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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1860

Mr ANDREW(11.13) —We are dealing tonight in a cognate debate with the Dried Vine Fruits Equalization Amendment Bill 1984, the Canned Fruits Marketing Amendment Bill 1984, the Canned Fruits Levy Amendment Bill 1984 and the Canned Fruits Levy Collection Amendment Bill 1984 (No. 2).

The dried vine fruit industry legislation proposes to accelerate payments to growers and the canned fruits industry legislation is designed to extend the life of the Australian Canned Fruits Corporation. The honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) has already given the statistical background to the dilemmas that face both these industries. In supporting the legislation before the House, the Opposition recognises that neither proposal will cost the Commonwealth money and, of course, neither is opposed by the Opposition.

It is appropriate that tonight we should deal with these Bills in a cognate debate because they cover industries which, while very different, have very similar problems. They cover industries that are located in similar geographical areas-from the Riverland in South Australia to the Sunraysia and the Golburn Valley in the eastern States. I make no apology for standing tonight in defence of these industries. Too often they are seen as peasant industries when in reality they occupy part of what is the fourth largest primary industry in Australia. It is only as a result of skilful scientific application of primary industry knowledge, such as, for example, selective plant breeding and, as a result, increased production over the last decade, that either of these industries has been able to survive. That is my first point.

The second point I want to make is that these industries are quality industries . They survive in Australia because Australia's quarantine regulations are so strict. We consequently produce quality fruit. They survive in Australia because the fruit is grown in veritable Gardens of Eden. They are grown steeped in sunshine. They are grown efficiently by any world standards. Thirdly, the dried vine and canned fruits industries are export orientated. They are not industries which seek support or protection in order to survive in the Australian domestic market. These industries grew to meet an export demand and they generate valuable export dollars.

Fourthly, these are industries which face subsidised competition and much of the overseas competition that these industries face is non-tariff barrier competition. The competition receives low interest loans or grants to enable it to occupy export markets that were historically occupied by the Australian crop. Fifthly, these industries face the real threat of imports because as subsidised production occurs overseas so it becomes more and more difficult for the Australian market to be insulated from the reality of subsidised markets overseas.

The honourable member for Ballarat (Mr Mildren) had a great deal to say about why these industries have been in demise. But he failed to touch on the fundamental point that these are industries with long lead times. The dried vine fruit industry and, even more acutely, the canning fruit industry in Australia are facing permanent demise unless growers are encouraged to plant trees. Even with the best will in the world and the best horticultural information we have available to us, it is not possible to put a tree into production under four or five years. Unless we encourage people to stay in the industry we will lose a valuable export earner for Australia.

These are labour intensive industries, which, by primary production standards, require relatively low capital to get into. These industries are occupied by our characteristic Aussie battler. They were commenced originally by soldier settlers and in many instances have now been taken over by migrants who have come to us from European countries. It is in defence of these industries and these people, who are prepared to work and commit their families to heavy work schedules, that the Government needs to be acting now.

The problem with these Bills is not that there is anything wrong with them but that they do nothing to address the basic problem facing Australia's horticultural and viticultural industries. It is all very well for the honourable member for Ballarat to talk about falling interest rates but that is only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem facing these industries is that we have ceased to be competitive overseas because our wage costs and our on-costs are so exorbitantly high compared with those of our overseas competitors.

Mr Robert Brown —Why do you bash the workers all the time?

Mr ANDREW —I am not intentionally bashing the workers; I am facing the uncomfortable dilemma that we are being priced out of overseas markets by a government that is at present before the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission arguing in favour of an 8.3 per cent increase in wages over and above indexation. It is that sort of action from the Government which will ensure that the industries I represent tonight will face a further demise. It is not the simplicity of low interest rates, as outlined by the honourable member for Ballarat; it is the reality of living beyond our means.

These are labour intensive industries. There is work to be done. In Australia today there are unemployed people. These industries need a government which is prepared to be imaginative about the way it gets work done in labour intensive industries and about the way it goes about promoting fundamentally healthy foods designed for a healthy Australia. It is simply not good enough to bring these Bills into the House without further positive steps to support these labour intensive, long lead time industries. I take the liberty of quoting from a Press release by the then shadow Minister for Primary Industry on 12 May 1982. Mr Kerin, talking about the then Federal Government, said:

All the Federal Government could think of to help canning fruit growers was an IAC Inquiry . . .

Since this Government came to office the assistance that the canning fruit growers have received has been two Industries Assistance Commission inquiries into the dried vine fruit industry, one into the canning industry, and nothing else. Just a little bit of imagination in terms of what could be done for these industries, just a look again at what we could do, for example, in the area of food aid when we are talking about dried vine fruits, would mean that these growers would have an opportunity to believe that there could be a future for the industry. There could therefore be good reason for orchard and vineyard regeneration which, as I have said, will take up to five years.

Mr Robert Brown —You fellows had seven years and you did nothing.

Mr ANDREW —I remind the interjector that he is currently in government. I conclude by saying that I have sat in this House and heard the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) suggest that because there may be no surpluses in the wine industry the viticulture industry will be out of trouble. The fact that there are no surpluses means nothing at all. Only last weekend I was in my electorate and witnessed frost damage to dried vine blocks-to sultana grape patches-and that very frost damage will ensure that there are no surpluses. That frost damage will do nothing to relieve the acute problems facing dried vine fruit growers.

I am pleased that these Bills are before the House, but they do nothing to address the fundamental problems that the growers I represent face every day.