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Thursday, 8 October 1936

Senator ARKINS - Which country is the most serious competitor with Australia on the British market?

Senator SAMPSON - I should say the United States of America and Canada. During the last season I watched the prices closely, and I discovered that the returns for fruit from the United States of America were invariably a shade lower than those received for Australian fruit. The United States of America was, undoubtedly, dumping fruit in Great Britain in order to relieve its local position.

Senator ARKINS - The principle difficulty, then, is one of price?

Senator SAMPSON - Yes. The result of the overseas shipments in 1936 is so discouraging as to make the situation of the bulk of the growers in Tasmania really heart-rending. The prices which have 1,een realized this season have proved most disastrous, and it is essential for the growers to seek the assistance of this Government, although they are reluctant to do so. This bill which is now being considered by the Senate is the reply to their appeal for aid, and I regret that from its substantial surplus revenues the Government has not been more generous in fixing the bounty to be paid for exported apples and pears. The sum of 4~J-d. a case is the extent of the assistance which it offers to the stricken industry. It may interest honorable senators to know how the costs of producing and marketing a case of apples are made up. The freight charge is 3s. 6d. to which must be added 7-id. for exchange, making 4s. 1-Jd. payable at Hobart. Insurance, wharfage, levy and shipping charges account for another 4id. ; packing costs' - that is, the cost of eases, wood-wool, wrapping paper, labels, &c. - total about 2s. a case ; and the cost of actually growing the apples, including the cost of spraying, cultivating, pruning, and other labour, is between 2s. and 3s. I should say the average would be about 2s. 3d. a case. That would bring the total cost of putting a case of apples on the English market to 8s. 9d. Australian currency. Let us assume that a particular case of apples brings 8s. 6d., English currency, on the London market, although very few did so last season. Landing charges, com mission and other charges would be ls. 6d. a case, which would reduce the price to 7s. a case. To that we should have to add exchange amounting to ls. 9d., which would bring the price to 8s. 9d., Australian currency. That, as I have said, is the bare cost of production in Australian currency. The return, therefore,, would just cover the cost. We have been told time and time again in recent years, that we have made a great mistake in concentrating our shipments on the port of London. It was said that we should distribute our fruit, sending some to Glasgow and some to Hull, and that if we did so the returns would be better. That procedure has been tried. I have numerous account sales in my hand showing the returns obtained from auction sales of Tasmanian, South Australian and Western Australian apples at Glasgow, Hull, and London. Shipments sent on the Clan Farquhar went direct to Glasgow and were sold there on the 4th June. The prices obtained for the various lots varied from 4s. 6d. to 6s., 6s. 6d., 6s. 9d., 7s., 7s. 3d., 7s. 6d., 8s. and Ss. 6d. A few Granny Smith fancies brought lis. a case and some lis. 9d. a case. The average price was about 6s. 3d. a case. Shipments exMoreton Bay sold at Hull on the 22nd June this year brought 6s. 6d., 6s. 9d. and up to 8s. >?d. a case. The returns from sales in London on the 10th June were very similar. It will be seen, therefore, that the statements that we were stupid to concentrate upon the port of Loudon had very little foundation, for the prices obtained at Glasgow and Hull were not any better than those obtained at London.

Another aspect of this subject has always puzzled me and it puzzles me still. For some years now I have been sending a case or two of apples home every year to friends in England. This year I sent a. couple of cases to a lady living at Wembley, who, after the war, spent some years in Tasmania, .and is well acquainted with the Tasmanian apple industry. I sent her a case each of Cleopatras and Cox's Orange Pippins by the Raranga which left the Tamar on the 28th February this year. The vessel was slow and ray friend did not get the apples until well on in April. Subsequently she wrote to say how pleased she was with the fruit. I direct attention to the following passage from her letter, dated the 10th May: -

The apples readied us on Thursday. They were well packed and almost have the bloom on them. The Cleopatras are too good to cook, and we arc eating them raw. It is really a shame to bake them. The Cox's Orange Pippins are of marvellous flavour. I only found three with bitter pit and none bruised. The applegrowers will bc satisfied with this year's price, for Cox's Orange Pippins are selling at 9d. per lb. in the shops.

The thing that puzzles me is that the market reports from Moore and Company, of London, regarding the Raranga shipment were very disappointing, being to the effect that the whole shipment landed in very bad condition. It was said that the packing was bad, that the fruit was slackly packed, with the result that it opened up bruised. It was also reported that the apples were badly infected with bitter pit; in fact, the whole shipment was inferior.

Senator Brennan - Did the fruit which the honorable senator sent to his friend go by the same ship?

Senator SAMPSON - It did. The two cases I sent were packed at the Clarence Point Co-operative packing shed on the Tamar. It is extraordinary that my friend at Wembley should speak so highly of the apples, and that the market report of fruit packed at the same place and sent by the same ship at the same time should be so ghastly. My friend i3 well acquainted with orchard practice and knows what she is speaking about. How can it happen that two cases of different varieties open up in such good condition, almost carrying the bloom on the fruit after their long voyage, while other cases are condemned out of hand ? Only five apples with bitter pit were found in the two cases I sent to my friend, while the market report states that the remainder of the shipment was badly infected with this disease. Surely, it is possible to do something to clarify a position like this. We have sent numerous persons to Great Britain to investigate marketing conditions there, but I think it would be a good idea if we had some of 'our own people there regularly to police the business. It is an extraordinary thing that Cox's Orange Pippins should be selling at 9d. per lb. That would give a return of about 30s. a case. It is strange that, irrespective of the price that our apples bring at the Coven t Garden Market, or anywhere else, the retail selling price in the shops in the London suburbs varies very little. Why should it remain static? If our growers could get a net return of even 2d. per lb. for the apples they send to the London market they would be extra* ordinarily well pleased.

Fruit-growing is the principal primaryproducing industry of Tasmania. It supports about 18,000 people. We hear a good deal from time to time about the desirableness of closer settlement, hut a visit to the Franklin district of Tasmania would indicate how effective closer settlement has been in that district. The people are established on small holdings, and are doing excellent work. They are fine people, and it is unfortunate that they have been hit so hard.

I have had sent to me the account sales for 300 cases of excellent Jonathan fancy apples shipped by an old friend who was in my own brigade. He actually received a debit note from the agents for £6 14s. in respect of that shipment. This is a deplorable state of affairs. The fruit industry of Tasmania circulates more real money in that State than any other industry there. The people engaged in it pay approximately £600,000 per annum in overseas shipping freights, and it is most unfortunate that they get very little, if anything, for their enormous labour, involving a turnover of more than £1,000,000 a year. Overseas shipping freights are definitely too high. The freight on fruit must be paid at Hobart. In pre-war days, the freight on apples was 2s. 6d. a case. To-day, it is 3s. 6d. a case, plus 7½d. for exchange, making 4s. l£d. in all.

Senator Brennan - But the honorable senator knows that that 7-£d. is retained at the other end.

Senator SAMPSON - I happen to know the most intimate details of this business, for I am closely associated with it, and the Assistant Minister should not attempt to " teach his grandmother to suck eggs ". The 7£d. taken by the shipping companies under the heading of exchange is definitely an extra charge. I suggest that if this subject were investigated, it would be found that a large proportion of this money paid at Hobart by the fruitgrowers is used by the shipping companies in Australia to pay loading charges, port dues, wages, and accounts for provisions, &c. Although the 7i&. is called exchange, in actual fact it is nothing more nor less than an increase of freight by ?id. a case. Almost all other cargo freights are paid in London. I believe in supporting British shipping companies, but I am convinced that serious investigations should be made into the methods of the shipping monopoly in handling Australian fruit. It is of no earthly use for the Commonwealth. Government to shut its eyes to the situation. This great and well-established apple industry cannot stagger any longer under the exorbitant charges imposed on it by protected shipping companies. I had hoped that the Government would grant a bounty of at least 7-Jd. a case this year, although I felt that ls. a case would be necessary to keep hundreds of growers on their holdings. Although I hope that the hill will be passed by the Senate, it is only a partial compensation for losses incurred, and I am confident that before long further assistance will have to be given to the growers. I trust also that when the money is disbursed, it will be paid to the growers themselves, rather than to their agents, and that right early. If either the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) or the Assistant Minister (Mr. Thorby) could spare a fortnight or three weeks to accompany me through the south-western portion of Tasmania, as well as the Tamar and Mersey districts, he would see the sturdy type of men and women engaged in this industry, and realize that their claims have not been overstated. The Government should not think that the passing of this bill will relieve it of any further obligation towards the growers of apples and pears. As I have said, further assistance will be necessary if these people are not to relinquish their holdings to become a charge on the community as dwellers in the cities. I commend the Government for the assistance which it proposes to give to the growers through this bill, but I wish that it had been more generous.

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