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Thursday, 10 March 1977
Page: 98

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) (Minister for Primary Industry) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of these 3 Bills- the one that I have now presented, the Apple and Pear Stabilization Export Duty Amendment Bill 1977, which I shall present shortly, and a further Apple and Pear Stabilization Export Duty Collection Amendment Bill 1977, which I am also about to present- is to extend the support provided under the apple and pear stabilisation scheme for 1976 exports of apples and pears to exports in the 1977 season.

In my second reading speech last year, when introducing the Bills to apply the apple and pear stabilisation scheme to the 1976 export season, I indicated that the application of the scheme to the 1976 season was an interim measure only pending receipt of the final report of the Industries Assistance Commission on the scheme. The Commission's final report and its recommendations were considered by the Government last September. As I indicated publicly at the time the Government decided not to accept the Commission's recommendation that the level of support for apples under the scheme be reduced for 1977 exports and the scheme itself be terminated at the end of the 1977 season. Instead the Government decided to continue the scheme in 1977 at the same level of support as was given in 1976. The application of the stablisation scheme to apples in the 1977 export season will therefore again be based on a maximum level of support of $2 per box and a maximum quantity eligible for support of 2 million boxes. Support as in 1976 will be limited to sales 'at risk' to Europe, including the United Kingdom.

The Government is also in consultation with interested States about a supplementary assistance program for 1977 which could involve, jointly funded with the States, an additional $ lm to assist apple exports. The position of the fruit industry is quite serious and I am sure that the combination of the extension of the stabilisation scheme and the supplementary assistance will help to overcome many of the difficulties that producers now face. Some State governments ave not been inclined to support this additional measure, however. Subject to finalisation of arrangements, this may result in significantly less assistance to the apple and pear industry in those States than that available elsewhere in Australia. The lack of sensitivity of those few States which are now declining to pick up this additional assistance is very much to be regretted as it will have an adverse affect in overcoming the economic plight of fruit growers.

In respect of pears the 1976 levels will apply also in 1977- namely, a maximum level of support of 80 cents per box and a maximum quantity eligible for support of 1.4 million boxes. As in 1976, the support will be limited to sales 'at risk' to Europe, including the United Kingdom, and North America. Apple exports to the United Kingdom and Europe in 1976 were almost 2.4 million boxes, about 1 million boxes below the 1975 figure. Returns from these shipments were most disappointing. This was due largely to the oversupply of northern hemisphere fruit and higher shipments from other southern hemisphere countries, which resulted in generally lower prices. Returns to growers were also diminished by increased production and handling costs as well as higher overseas freight rates.

Although pear exports in 1976 to the United Kingdom and Europe, at 834 000 boxes, were slightly down from the 85 1 000 boxes shipped in 1975, prices obtained were also generally unsatisfactory. In the result, support under the scheme for the eligible markets in 1976 amounted to about $3. 9m for apples and a little over $280,000 for pears. Several of the factors that operated so disadvantageously against Australian exports in 1976 can be expected to create difficulties again in 1977 and it is important that the industry have once again the basic guarantees provided by the scheme.

When I announced the Government's decision last September, I pointed out that it was necessary that the industry should understand that the present level of support could not continue indefinitely. During 1977, the Government will be looking at the industry situation and considering the appropriate support level which might apply in 1978. At that time the Government would be expecting a phasing down in the level of assistance. But one would hope that the economic circumstances of the industry are such that this would be possible.

The opportunity presented by the Bills has been taken to introduce into the procedures of the Apple and Pear stabilisation scheme a provision to authorise the payment of advances against seasonal stabilisation payments. Such a provision already exists in the other fruit stabilisation scheme, the dried vine fruits stabilisation scheme. The apple and pear export trade is unfortunately characterised by great uncertainty as to its ultimate returns and advance payments before market results are substantially known may not be practicable. There is the possibility, however, that advances could be made after marketing and before the fairly complex and intricate stabilisation figures are finalised. The various possibilities will be investigated to see whether advance procedures can be implemented which protect the revenue from the risks of over-payments on the one hand but which are administratively practicable, and which result in advance payments sufficiently early to be of real benefit to this badly affected industry. The Bills also amend their respective principal Acts to convert certain units and measures to metric equivalents. I commend the Bills to honourable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr Scholes) adjourned.

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