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Thursday, 25 October 1956

Mr FALKINDER (Franklin) .- The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) has dealt with this matter in considerable detail, and has given a good deal of information that I had intended to give to the House. I shall not repeat what he has said, and in consequence will probably be commendably brief. In order, however, to put the position clearly before honorable members, I propose to trace the history of the sugar agreement. The agreement really had its birth in 1915, and it was in 1923, when the price of sugar was raised to £30 a ton - a very high price for sugar at that time - that rebates were provided for the benefit of the fruit industry. That was one of the qualifications. Between 1923 and 1930 various adjustments were made to both the price of sugar and the actual rebate, and it was as a result of a report on sugar in 1931. that the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee was formed. The first actual contribution to the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee by the sugar industry was an amount of £315,000, but in 1933 that was reduced to £216,000. It remained at that level until 1951, when the contribution was suspended. Latterly, of course, it has been reintroduced. Although it was argued that the contribution was suspended on the ground that the fund was being built up too greatly, I still say - and I have said this before - that it constituted a breaking down of the orginal agreement.

I desire to make it as clear as I possibly can that sugar rebates are designed to give mutual assistance to both the fruit and the sugar industries. There is, in essence, a form of partnership and the argument that one industry is attempting to live on the back of the other does not really bear examination if one goes back to the basis upon which the agreement was made, and upon which it has been continued.

As has been pointed out, the domestic chute is £2 4s. a ton. lt is paid to processors who comply with certain conditions, the major one being that they will pay prices not lower than those fixed by the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee. Theoretically it is a minimum price, below which no processor may go, but in fact it rather tends to become both the minimum and the maximum. The present rebate is £2 4s. a ton. Originally, in 1931, when sugar was £36 1 ls. a ton, it was £6 5s. Only a year later, when sugar was £32 10s. a ton, it was reduced to £2 4s. As I have already said, it has remained at that figure ever since. If the relationship between the rebate and the price of sugar, which applied in 1931, were maintained the current rebate would be £13 14s., instead of £2 4s.

It has been argued so often as to become public property that in 1952, when there was a sugar inquiry, and subsequently when cases have been presented by the processors and by the fruit industry, sufficient facts, figures and financial information on which to base an increase of the domestic sugar rebate, have not been given. That is a rather peculiar argument inasmuch as in the Department of Trade - formerly the Department of Commerce and Agriculture - one can find all the information on the industry that one needs. The Department of Agriculture in Tasmania has, On several occasions, presented most carefully documented and detailed facts and figures supporting its claims. It would seem that the two governments concerned have become somewhat stubborn on this matter, and do not propose to alter the present rate of domestic sugar rebate. It is now suggested that if certain fruit industries experience real financial difficulty they might make application to the Tariff Board or some similar instrumentality. I have yet to receive an undertaking from any one that that is so and I hope that the Minister, in closing the debate, will give us a definite assurance that a fruit industry which is in real need will be able to make a case before the Tariff Board, and that that case will be heard.

The agreement is to operate for five years. 1 think that that is why the two governments involved have been obstinate, inasmuch as the part that the fruit industry will play ought to be considered in the light of that period. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) has given figures, which I would have given, to demonstrate that during the last few years there has been a drop of about 50 per cent, in the berry fruit acreage in Tasmania. One of the arguments that I have heard used in relation to the present rate of domestic rebate is that there is not much real need for it because in the Goulburn Valley the growers are having a better time than they have had for years. Certainly, the major canneries are in the Goulburn Valley. The berry fruit industry in Tasmania is not the only pebble on the beach. But I am told that the extremely wet winter has led to extensive rotting of peach trees in the Goulburn Valley; that a very high proportion of the trees will be lost and, that within a very short period, replanting will have to begin. If I am any judge of those simple facts, it is obvious that the peachcanning industry in the Goulburn Valley will be in a serious position in a year or two. For that reason. I suggest that what has happened very recently in the Goulburn Valley, or anywhere else, should not be the deciding factor, but rather that we should look ahead over a five-year period.

I am all in favour of the stabilization fund which the honorable member for

Lilley (Mr. Wight) proposed by way of interjection. lt would be worth while thinking in terms of raising the domestic rebate to a more reasonable level and contributing part of it to a stabilization fund. I believe that in that way something really good would be done.

The honorable member for Wilmot referred to fruit-processing costs. I want to give a simple comparison of the change in processing costs since 1950. This tells the story clearly enough: In 1950 wages were £9 3s.; in 1956 they are £12 18s., an increase of 41 per cent. In 1950 sugar was £40 12s. 9d. a ton; in 1956 it is £80, an increase of 100 per cent. In 1950 tins were 40s. 8$d. a gross; in 1956 they are 58s. 5d. a gross, an increase of 43.5 per cent. So it is demonstrably clear that the major increase has been the 100 per cent, rise in the price of sugar. We are asked to approve an increase of £10 a ton in the price of sugar. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) was entirely wrong in suggesting that I had something against the sugar industry. It is entitled to a fair go, but the agreement is two-sided, and I do not think that the fruit industry, as such, is getting a proper deal so far as the domestic rebate is concerned. I do not propose to canvass the other aspect - the export rebate - because I sincerely believe that the export rebate is now at a reasonable level, and that there is an extremely sound case for a real increase in the domestic rebate.

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