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Thursday, 4 May 1939

Mr FROST - The statements were published in the press and the Minister has never denied his association with them. He was challenged to do so not only by the Tasmanian newspapers, but also by newspapers on the mainland.

Mr Lane - Did the Tasmanian growers withhold potatoes from the market?

Mr FROST - They did not. They would not be so foolish. The charge that I have read is a serious one to make against an honest class of people. The Tasmanian potato-growers, and also those in New South Wales and Victoria, are honest people. Current prices for potatoes are only just about payable. The climatic conditions that prevailed until just recently were very detrimental to potato crops, as well as other vegetable crops.

Mr Price - What is the present price of potatoes?

Mr FROST - It varies according to conditions. The wholesale price at present varies from £7 to £10 a ton for choice lots.

Mr A Green - Yet the retail price is 3d. per lb.

Mr FROST - The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) and I visited the markets in Sydney last week-end and we saw potatoes for sale retail at 10 lb. for ls. Potatoes were cheaper than most vegetables on the market, yet in spite of this fact the Minister for Health and Social Services desired the embargo on the importation of potatoes from New Zealand to be lifted. Representations to this end were made to the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and some New Zealand potatoes were admitted, more as an experiment than otherwise. It was found that their quality was not equal to that of Australian potatoes and very few were put on the market. As far as I can understand the Minister for Health and Social Services desires the embargo to be lifted permanently. This would be a very unfair action to take. If that policy were adopted we should find a few traders in Sydney bartering oranges for potatoes, and the whole potato-growing industry, not only in Tasmania, but also in Victoria and New South Wales, might be ruined. The high prices of which we have heard so much were maintained for only a little while. They were caused by drought conditions and were of no value to the potatogrowers. We all are aware that in consequence of drought conditions, meat wa3 sold for a period at ls. per lb., but this did not benefit the graziers, many of whom suffered the loss of the best of their stock. If the late rains had not fallen, feed would still have been short, and meat prices would have remained high. Now feed is plentiful and growing conditions generally have been good. Consequently, meat and vegetable prices have fallen. The Minister representing the Minister for Commerce should explain why he identified himself with the numerous protests made at meetings held in Sydney at which the late Prime Minister and the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) were accused of working a ramp in connexion with the potato market. At those meetings, it was also insinuated that the potato-growers were nil too ready to rob the people at the first opportunity presented to them. The Minister is reported, to have said at one of these meetings -

The Commonwealth Government should immediately and permanently lift the embargo on Kew Zealand potatoes.

I have here clippings of newspaper reports of a number of meetings which the honorable gentleman attended, and on reading them one gathers the impression that he was looked upon as a sort of a hero because he was in favour of allowing the importation of New Zealand potatoes. I point out that New Zealand has also suffered a drought this year and that the price of potatoes in the dominion is not much cheaper than in Australia. I have no hesitation in saying that on the average the Australian potato is superior to the New Zealand potato. On examining a trial shipment a few weeks ago, an inspector declared that half of one shipment of New Zealand potatoes could not be allowed to go on the Australian market. Only last Monday, when I was in Sydney, I read a newspaper report that 80 per cent, of a shipment of Tasmanian potatoes was not fit for human consumption. When I went to the wharf and asked the inspector to allow me to examine that particular portion of the shipment, he said, " We have nothing to do with that statement; it is the press." I found that one consignment was held up, not because any of the potatoes were unfit for human consumption, but because they did not comply with the regulations. Owing to the approach of wet weather, some of the potatoes had developed what is known as second growth. Those potatoes, however, were equal in quality to the potatoes passed by the inspector. I also found that another shipment of 14,000 bags of Tasmanian potatoes had been landed that morning. The report to which I have referred appeared in all of the Sydney newspapers. In view of its lack of foundation, I am convinced that it was purely an effort to disparage Tasmanian potato-growers in order to secure the removal of the embargo on New Zealand potatoes. I remind the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce that in 1936-37 he made no effort to enable potato-growers to secure a payable price on the Australian market. Owing to low prices at that time growers in Tasmania and other States, were obliged to leave their crops to rot in the ground. I mention these facts in defence of the growers generally, and I trust that the Minister will not use his influence in the Cabinet to injure this industry which, undoubtedly, is capable of supplying all of the requirements of the Australian market. [Quorum formed.']

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