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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 945

Mr LLOYD (Murray) - In this Parliament last year the fruit growing reconstruction scheme was introduced and passed. It is better known as the tree-pull scheme though in some quarters it has been known as the leg-pull scheme. A very severe financial means test eligibility requirement prevented immediate and successful implementation of this scheme. The means test was eased on 2 separate occasions by the previous Minister for Primary Industry, the Honourable Ian Sinclair, in August and again in October. Some Victorian growers accepted offers to pull trees before December. Then December came and with it a Federal election, a change of government and a new fruit season. This prevented further development of the scheme at the time. Now the fruit season is over again and growers, particularly pear growers, will be looking to the scheme for support especially since the Labor Government's double revaluation of the Australian dollar against the United States dollar and against the South African rand, the currencies of the 2 competitors of the Australian canning fruit industry on international markets.

What is the position facing the growers? What was the stance which the Labor Party took during the debate on the bill in Parliament last year? What is its performance now? During the debate in this Parliament last year Labor members criticised the means test aspects of the scheme. In fact, they went further. The Labor candidate for the Murray electorate, Mr John Riordan, stated during the campaign that the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) had assured him that a Labor Government in office would abolish the means test. The member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) was quoted in the Griffith 'Area News' of 1 6th October as stating:

The tree pull scheme is inadequate and hopeless if a means test is applied and State debts deducted from any compensation moneys,' Mr Grassby declared.

We will insist that the means test be deleted and that if money is to be made available it should be for the grower to decide what to do with it.'

Now the Labor Government is in power but absolutely nothing has happened about these promises. Two weeks ago the Federal and State Ministers responsible for reconstruction reviewed the fruit growing reconstruction scheme. The only change to this scheme is the inclusion of apricots as a surplus commodity. This is purely a procedural matter. Where was the promise, where was the purpose, where was the resolve of these fighters for the fruit industry when Labor was in Opposition? The canning fruit industry is facing a life and death struggle because of these revaluations, overseas freight charges and international politics. Once again, what has happened? The previous Government provided loans to the canneries to allow growers to be partially paid for 1972 fruit deliveries pending the final lisation of compensation claims. I am confident that had the previous Government been returned it would have paid to fruit growers approximately SIO a ton compensation for losses caused by the 1971 revaluation, and that there would have been no unilateral revaluation against the US dollar in December 1972, as this Government made.

Again, what did the Labor Party promise and what has it delivered? The Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party and now Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) was in Griffith on 19th November. I remind honourable members that Griffith is the centre of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, the fruit growing area. He is reported in the Griffith Times' of 20th November in this way:

Mr Whitlamwho took the stand as a leadup to Mr Grassbys opening of his campaign for Riverina clarified many issues affecting the rural sector.

He declared that Labor when elected will make full payment to fruit growers for all fruit delivered within 2 weeks of being elected to Government.

The 2 weeks has become 100 days and more, and still the Leeton growers have not been paid. What has happened to that promise? I should like to quote from an article which appeared in the Griffith 'Times' on 22nd December and in which the honourable member for Riverina, the Minister for Immigration, quoted what the Prime Minister ('Mr Whitlam) said to him. The article reads:

The Prime Minister gave assurance to Mr Grassby that his personal undertaking would be honoured to canning fruit growers in New South Wales who had not been paid for fruit delivered.

After criticising the previous Government, the Minister for Immigration was further reported as saying:

Now in three weeks I have an undertaking covering nol only this Government's act but the two revaluations of the previous government - an undertaking the previous government would not give in three years. . . .

What has happened? No revaluation compensation has been paid to this industry. Instead of revaluation compensation, a once and for ali adjustment assistance grant has been announced. This grant is in 2 parts. One is that canning fruit growers can be paid up to $500 an acre, if they are in extreme financial difficulty and if they have applied and been accepted for the tree pull scheme. But, at the same time, the same Minister and the same Government 2 weeks ago refused to abolish the means test on this scheme so that growers could be accepted for the scheme and be eligible for the $500 an acre grant. I do not think that that scheme will cost the Government very much.

The Government also said that there wouk be a grant of up to $1,500 per farmer as a once and for all adjustment grant. So far, 2 months after this proposal was announced, the growers still have not been paid and, to my knowledge, the Department of Primary Industry has not even worked out how it will administer this scheme. The canning fruit industry is in considerable trouble. It is not much good anybody saying anything about what the previous Government promised, because my speech tonight has been concentrated wholly and solely on the promises of the Australian Labor Party, its members and its Leader when they were in Opposition and I have shown the lack of performance by this Government since it was elected to office. So, to return to the old arguments of what the previous Minister for Primary Industry said or did not say and what somebody else said or did not say or did or did not do is completely beside the point. The only points that are applicable are what happened to the Prime Minister's promise of immediate payment and what happened to the promise by Labor members that the means test on the fruit growing reconstruction scheme would be abolished. The fruit growers want to hear the answers to these questions; they do not want to hear criticism of any previous government.

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