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Wednesday, 16 March 1977
Page: 293

Mr KEATING (Blaxland) -The purpose of the Bills with which we are dealing in this cognate debate is to extend the existing stabilisation scheme for the export of apples and pears to cover the 1977 season. Under the Government's legislation, the extension of the scheme will be based on a maximum level of support of $2 per box for apples, with a maximum quantity eligible for support of 2 million boxes; and for pears the support will be at a maximum level of 80c per box, covering a total quantity of up to 1 .4 million boxes. For apples the ambit of the scheme will be limited to sales at risk to Europe, including the United Kingdom. For pears the limitation will be on sales at risk to Europe, including the United Kingdom, and also to North America.

The Opposition supports the broad spirit of this legislation but regards it as being inadequate. It seeks to have the Apple and Pear Stabilization Amendment Bill withdrawn and redrafted. Hence I move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: 'the House is of the opinion that the Bill should be withdrawn and re-drafted with a view to bringing forward a Bill which (a) increases the rate of stabilization payments to $3 per box of apples and $ 1 .20 per box of pears and /or (b) provides supplementary assistance measures to facilitate adjustments in the fruit growing industry and to provide assistance directly to individual fruit growers until such times as a coherent planned policy, by which the Australian fruit growing industry can prosper, is determined '.

The present scheme has operated since 1971 and originally was designed to protect the apple and pear industry against sinusoidal movements in export income. Like many other horticultural industries, the apple and pear industry is facing stiff export competition in the areas which have been its traditional markets. The competitive position of the industry in these markets has declined in recent years because of increases in freight costs and the high labour inputs into Australian production. A great deal of manual labour is still necessary in the industry as it is difficult to increase its efficiency by capital intensification. So, with the dual trends of higher production costs and shrinking export markets, the industry now is facing continuing social crisis. It is because of this social crisis that the Opposition seeks to amend the legislation to help maintain the real incomes of growers and to secure adjustment within the industry that may allow it better to tailor its production to available markets.

The $2 per box for apples and the 80c per box for pears mentioned in the legislation are the same as provided last year, and in the view of the Opposition are now inadequate. It is true that the real value of the $2 a box will be somewhat improved by the additional income accruing to growers from the devaluation of the Australian dollar. However, this is not an amount upon which growers may live and maintain their families. The Government wants the worst of all worlds for the fruit growing industry. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) said flatly in his second reading speech that the Government does not accept the recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission in respect of reconstruction; yet at the same time he will not provide growers with an incremental payment upon that made last year. The Government wants subservient farmers on the poverty line depending on it for a meagre existence.

The Minister blithely said that the present level of support cannot continue indefinitely and suggested that the Government will be looking at the industry situation and considering the appropriate support level which might extend into 1978. The truth is that the Government will not look at the industry with a view to solving its problems at all. It thinks that by keeping this industry and the growers in it on subsistence incomes it is doing something humane each time it introduces this annual legislation. Growers have long been sceptical about the intentions of this Liberal-National Country Party Government and the eventual job of reconstruction that needs to be undertaken. Obviously the Minister hopes that the tree-pull schemes which operate within the industry will reduce further the level of production and bring with it a self-imposed rationalisation by growers that will leave a stable industry without the need for government surgery and without any cost to revenue.

In the meantime, growers in the 2 export States of Tasmania and Western Australia face a depressing situation. While exports account for only about 25 per cent of Australia's apple production, these 2 States, because of their export bias, are the hardest hit. In Tasmania the proportion of production going to exports varies between 55 per cent and 65 per cent depending on the season and in Western Australia from 45 per cent to 60 per cent depending on the season. It is particularly in these 2 States that the Opposition believes its amendment proposing $3 a box for apples and $1.40 for pears will give substantial relief to growers. One can only hope that the Government has the decency and the sympathy to agree to the amendment without hesitation.

The Minister, in his second reading speech, talked about a supplementary assistance program and said that some State governments had not been inclined to support this additional assistance. I know that the New South Wales Government and the South Australian Government take the view that assistance for export apples and pears is the province of the Australian Government and not the States, whereas the Tasmanian Labor Government will join a supplementary assistance program for 1977 which, jointly funded with the Commonwealth and the other exporting States, will provide an additional $lm to the industry. Last year, as I mentioned in my speech in the second reading debate on legislation of this nature in that year, the Tasmanian Government made an offer to the Minister for Primary Industry to extend cover additional to the stabilisation scheme to 340 000 boxes on a dollar for dollar basis with the Commonwealth.

The Fraser Government refused this offer; so the Tasmanian Labor Government then extended its scheme to growers for an amount equal to that which would have been the State contribution to a Commonwealth-State arrangement.

If the Government should be so insensitive as to refuse the Opposition's amendment on this occasion, I trust that at least the Tasmanian and Western Australian members of the Government Parties will fully support the Opposition's amendment. We have put the issues squarely before the Parliament. Let some of these honourable members put their vote where their mouth is.

Mr Goodluck - Quite a change from last year.

Mr KEATING - The honourable gentleman talks about last year. Last year his Government refused to enter a supplementary assistance scheme with the Tasmanian Government and the Tasmanian Government then had to extend $2 a box to the growers without the assistance of the Commonwealth. All the Commonwealth did was introduce its general scheme; it did not take up the Tasmanian Labor Government's offer. So we have heard enough humbug from the Government side of the House. We will see where the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) stands when the vote comes on this issue. We will see whether he believes that growers in his area are on subsistence levels. He and the honourable members for Braddon (Mr Groom) and Forrest (Mr Drummond) can stand up and be counted on the issue, instead of seeking to propose amendments that they know will not be carried and making big fellows of themselves in the States from which they come. This time they can stand up and put their vote where their mouth is.

The other pieces of legislation which are part of the cognate debate are supplementary to the primary piece of legislation. They operate to complement that legislation in respect of the various separate funds that exist for the various types of fruit. The issue squarely remains this: Substantial adjustment needs to take place within this industry. The industry is facing a critical export crisis. Traditional markets overseas are shrinking and the domestic base is not large enough to take production.

The approach of the Government in not accepting the recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission, in not putting forward a positive plan for a rationalisation of the industry, has left growers in a subsistence situation in which they face a continuing social crisis. There can be only one answer: Let the Government bring in a comprehensive plan for the rationalisation of the industry or this year let it agree to the Opposition's proposal of $3 a box for apples and $1.40 a case for pears so that the growers will not be left on the poverty line, as the National Country Party and the Liberal Party would wish- subservient people, in their view, happy to take what is modestly handed out from Canberra in the hope that they will vote for those parties at the ensuing election. This time the growers can see that they are being treated in the same way this year as they were last year and that all the election promises made throughout 1975 will not be fulfilled. There will be no drastic legislation. There will be no surgery to clean up this industry and to help it rationalise itself. We on this side of the House are determined that at least those who are left foundering in the industry will have some assistance in excess of that provided by the Government.

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