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Wednesday, 10 April 1946

Mr McEWEN (Indi) .- This is an important measure. It combines the interests of two great primary industries - sugar and fruit. I am concerned as to its provisions primarily as a representative of one of the great fruit-growing areas of Australia. The sugar agreement has had the effect of stabilizing the fruit canning industry as it had not been stabilized before the agreement was made, and probably would not be stabilized without it or an effective substitute. The bill proposes to ratify once more that provision in the agreement under which £216,000 is derived by the fruit processing industry as a concession in respect of the cost of the sugar that is .used in the exported proportion of the pack. A condition is attached to this subvention, which from time to time fixes the prices of all grades ' of canning and jam fruits, and, I believe, certain other fruits also. As was stated during the debate on other legislation, stability is given to a primary industry by an assured and adequate price combined with full production. The fruit canning industry has had assured prices through the medium of this agreement. The granting of £216,000 a year to the industry would be purposeless if it were not enabled, because of other considerations, to continue in existence. The exports of the fruit canning industry have' been dependent almost entirely upon Empire preferences. It was a combination of this provision, and efficiency within the industry, which lifted it out of a deep trough of depression, and has enabled it for many years to provide a reasonable living for those engaged in it, as well as award rates of pay for every employee. I am happily able to say that with few, if any, exceptions, fruit-growers in the Goulburn Valley have been- for many years content not only to accept Arbitration Court awards, . but also to pay slightly higher than the award rates and to observe meticulously the stipulated conditions of labour. Here is a bright example of the prosperity that can be enjoyed by both principals and' employees when an industry is established on stable grounds. We know that powerful forces in the United States of America are attempting to destroy Empire preference. Current discussion in quite high places indicates that such pressure will be exerted on the United Kingdom as will result in a partial abandonment or modification of Empire preferences in return for the loan by America that is now being negotiated. I can appreciate that some primary industries in Australia which " have enjoyed the benefits of Empire preference - for example, the meat and dairying industries - could sustain themselves even with a modification of Empire preference if, concurrently, the American market were open to their products. There is in that country a market that is hungry for meat and dairy products at a high domestic price level. But canned fruits have no hope whatever of gaining an entry to the American market, because that country has a continuous surplus of

While on the subject, I point out that this measure is a standing exemplification of the fact that where the will exists it is possible to establish the organized marketing of a primary product on lines that are profitable to all engaged in it, even under the Constitution as it now is. Here is an example of primary producers willingly combining and capable of being negotiated with, the State and Commonwealth Governments being two of the principal parties.

Mr Barnard - The Government is fathering them.

Mr McEWEN - Exactly. The Commonwealth Government takes the initiative in gathering them together and preparing an agreement. The Constitution, which we have been told is incapable of enabling us to achieve the organized marketing of primary products and assured prices, has in this instance been demonstrated to. contain adequate provisions to effect that purpose where the will exists in the governments concerned and those who are engaged in the industry. This is one of the most stable of our industries.

Mr Scully - What happens when the will does not exist?

Mr McEWEN - I realize that there are governments without the will to do such things.

Mr Dedman - There are organizations in which the .will does not exist.

Mr McEWEN - I do not know what organizations the honorable gentleman has in mind. If he will name them, I may be able to reply to him.

Mr Chifley - In some branches of primary production, there are two organizations.

Mr McEWEN - The Prime Minister is entirely correct. If producers .are inadequately organized or there are two organizations dealing with the one product, surely the Government should endeavour to merge the two into one adequate organization, so that there would be one body with which negotiations could be conducted !

Mr Chifley - The peculiarity of the sugar industry is that it is practically confined to one State. Therefore, negotiations have to be conducted with only one State government.

Mr McEWEN - This is a simple industry compared with some others. On the statute-book of every parliament there is a stabilization scheme in respect of the wheat industry. That is one of the most difficult industries in which to achieve a completely comprehensive organization of the growers. It has wide ramifications in four major States, and also exists in two States which consider that they would be likely to be adversely affected by a comprehensive organized marketing scheme. Tasmania, being a small producer of wheat, reasonably enough wished to have the benefit of the prevailing low export parity price. Queensland, which did not quite produce all its own requirements, but which enjoyed a natural protection, wished to go on enjoying high local prices. However, even with the existence of those difficulties, it was found possible to get the producers into line in the four States which are major producers of wheat, as well as the two other States which produce it only in small quantities. Out of this agreement has come a comprehensive plan for the stabilization of the .wheat industry. If that could be achieved, as it was, through the agency of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), it can be done in respect of other industries. The sugar industry is another which has been satisfactorily stabilized. 'Therefore, we ought not to despair of stabilizing any other primary industry, the result of referendums notwithstanding.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a- second time.

Tn committee:

Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 (Approval of agreement).

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