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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 4341

Mr LLOYD (Murray) - In seconding the amendment I wish to say that the Australian Country Party supports the establishment of the Apple and Pear Corporation. It is one of a great number of reorganisational proposals in relation to which the previous Minister for Primary Industry was well advanced when the change of Government took place. I hope that if the previous Government had been returned there would have been a few things in the Bill rather different from what is in this one. Nevertheless this Bill is an important step to help an industry that is in real trouble. The honourable member for Franklin (Mr Sherry) stated that the previous Government had not done anything for the industry in a decade. The most important measure which brought stability to the apple and pear industry in a long time was that introduced by the previous Government, namely, the apple and pear stabilisation scheme. Income stability is of tremendous importance to any exporting industry. I believe, and the amendment states, that the apple and pear stabilisation scheme should be updated now, but it has given some level of stability which otherwise would not have existed. The honourable member for Franklin also conveniently forgot about the success of the previous Minister for Primary Industry in reducing the multitude of labels, shipping arrangements, etc., for exports from Tasmania down to one single label. This action by the previous Minister helped in some way to overcome the Tasmanian ports' bad record of being the most expensive series of ports in the world.

The honourable member also mentioned the crime of fruit trees being uprooted while we have hungry people in the world. I agree with him on this. I only hope that some success is achieved. One of the first things I did when I became a member of Parliament was to check the official list that the Australian Government has of goods and other items which it is prepared to offer in its foreign aid program. The proposition of offering fruit as foreign aid has been promoted by the Government, but I think the important point is that if we are genuine in our desire to help less fortunate people we should give them what they want rather than thrust on them what we have in surplus, as has been the situation. Unfortunately fruit is not a high priority food with people in need of assistance, and when they have wanted something from us they have asked for grain or some other staple food. The deep seated problems facing the apple and pear industry, particularly the export section of the apple industry, go far beyond what this Apple and Pear Corporation will be able to achieve. This applies more to the apple industry than to the fresh pear industry. I remind honourable members that there is also a canning pear industry which probably has equally deep seated problems as has the apple industry.

I think that some aspects of the Apple and Pear Corporation Bill are very good. The power to control exports is essential. The power to charter and to arrange shipping is also essential. I think it has already been mentioned that approximately 60 per cent of the value of exported fruit represents freight charges. In addition there is to be a 16 per cent increase in those charges this year and I do not think that will be the last increase for the coming season because the industry is faced with the prospect of surcharges being imposed due to the oil shortages affecting shipping. The power to organise sales within Australia is of tremendous importance because unless breakthroughs can be made with new export markets - and I wish the Minister well in his discussions with Japanese officials on the problem of codling moth which is affecting our exports to that country - particularly apple markets there will be tremendous pressure on the domestic market as the export sales to our traditional markets become less and less. There is increasing competition for available export markets from New Zealand and South America the industries of which in some ways are more efficient than ours and unless we have an overall authority to try to save the situation from chaos I think chaos could eventuate before very long.

The power in respect of research and promotion is also welcomed. The honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) mentioned some alternative pear products. I will just reiterate what he said about perry wine and dehydrated pears. I congratulate the people at Shepparton who are world leaders in the field of dehydration of pears. But I would repeat that the problem facing the successful innovation of perry or pear wine and various pear alcohols is that there is no excise or sales tax on apple alcohols, wine alcohols or grape alcohols. Yet there is a IS per cent sales tax on other fruit alcohols of which perry wine would be a major product at the present time. It is hard enough to introduce a new product onto a market alongside the established products such as cider and wine without having a IS per cent hurdle to overcome at the same time. I ask the Government once again as I have asked it several times to give favourable consideration to the removal of this sales tax because it does not bring in any income. It is an anomaly. The only way to sort it out is to remove the sales tax on all other fruit alcohol.

There are some points in this legislation that I am not happy about and one is the fact that the members of the Corporation are to be appointed, not elected. As the honourable member for Corangamite mentioned, the growers in the industry were told by the Labor Party spokesmen before the general election that they believed in elected representatives. They were following that belief through faithfully I suppose when they required a referendum on the embargo on the export of merino rams. If they required a direct vote of the industry in that instance in order to ascertain the effect on growers rather than a vote of appointed representatives, why did they not be consistent and stick to the same formula for the Apple and Pear Corporation? They should be consistent. All the grower representatives will be appointed from the Australian Apple and Pear Growers Association. This provision has certainly resurrected this organisation. The legislation places tremendous responsibility on it to be truly representative of all the apple and pear growers in this country and to act in an exemplary and efficient manner on behalf of the industry. After all, it has been given a statutory monopoly as a growers organisation with real power.

I suppose that a reasonable distribution of the 4 growers appointed as representatives initially would be two from Tasmania, one from Western Australia and one from Victoria. The Victorian representative would represent the pear export section of the industry. Honourable members will remember that approximately 70 per cent or two-thirds of our fruit exports are apples and the remaining percentage is pears. Victoria is responsible for about two-thirds of our pear exports. I think it is only just that one out of the four should represent the pear growers and ought to be a Victorian.

There are 2 points in the legislation with which I am most unhappy. One is in clause 6 (0 which sets out the functions of the Corporation. Clause 6 reads:

The functions of the Corporation are - (0 such other functions in connexion with apples and pears as are provided by the regulations.

The Opposition will not attempt to delete paragraph (f) of clause 6 although it does give power to the Corporation to extend by regulation its powers when we have, one would hope, in the Bill restrictions of a legislative nature. The other point is the more important one. We will be moving for the deletion of clause 7 (3). In an attempt to justify the provisions in clause 7 (3) the Minister in his second reading speech said:

There is also expressed in Clause 7 (3) of the Bill a general requirement that the Corporation must comply with any directions given it by the Minister with respect to the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers.

This power of direction over the Corporation is a power which would only be drawn on in unusual circumstances. It might need to be used, for example, to restrain activity by the Corporation if such activity is having serious and undesirable repercussions in important areas outside the cognizance of the Corporation.

I think the Government should make up its mind. It either has faith in this Corporation to act on behalf of the industry - in which case it will give it the power to carry out its responsibilities - or it should openly state that it has not any faith in the industry or the apple and pear growers representatives or the members of the Corporation who have special qualifications because there will be a head prefect to keep them in line and to overrule their decisions. I refer to the Minister for Primary Industry. Therefore we will be moving for the deletion of that sub-clause.

In respect of the membership of the Corporation, 3 members with special qualifications are to be appointed by the Minister. It has been mentioned that the expertise of those people should be in marketing, transport and so on. One gets the impression that one of these members will be from the Australian Shippers Council. I hope that the Minister will adhere to the proposition that the members will have special qualifications. We do not want to see a unionist as one of the 3 members chosen just because he happens to be a unionist. If he is somebody with special qualifications in marketing or shipping that would be fair enough but he should not be appointed just because he happens to be unionist.

The question of the levy also is of some interest. A levy is to be collected on fruit and fruit products sold locally, as I understand it. How will this levy be collected? What rate will be charged? In the second reading speech the Minister states that no final decision has been made in respect of the levy. The Minister said:

The Government currently has under study, in consultation with the industry, the most practicable method of imposing and collecting such a levy and will be submitting measures to the Parliament for adoption in the near future.

I would hope that when this is submitted to the Parliament that the growers who I believe generally are in support of this legislation will still support it and they will not be hit in what they consider to be an unfair way either in various parts of the industry or in total by the levy.

Other speakers in this debate have mentioned apples. I think that is reasonable because apples represent the most important sector of this industry. But the fresh pear industry is of considerable importance in northern Victoria. The fresh pear industry has developed some very important new markets in South East Ask. It is not facing quite the same marketing difficulties for the future as is the apple industry. I believe that there is not the same sort of competition from other countries either in markets outside Europe or even during the off season in Europe itself on the fresh pear market. One can look ahead with reasonable confidence if income stability can be provided and a profitable return maintained for the growers in this industry. But this Bill falls far short of establishing a complete statutory marketing authority which would acquire the crop and provide financial stability. Many growers in the industry, rightly or wrongly, believed that such an authority would be established after Labor came to power. If that had been done perhaps our amendment tonight would not have had to list these particular points. With the present arrangements there are still serious deficiencies in the industry.

There is the problem of providing immediate financial assistance to growers by way of compensation. Compensation was granted because of the 1972 revaluation of Australia's currency. This was considered by most to be an unsatisfactory form of compensation because of the way in which it was administered. A grower, whether he was a fresh fruit grower or a canned fruit grower, was limited to receiving a certain upper limit of compensation. Most growers who were solely producers of this type of crop were eligible for far more compensation than provided by this limit. Since the 1972 revaluation there has been a series of revaluations. I hope that' the Government can provide revaluation compensation to this industry in the immediate future to ensure more liquidity in the industry to help it with the costs of the season ahead.

The second point in our amendment relates to the adjustment of the stabilisation scheme to provide for increased costs and freight rates. I think that is reasonable. In the long term a stabilisation scheme is still the best provider of some form of stability for this industry. But because of increased costs and particularly increased freight rates, the maximum levels of assistance which were provided when the Bill was introduced are no longer adequate and I believe that adjustments should be made to the maximum rates at present provided.

The Labor Government in Tasmania promised that it would provide a guaranteed price to growers of export fruit. Ever since it has been trying to back out of that promise. We were told that the Premier of Tasmania was in Canberra again early this week, presumably on the same errand of asking the Commonwealth to take over responsibility for that which the Tasmanian Labor Government promised the growers of Tasmania. This is why this point is included in the Opposition amendment. The Tasmanian growers, particularly the apple growers, were told and believed that they would be given some guarantee to cover the cost of exports for this season. They really believed that the guarantee would be provided for more than one season, but at least for this season because of the serious conditions facing the industry.

It is up to this Government to sort the matter out, either by itself or in conjunction with the Tasmanian Labor Government. Apparently the priorities of the Tasmanian Labor Government are such that it can spend a considerable amount of money on Lake Pedder and nothing to carry out its promise to provide some cover for the growers. It is up to these governments to sort out the matter. But I suggest that if the Tasmanian Government had its priorities right it would adhere to its promises.

Finally, I turn to the matter of having elected representatives of growers on the Corporation as promised by a Labor spokesman prior to the last election. The honourable member for Corangamite and I have made this point. I am glad that this Apple and Pear Corporation is coming into being. It is one promise, or part of a promise, that this Government is fulfilling, even it is is only picking up the groundwork done by the previous Government. When one considers all the other problems the industry faces and the other promises made by a Labor opposition anxious to get into power, one would hope the Government will now fulfill those promises to a greater extent than it has done so far.

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