent, of which New South Wales growers were responsible. Following the imposition of the embargo by the New Zealand Government in December, 1932, the value of exports in 1932-33 fell to £79,667, a great percentage of which was contributed by other States. Is it any wonder that growers in the Murrumbidgee irrigation area, who previously relied so largely upon the export trade, have their backs to the wall to-day and at every opportunity exclaim, " For goodness sake get the Government to lift the New Zealand embargo ! It is our only opportunity to operate:' I know that this Government has done everything it possibly can in that direction, but its efforts have proved abortive. I hope that following the change of government in New Zealand, our representations will be more successful than in the past. Senator Allan MacDonald asked about the South Australian trade, desiring to know how the New ' South Wales loss was South Australia's gain. In 1934 the New Zealand Government permitted South Australian oranges to enter the dominion .market, but only in specified quantities and in specified boats. The reason given was the alleged absence of fruit fly. The total entry allowed in 1934 was 112,000 cases. I repeat that South Australia's gain was New South Wales's loss.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Why did Now Zealand impose that embargo?

Senator HARDY - Honorable senators may argue on that point, but I am interested at the moment in getting it lifted. In 1935 South Australia exported to New Zealand 136,000 cases. Perhaps Senator Allan MacDonald may hope that the embargo will be continued because it has proved of benefit to South Australia, but the problem of the New South Wales grower is acute. Where is tlie New South Wales grower to dispose of the quantity of citrus products previously exported to New Zealand? That problem was referred to the Commonwealth Government, which suggested the United Kingdom as a possible substitute market, and gave official assistance to the industry in 1933 and 1934. It is very easy to say " We have lost the New Zealand market ; let us concentrate on the United Kingdom market," but many difficulties arise. In respect of the United Kingdom market, we have to take into consideration, first, the disabilities resulting from Australia's geographical position. Shipments from Australia reach New Zealand in four day3, whereas the journey from Australia to the United Kingdom takes six weeks and in some cases longer. On the British market our products have to compete at a great disadvantage with those from other countries, including South Africa, Spain and Brazil. Growers in New South x Wales, in order to overcome tlie disadvantages of distance, have experimented in shipping fruit in fairly green condition to the United Kingdom, but the fruit, by the time it reached its destination, had not developed a sugar content sufficient to please the English palate. They then tried shipping fruit in a fairly ripe condition, but on its arrival in the United Kingdom its quality was not sufficiently good to compete with the products of Spain and Brazil. If the United Kingdom provides the only export market which the citrus fruitgrowers can reasonably approach, the Government should concentrate upon improving the transport facilities between Australia and Great Britain. That is a problem calling for expert research. For some years, Australian meat producers were at a disadvantage in shipping frozen meat to Great Britain, but, owing to the work of scientists associated with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, in conjunction with scientific autho'rities in Great Britain, the quality of Australian beef which is now chilled instead of frozen is . equal to that produced in Argentina. As a result of the improved conditions which now prevail, Australian meat producers may expect to secure an even larger proportion of Great Britain's chilled .beef trade. In these circumstances, with such an outstanding example of the value of research, I suggest that careful research be undertaken in connexion with the transport of Australian oranges, which have to be sold in the British markets in competition with the product of countries more favorably situated geographically than is Australia. In 1933, the export of Australian citrus fruits to the United Kingdom totalled 97,000 cases, but in 1934, owing to a guarantee of a price of 13s. a case, the quantity increased to 213,000 cases which was a satisfactory quantity but it did not give a satisfactory financial return. Notwithstanding the action of the Commonwealth Government in guaranteeing 13s. a case, the costs incurred in handling, shipping and insurance in 1933 and 1934 were so heavy that. the growers did not get anything.

Senator Collings - Private enterprise again obtained all the benefit.

Senator HARDY - Not altogether. The fault was due largely to the fact that the Commonwealth Government did not adopt the right policy. When 13s. a case was guaranteed, practically every grower endeavoured to' obtain the advantage of the guaranteed price with the result that quality was in many cases sacrificed. Instead of the growers deriving substantial benefit, many did not receive any return at all. It is practically impossible to draft a measure covering all phases of the industry, but the experience which the growers have gained will be of benefit to them in the future. A guaranteed price of 13s. a case induced many growers to dump inferior fruit on the market, but a bounty of 2s. a case, on the conditions outlined in this bill, will be an inducement to ship only the best fruit which should command the highest price offering. An amount of £20,000 has been placed on the Estimates in the belief that the exports of citrus fruits to the United Kingdom this year will total 200,000 cases, but I have been authoritatively informed that the quantity likely to be exported will be only 100,000 cases. Now I submit to the Minister in charge of the bill that if exports should be reduced by one-half, the amount of bounty payable will be £10,000, and not £20,000. Is the 'bounty to be paid at a fixed Irate on the citrus f fruits exported or is it to vary 'according to the quantity actually exported? The delegates at the Conference of Citrus Fruit-growers, held in Sydney in April, 1935, realizing the serious difficulties confronting the industry, asked (the Government to provide a bounty of 3s. 6d. a case, but the Government considered that such a rate would involve too large a sum and eventually compromised at 2s. a case. As the £20,000 provided on the Estimates is not likely to be absorbed, I should like to know if the Government is prepared to increase the bounty from 2s. a case to the amount originally asked for by the growers? Owing to the reduced number of cases to be exported, the total payment would not exceed £20,000.

Senator Arkins - The amount proposed is fairly liberal.

Senator HARDY - It is not, because in 1933 and 1934 practically 90 per cent, of the growers did not receive any return at all. If the growers received an additional bounty in respect of exports to the United Kingdom for the years under discussion, they would be well rewarded. The marked reduction in the quantity to be exported this year as compared with the previous year is due to the low prices prevailing on the London market having resulted in unprofitable transactions. I strongly recommend the increase to the Government as it would be just and equitable. Many of the growers and also the Government are anxious that the industry should be placed on a firm basis in order to build up a permanent and profitable market in Australia and in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately there is a lack of unanimity amongst the growers. In some parts of the Commonwealth growers object to any governmental interference, and wish to continue the present haphazard system ; others favour a compulsory pool, and yet others a voluntary pool. . I stress the fact that it is vital for the growers to weld themselves into one organized whole. The Assistant Minister has doubtless realized that one of his greatest difficulties has been to formulate a scheme acceptable to the majority of those engaged in the industry. The delegates who attended the conference held in Sydney in April, representing Queensland, New South

Wales, Victoria and, I believe, South Australia, suggested that the Commonwealth Government should appoint a citrus export control board, similar to the Dried Fruits Export Control Board, which should have power to issue licences to packing houses, and to control the quantity of fruit exported. In my opinion that would be a step in the right direction. I believe that such a proposal has substantial support, but until there is unanimity amongst the growers little success can be expected. The only way to save the industry is to provide for improved marketing conditions, and the appointment of an export control board, not on the lines suggested by the Leader of the Opposition, but controlled by the producers. That is the difference between boards appointed by the Commonwealth and those appointed by the Queensland Government. It is essential that there should be co-operation by the growers.

Senator Collings - Many of the boards in Queensland are controlled by producers.

Senator HARDY - I am glad to hear that the Queensland Government has at last been converted to the policy of the Country party. The Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) stated that this is the only assistance which the Government can offer until a permanent scheme has been adopted. I shall support the appointment of a board controlled by the producers on the lines I have already indicated.

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