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Wednesday, 18 March 1936

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for External Affairs) [10:21].- I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

Following on representations made to the Government by prune-growers from the States of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, the Government has decided to pay a 'bounty of3/4d. per lb. on prunes exported during the year 1935. In that year export prices fell seriously and the returns to growers decreased to such an extent that they found themselves in financial difficulties. Increased plantings of prunes since the war have resulted in a tremendous expansion of production, with the result that to-day practically 50 per cent, of the crop has to be exported. Markets have been developed in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada, and under normal conditions, with the aid of legislation by the Commonwealth and State Governments, a reasonable average return on exports and local sales is obtained. Conditions over the past eighteen months, however, have been most difficult. Prices f.o.b. of prunes exported from California to the United Kingdom fell from 53/8 cents per lb. in January, 1934, to 41/8 cents per lb. in January, 1935, and to 27/8 cents per lb. in January, 1936. As Californian prunes practically dominate the United Kingdom market, this serious fall of prices has caused a corresponding reduction of the returns to Australian producers. In view of all the circumstances the Government has decided to render some assistance to the industry to enable it to meet the immediate losses. The bill now submitted gives effect to the Government's decision in this direction.

In view of the fact that prunes are subject to the provisions of the Dried Fruits Act 1928-1935, and to the Interstate Trade Regulations made under thatact, it is necessary to make provision for the payment of the bounty to growers who export under what is known as the " proxy arrangement." It is proposed that a grower shall be deemed, for the purpose of payment of bounty, to have exported such quantity of prunes as the respective State Dried Fruits Boards determine. This can. he readily ascertained from the records of the boards. Whore the grower sells his prunes outright to a packer, the quantity deemed to be exported will be determined in the prescribed manner by the Department of Commerce.

In submitting this bill, the Government does not desire to encourage this industry to seek a continuance of bounties on export. Realizing the difficult position which obtains at present, the Government has indicated that' provision will he made at a later date for a further bounty of id. per lb. on exports during the year 1936, but that no further bounties will be paid on this commodity. In this connexion the Government is taking steps to improve the efficiency of the industry which at present is not of a very high standard. Due regard has not been paid by the industry to the market requirements overseas, and a large quantity of small-sized prunes has been exported, although the major demand is for prunes of larger size. This high proportion of small fruit is in itself a very unsatisfactory feature of the export industry. There are many other directions in which improvements can be effected, and the Government, therefore, proposes to arrange, through the Agricultural Council, an inquiry into the production and marketing methods of the industry, with a view to placing it permanently on a sound footing. Cultural methods, picking and drying of the fruit, elimination of unsuitable areas, and stimulation of local consumption, will be investigated. It is anticipated that the bounty for the 1935 exports will total about £8,500, and that, as production for the current year is not nearly as high as in 1935, the bounty will he considerably less in respect of the 1930 exports.

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