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Thursday, 8 October 1936

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) . - Probably nine out of every ten Australians consider that the position of the citrus industry to-day is attributable to the recent commercial relations of Tasmania and the mainland States with New Zealand. As a Queenslander, I consider that every effort should be made to overcome the difficulty that has arisen, owing to the loss of the important New Zealand market by Aus tralian primary producers. That market is capable of absorbing the whole of our exportable citrus products. I have heard nothing lately to induce me to change my opinion that the present trouble is due to the policy adopted by the Government in regard to the desire of potato-growers in Victoria and Tasmania, and possibly another State, to prevent the importation of potatoes from New Zealand.

Senator Herbert Hays - The Minister has just said that New Zealand has not raised that aspect of the matter.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The disagreement over potatoes is, undoubtedly, the origin of the dispute regarding oranges. In addition to that, a. duty of 6d. per lb. has been imposed on New Zealand butter. That dominion consumes more of our produce than we take from it; the ratio would be three to two, if not two to one. New Zealand is not content to allow this adverse balance to continue. If the Japanese, irritated by our recent trade disputes with them, were to say that because we do not like their language, their race, or country, and do not care a hang for them, we have subjected them to particular trade disabilities, any member of the Commonwealth Ministry could reply by pointing his finger across the Tasman Sea, and saying : " Look at the trouble we have had for many years in our commercial dealings with our sister dominion New Zealand." If the Japanese business men who recently visited Australia had access to the minutes of conference proceedings between Australia and New Zealand, which Senator Hardy properly asked to have placed on the table of this chamber, they would be quite satisfied that Japan had not been singled out in recent trade negotiations for particularly harsh treatment. Yet New Zealand is a particularly patriotic dominion. It even imposed conscription in order to assist the Allies in the Great War. Japan, like New Zealand, is one of our good customers. The United States of America has been a poor customer of Australia, and the people of that country might well say that we object to them because of their Yankee twang, or their mixed European origin, and that those are our special reasons for the tariff action which we recently took against thom. A perusal of the minutes of conferences, and of the history of our negotiations with New Zealand, would show that hy no means is the United States of America singled out for hostile treatment. Over the last ten years our relations with our sister dominion have not been happy, and we now have the spectacle of the present Government viewing the situation with hopeless futility, and making no statesmanlike contribution towards the satisfactory adjustment of the dispute. About two years ago, Sir Frederick Stewart, an amiable man, who undoubtedly has the interests of the masses of this country at heart, visited New Zealand as Minister for Commerce. He was accompanied by quite a retinue of officers. But, despite his earnest endeavours, no satisfactory settlement of the dispute resulted. There was also a visit by Senator Massygreene, when he was a member of the Ministry, but no better understanding was arrived at. It has been said that difficulties have arisen in connexion with corky scab and Mediterranean fruit fly: but all honorable senators, with a knowledge of the history of the dispute, know that the basic cause of the trouble is commercial antagonism between producing interests in the two dominions. "Four States in the Commonwealth are engaged in the production of citrus fruits - New South Wales has probably the largest output, being followed closely by South Australia and Victoria, whilst Queensland is also a large, producer- - and two States are engaged in potato-growing on a large scale. If we are ever to extricate ourselves from the tangle which now exists, it seems that Ave should make a definite move by inviting representatives of the Government of New Zealand to visit Australia to discuss the matter.

Senator Hardy - Why not send an Australian delegation to New Zealand?

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - We have already sent two delegations to New Zealand, but no results were achieved. A new government is in power in New Zealand, and I suggest that this fact should be taken into consideration, and that an invitation should be extended to that Government to send a delegation to Australia to meet representatives of the two industries concerned. I feel sure tha t the present Government of New Zealand would not regard this matter as one of politics. In returning a Labour Government, the people of New Zealand have made political history. We all recall that, when the first Labour Government was returned to power in Australia, the London financiers were greatly perturbed until that great figure in finance, Mr. Baillieu, said that, after all, a Labour government would not be a bad thing for Australia. There is no likelihood of the Labour Government in New Zealand cutting this Gordian knot with a sword. It has been suggested by Senator Hardy, and members of the House of Representatives, that a heart-to-heart talk should take place between the Australian growers of potatoes and citrus fruits, in order that a national policy in respect of those commodities might be evolved before a meeting with representatives of the Government of New Zealand is arranged. It is only by constant reiteration of our demands that the differences may bc satisfactorily settled : unless something definite is done, the position will quickly go beyond redemption, and there will be no cure for the troubles that beset us. It is quite easy to adopt a. policy of allowing things to " slide ". Bills of this kind are merely palliatives, and do nothing to solve the problem. It has been said that the citrus-growers are now in a more flourishing condition than they were before the New Zealand embargo was imposed.

Senator J B Hayes - New Zealand is at present importing from Australia the same quantity of oranges as it did before it imposed the embargo.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Nevertheless, the citrus-growers in the eastern States have had to seek a market for their surplus production in the United Kingdom. Time and again we have seen evidence that the British people are not prepared to keep an open market for Australia, or the other dominions. The policy of Major Elliott, Minister for Agriculture in the British Government, for the granting of a larger share in the British market to Australian producers was turned down by a majority at a meeting of the Conservative Parlia- mentary party in Great Britain, the largest party in the British House of Commons. It is a part of the defence policy of Great Britain to provide not only for the maintenance of a reserve of foodstuffs, but also to increase its own production in order that it might withstand a siege of from twelve months to two years. All our arrangements with Great Britain, are subject to that policy. -The trouble in connexion . with citrus fruit has forced us to go to Britain as a client seeking greater patronage in respect of a commodity which we had not previously marketed there. I agree with what was said by members of the House of Representatives during the debate on this bill, that the present position of the negotiations between Australia and New Zealand in connexion with this matter is farcical. We should at least attempt to evolve some real plan for the settlement of the differences before the new year, and to this end we should first call a conference of growers of citrus fruits and potatoes in Australia, to ascertain if they can come to an amicable agreement. Then we should invite the Government of New Zealand to send a delegation to Australia to discuss the matter with Australian representatives. We should abandon the present policy of playing one industry against another. Such a policy should not remain unchallenged by the members of this Senate.

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