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Thursday, 27 November 1941

Senator FRASER (Western Australia) (Minister for External Territories) .- I move-

That the bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this bill is to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum of £1,400,000 for the repayment to the Commonwealth Bank of advances made by the bank for the purposes of the acquisition and marketing of the 1940-41 crop of apples and pears under the National Security (Apples and Pear Acquisition) Regulations.

Owing to the unfavorable outlook for any improvement in the export position of fresh fruit in 1941, the Commonwealth Government convened a confer ence of State Ministers of Agriculture and accredited representatives of the apple-growers and pear-growers to consider ways and means of dealing with the new season's crop. Following several further discussions with the States, the Commonwealth Government finally agreed to proposals for a continuation of an acquisition scheme for the following season. The arrangements for 1941, however, differed in the following important respects from those of the previous year: -

(i)   Acquisition was effected on 1st January instead of 1st March;

(ii)   Instead of making advances to growers at flat rates, a unit system was adopted, which provided for differential rates as between States and as between varieties of apples and pears produced in each State;

(iii)   Fruit had to -be actually delivered before qualifying for advances, except where delivery was not required for marketing. In these cases qualifications for advances were established on the basis of an official tree measurement of the crop at the time of maturity.

Certain changes were made in the organization of the scheme, and the Apple and Pear Marketing Board was constituted under the regulations to administer the acquisition and marketing arrangements. In accordance with regulation No. 25 of the National Security (Apple and Pear Acquisition) Regulations, arrangements were made with the Commonwealth Bank to advance the amounts necessary to meet the payments of advances to growers, the packing and marketing costs, and administrative and publicity expenses. Sums totalling £3,901,779 were advanced by the bank for the foregoing purposes, subject to the following conditions -

(1)   A guarantee in pursuance of the regulations to be furnished for the full amounts of the advances made by the bank;

(2)   The clearance of outstanding indebtedness before the 31st March, 1942;

(3)   Interest on advances to be charged at the ruling rate for rural credit advances.

An application has been made to the Commonwealth Bank for a further sum of £255,000, which will make the aggregate advances £4,156,779. So far as it is possible to estimate at this stage, the acquisition and marketing of the 1941 crop will result in a substantial loss of between £1,500,000 and £1,600,000. Last year an amount of £750,000 was appropriated by the Parliament to meet the probable deficiency on the 1940 acquisition scheme. The actual loss on that year, however, will be approximately £605,000, leaving a balance of parliamentary appropriation of £145,000. Honorable senators are now asked to approve of the appropriation of a further £1,400,000 to meet the estimated deficiency.

In comparing the increased loss on the 1941 season with that of the previous year, there are a number of factors which must be taken into consideration. First, the 1940-41 crop for Australia was of record dimensions, aggregating 15,000,000 bushels of apples and pears. In most .States the crops were heavy, and, in some instances, abnormally heavy. In Tasmania and South Australia particularly, favorable seasonal conditions resulted in crops being exceptionally clean and free from disease. As a consequence, a greater proportion of the total crop in those States has qualified for advances than, would normally be the case. Although a market was found for approximately S,000,000 bushels of fruit, there was no outlet for the remaining 7,000,000 bushels in respect of which growers also received compensation. It should also be noted that the rates of advances to the growers were higher than those paid in 1940. Secondly, in 1940 we were fortunate in securing space for the shipment of about 2,000,000 cases of apples and pears to the United Kingdom for which very remunerative returns were received. This year, however, it has not been possible to ship one case of fresh fruit to England. Thirdly, the marketing results of the board were not so successful as was originally anticipated, owing to the nature of the propaganda directed against the scheme by certain interests.

During the year the board has taken full advantage of available interstate transport and cool storage accommodation, and arranged to hold record quantities of apples in cool store. A substantial increase of the production of dried apples, from a normal output of 470 tons to 1,250 tons - equivalent to 500,000 bushels of fresh apples - was made possible because of the action taken by the board. This additional tonnage was required to meet the large demands of the Defence services. However, it is not possible to market in Australia or process the whole of the surplus normally exported overseas. Honorable senators will be fully aware that the loss of our main export market for fresh fruit is a serious matter foi1 the apple growers and pear growers. Until these remunerative outlets are again restored, it is obvious that some measure of assistance must be afforded to the industry, and some control exercised over the marketing activities. With the early approach of the new season, the Government will make an announcement soon regarding the policy to be adopted in the future. I commend the bill to the favorable consideration of honorable senators.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.

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