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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 4337

Mr STREET (Corangamite) - The main purpose of this Bill is to establish an Apple and Pear Corporation to replace the old Apple and Pear Board. There are a number of related Bills which have just been referred to by the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) which will be debated together. The related Bills are the Apple and Pear Stabilization Bill, the Apple and Pear Export Charges Bill and the Apple and Pear Stabilization Export Duty Collection Bill. Despite these titles, I should like to impress on the House that they do not involve changes in the stabilisation scheme or in export charges at this stage. These Bills seek merely to alter existing Acts to conform with the replacement of the Apple and Pear Board by the Corporation. The Opposition does not oppose these Bills, nor the establishment of the Corporation itself.

However, we would point out that the main legislation is yet another example of the wide gap between the Government's promises and its performance. There are no lack of promises - at least, before the election - but there is a distinct shortage of performance. I refer to the statements of the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) and others prior to the last election. I am glad to see the honourable member for Wilmot in the chamber. They promoted the idea of a statutory marketing authority with full powers in this area in conjunction with an improved stabilisation scheme. Without debating the rights or wrongs of a statutory marketing authority of this type, the point is that the Government has not done what it said it would do and primary producers are getting sick and tired of this Government saying one thing and doing another or, even worse, saying something and then refusing to do anything at all.

It is important to realise that the proposed corporation will have very wide powers, including trading powers in certain circumstances. However, my reading of the legislation is that the Corporation will have these powers involving the actual handling and selling of growers' produce without any ultimate financial responsibility to the growers. We are told in the Bill and in the second reading speech of the Minister for Northern Development that the Corporation may - I stress the word 'may' - have its borrowings guaranteed by the Government. But as I read the legislation - I will be interested to hear the Minister's comments on this - there will be no obligation on the part of the Government to underwrite the borrowings of the Corporation. It seems as though the Government, while giving great and extensive powers to the Corporation, is unwilling to assume a corresponding responsibility to protect the interests of the growers.

My next point relates to the question of the revaluations of the Australian currency during the last 18 months - I stress that 'revaluations' is the plural form of the word - and the matter of compensation to the industry following those successive revaluations of the currency.

Mr Grassby - I am sorry; which were the 3 revaluations?

Mr STREET - From memory the original revaluation was back in 1971 and there have been 2 revaluations since then. Allied to steep rises in freight costs, these revaluations have put the industry in a very difficult position. My information is that approximately $850,000 has been paid to the industry as revaluation compensation. This amount is considerably less than the amount of 30c a case involving 4 million cases which had been mentioned by the Government. I am well aware that the Government put certain restrictions and conditions on the payment of compensation which may have been responsible for a lowering of the total amount payable. But the point is that when a figure of 30c a case involving some 4 million cases was mentioned, it was not unreasonable for the industry to assume that a sum of about $1.2m would be involved in compensation payments. The amount of 30c a case related to one of the earlier revaluations, but my information is that to date only $850,000 has been paid.

Freight rates are, of course, critical to the profitable operations of apple and pear exporters, especially in Tasmania which has such a large proportion of its apple production exported. However, the Government has done nothing about adjusting the stabilisation scheme to take account of the circumstances that I have just outlined. I note with some interest that the Corporation will have power to negotiate freight rates and its success or otherwise in this field will have a corresponding effect on the industry.

I come now to yet another example of the irresponsible attitude shown by members of the Party which is now the Government. Prior to the last election, several Government supporters in Tasmania continually stressed that if they were in government the grower representatives to the statutory marketing authority, which they had outlined would be established under their government, would be elected by the growers themselves. But what happened? We find that, under this legislation, all the grower representatives will be appointed by the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) from names put forward by the Australian Apple and Pear Growers Association. Again, I am not making a judgment on whether or not that is the best way of determining who represents growers on the marketing authority. I am merely using this point to illustrate my argument that primary producers just cannot trust this Government or its supporters when they outline a course of action which they say they will pursue.

This may be an appropriate opportunity to mention the collegiate system of election of grower representatives to marketing boards, as practised in New Zealand. The Opposition has been studying with a great deal of interest the practice of New Zealand growers in this regard, particularly with respect to the New Zealand Meat Board and the New Zealand Wool Board and it may be time now to look at what our colleagues across the Tasman are doing.

Mr Duthie - It is a pity you did not do that 5 years ago when you were in government.

Mr STREET - I am just saying that we are looking at it now. The collegiate method of election may have some application in the Australian context. If honourable members opposite feel that it has some application in the Australian context, they might have con:sidered using that method of election of grower representatives to the Corporation rather than breaking their word and having the Minister appoint the grower representatives. Before the election, they said that growers would elect their representatives themselves. That is all I am saying.

Because we regard the Government's approach to the issues I have mentioned as being unsatisfactory, on behalf of the Opposition I move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading and while supporting the establishment of an Apple and Pear Corporation this House deplores the failure of the Government to provide -

(a)   immediate financial assistance by way of proper compensation for loss inflicted on exporters in the 1973 season by revaluations of the Australian currency;

(b)   adjustment of the stabilisation scheme to provide for increased costs and freight rates;

(c)   a guarantee to growers for cost of export for the current season, and

(d)   elected representation of growers to the Corporation as promised by its spokesmen prior to the last election.'

Since this Corporation will virtually be appointed by the Minister, it is reasonable to assume that he would have full confidence in it. However, apparently he is not prepared to back his own judgment. Clause 7 (3), which gives the Minister complete power to direct the Corporation, states:

The Corporation shall comply with any directions given to it by the Minister with respect to the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers.

The Opposition is unconvinced by the reasons given in the Minister's second reading speech for including these powers in this legislation. We believe that if the Government sets up such a corporation the corporation should be regarded as competent to undertake its functions. Accordingly, the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) will be moving on behalf of the Opposition to delete clause 7 (3).

The Apple and Pear Stabilisation Act and the export powers conferred on the Federal Government by the Constitution already provide completely adequate safeguards in this respect. One aspect of the legislation which has the complete support of the Opposition is the emphasis given to research and promotion both in the legislation itself and by special mention in the Minister's second reading speech. In particular, research into new products made from apples and pears seems to hold great possibilities. In the case of pears there are the additional outlets which could be provided by perry wine - that is, wine made from pears- dried pears and liqueur pear brandy. Those who have had the opportunity to try high quality perry wine I think would have been impressed by this product. I have had the opportunity to sample dried pears from the Shepparton area of Victoria. The pears had been dehydrated by a process developed locally and I feel that if more research were put into the commercial application of this process and more effort put into the promotion of the ensuing products it could well lead to a whole new market for pears. Of course a product of this type does not need special refrigeration in transport or anything of that kind. It is easily transported. It is light and it is an extremely high quality product.

I am informed that there is a great demand in Europe particularly for liqueur brandy made from fruit products. If the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) who is at the moment handling the Bill in this House looks through the departmental files he will find representations from me in respect to those products. It is true that we need some flexibility on the part of the Australian Government in its attitude to excise and in regard to the size of stills from which the products could be made. But it seems extraordinary to me that we are neglecting a field which I am informed by people who have been to Europe is open to any high quality supplier, because the demand is greater than can be supplied by European products. In the case of apples I suppose the greatest opportunity lies in the production of cider and possibly other products as well. But here again, because we have not had the stimulus to test out these markets, the markets have been lost by default.

We have a high quality product in Australia. Surely it should not be beyond our ability to devise ways and means of selling it. The Opposition wishes the Corporation every success in its efforts to carry out these challenging tasks in the field of research and promotion. The Corporation has our support but we believe that the Government has been negligent and dilatory in its approach to the urgent and immediate problems of the industry. Accordingly I have moved the amendment.

Mr SPEAKER - Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Lloyd - I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

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