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Thursday, 1 October 1936

Senator BRENNAN (Victoria) (Assistant Minister) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill, in the form of an amendment of the Prune Bounty Act No. 6 of 1936, provides for payment of id. per lb. to the prune-growers of Australia on prunes exported during the year 1936. The estimated cost of the bounty is £4,500. The bounty will be paid on the prunes exported, or on the equivalent of dried prunes if such prunes were processed prior to export.

In February of this year, representations were made to the Government by the growers from all the producing States. They approached the Government for financial assistance to meet losses sustained on their products during 1935. Export prices overseas fell to an alarming extent in that year, and the returns to growers decreased to such an extent that they found, themselves in financial difficulties. This was due primarily to reductions of imports of Califor nian prunes by Germany, with a resultant increase of supplies to the markets of the United Kingdom.

Since the war, increased plantings of prunes under repatriation schemes have resulted in a considerable expansion of production, with the result that practically 50 per cent, of the crop has to be exported. ' Markets have been developed in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada, and under normal conditions a reasonable return on exports and local sales is obtained. Conditions over the last two years, however, have been extremely difficult. Prices f.o.b. of prunes exported from California to the United Kingdom fell from 5f cents per lb. in January, 1934, to 44 cents per lb. in January, 1935, and to 2J cents per lb. in January, 1936. The market did not show any signs of recovery until April this year, and latest quotations indicate an increase of about 1 cent per lb.

Californian prunes dominate the market in the United Kingdom, so that the position is still unsatisfactory for the Australian producer, whilst the prices of Californian prunes are depressed.

In view of all the circumstances, the Government decided to render some assistance to the industry to enable it to meet immediate losses. A bounty of |d. per lb. on exports during 1935 and id. per lb. on exports during 1936 was approved at estimated costs of £8,400 and £4,500 respectively. The bounty for 1935 was given effect by the passing of the Prune Bounty Act last session, and the bill now submitted sanctions the bounty in respect of exports for this year. In the Prune Bounty Act 1936, provision was made under section 6 for the quantity of prunes in respect of which bounty shall be payable to a grower to be the quantity certified by the prescribed authority within the meaning of the Dried Fruits Act 1928-1935 to have been exported. As the latter act is affected by the decision in the Privy Council case of James v. the Commonwealth, it is necessary to provide for " a prescribed authority" instead of a prescribed authority under the Dried Fruits Act. The section has been amended accordingly.

The Government does not desire to encourage this industry to seek a continuance of bounties on export and has indicated that no further bounties will be paid on this commodity. The market requirements overseas have not been given sufficient attention by those engaged in the industry, and & large quantity of small sized prunes has been exported, although the demand greatly favours prunes of larger size. This high proportion of small fruit is a very unsatisfactory feature of the industry, which at present is capable of much improvement. In this regard, the Government has taken steps to improve the efficiency of the industry. The Agricultural Council at its meeting in May, 1936, discussed this matter and approved of the Government's plan, that a conference be called to deal with proposals for the improvement of efficiency and of -marketing methods. Following on the recommendation of the Agricultural Council, the Government convened a conference of representatives of the industry, the Departments of Agriculture, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Department of Commerce, in Sydney, on the 31st August last, when suggestions for the betterment of the industry were discussed. The conference was of the opinion that the elimination of small prunes is desirable and decided to request the State Departments of Agriculture, in conjunction with growers' organizations, to carry out the necessary investigational and extension work with a view to bringing this about, The departments were also asked to encourage growers to work over the less desirable varieties, and extend publicity work in connexion with the picking, handling, and drying of prunes. It is hoped that in this way. a general improvement of the industry will be achieved. South Australia has already undertaken the preliminary work of a survey of prune orchards, with the object of determining, from district to district, the chief factors concerned in the production of small, inferior prunes. The other 'States are working along similar lines.

It is fully recognized that very difficult problems await solution before the prune industry in Australia can be regarded as : being on a satisfactory basis. But the difficulties are not insurmountable, and it is felt that the Departments of Agriculture, with the assistance of the industry, will be able to work towards a general and progressive improvement in the production of marketing of prunes.

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