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Thursday, 21 May 1970

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - The principal objective of this Bill is to provide a more realistic maximum rate of charge that can be imposed on dried fruits - currants, sultanas and raisins - exported from this country. This charge, which is the major source of income of the Australian Dried Fruits Control Board, has remained unchanged at a maximum of 0.1c per lb since the legislation was originally enacted in 1924. At one time the Board operated on rates lower than the maximum, but in recent years its operative rate has been the maximum rate of 0. lc per lb. It has become apparent that the Board has insufficient funds to carry out its activities in the field of export promotion. This has been due in some measure to adverse seasonal conditions which have reduced the Board's income. The objective of the Bill is to increase the maximum of levy to 0.3c per lb and thus provide a more realistic relationship between the operative rate and the maximum rate. But as costs increase one might expect the operative rate to increase until it is equal to the maximum rate. We would then have to consider the problem anew.

The increase in the maximum rate is designed to provide the Board with more finance but we must not forget that the levy is paid by the farmer. The standard of living of Australia's small farmers is fast becoming a matter for concern. This is particularly so in the case of small farmers producing for the export market, an activity in which most small farmers are engaged. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the small farmer, such as the producer of dried vine fruits for the highly volatile export market, is fighting a losing battle against increasing costs. So while the Board needs more money to carry on its promotional work, which all honourable members will concede is necessary, the small producer is burdened with higher levies. The matter of costs is very relevant because, as has been pointed out in the House many times, the small farmer is the backbone of the intensive agriculture districts of Australia. The small farmer plays an important role in decentralisation. Very often he is highly efficient, no matter what physical criterion you adopt - productivity per acre or productivity per man hour. The continual drain on his resources from production costs, higher living costs and increased levies is a vexed problem. I know that the Government is aware of the seriousness of the problem. It is referred to as a 'small farm problem'. The only defence open to the small farmer who grows for the export market is to try to increase productivity and so decrease his average costs of production or to hope for higher export prices. These matters, of course, are often beyond his control.

The Bill is a machinery measure. It is not one which affords opportunity for a wide ranging debate on the dried vine fruits industry. I would like to refer to the stabilisation plan and the referendum, but 1 have been informed that I would be out of order if I did so. The debate is confined to the relationship of the operative rate of charge by the Board to the maximum rate. Although I may have strayed a little in my remarks 1 do not think I have transgressed unduly. The Opposition supports the Bill. We believe in export promotion. In a situation of inflationary growth policies we see no reason why the Board or any other organisation charged with the responsibility of promoting sales in the interests of the industry and of Australia should not have more revenue. The Opposition supports the BUI and hopes with this qualification that the Government will take serious notice of the increase in costs, which is one of the reasons why the Board wanted more finance, and of the burden on the small farmer. If this increase in costs continues it is obvious the small farmer will need more financial assistance, even if it is in the form of subsidies. All these points are relevant to a degree, but are not completely relevant to the Bill. Mr Speaker, the Opposition supports the Bill.

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