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Wednesday, 8 May 1985
Page: 1902

Mr PETER FISHER(10.02) —I second this amendment and I remind the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) that we are not talking about an inefficient industry. We are talking about probably the most efficient dried fruit industry in the world; we are talking about a region in Australia that has attempted to diversify to the best of its capacity. The Sunraysia region in my electorate probably supplies to Australian markets as diverse as Darwin, Brisbane and Sydney every day the greatest range of primary products necessary for human consumption. I mention that because this amendment is an attempt to hold to at least 25 per cent the levy that is proportionable to equalised returns and average export returns so as better to meet the needs of this industry.

I would sooner have a different amendment. I do not believe that the industry can stand continual Industries Assistance Commission reports, but I do believe the 25 per cent figure is adequate and that that would provide realistic support in the times when it is most required-that is, during the violent down-turns experienced on the export market. As I have already explained this afternoon, 25 per cent will not provide excessive assistance, if any, in years of better returns when high prices indicated by the formula would not and could not be achieved on the Australian market. I take exception to the Minister's views that the dried vine fruit industry-in fact, any primary industry-does not have the responsibility to index its returns on the domestic market to the best that it can possibly obtain. In fact, the Minister has suggested tonight that some $1,400 is an adequate return on the Australian domestic market for dried vine fruit. In 1980 the return for dried vine fruit on the Australian market was $2,360. What the Minister is suggesting is a drop of almost 50 per cent in domestic returns to Australian vine fruit growers. I ask him whether he is prepared to go out into the community and tell Australian wage and salary earners that they should accept a drop of 50 per cent in their indexed wages and salaries. I am sure he is not. I believe that the Australian Dried Fruits Association has acted responsibly and successfully in setting domestic prices on the Australian market. This can best be gauged by the fact that over the last few years the Association has increased domestic returns by some 5 per cent annually, indicating that consumers in this country are prepared to pay the prices it is setting.

While the boom years brought about an entree into the Australian dried fruit industry that in some cases proved unsuccessful, it also provided for the largest percentage of dried fruit producers the first opportunity since the establishment of the Australian dried fruit industry throughout so many of our regional communities to upgrade their domestic living conditions at least to some standard and quality that is available to other Australians. I believe that the Minister should be condemned for believing that the booms in Australian agricultural prices should not be as acceptable to the Australian community as the down periods.

I believe that clause of the Dried Vine Fruits Equalisation Levy Amendment Bill indicates a very short-sighted approach by the Government and does not take into consideration the long term nature of vine plantings and particularly the highly variable nature of production and returns. The high variance in production and returns indicates that 15 per cent assistance does not provide sufficient support in the extreme or low income years, while the 15 per cent built into the Government's proposals is not required in years such as the boom years of the 1980s that the Minister mentioned. The greatest shortcoming is that the average assistance given to the dried fruit industry was reported by the IAC as being 15 per cent over the past 11 years. The Australian Dried Fruits Association believes that this long term average of 15 per cent is therefore an appropriate benchmark against which the industry should have been judged and not the extreme depressed year of 1984 that we have just passed through.

I believe that the honourable member for Burke (Mr O'Keefe) attempted to perpetuate the fallacy that is put forward in this place so often by members of the Australian Labor Party that this industry receives or other rural industries receive one subsidy after another. The honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Milton) made the same interjection just moments ago. I remind the Committee that the Australian dried fruit industry is expected to receive, through subsidisation by taxpayers in this country, $1.3m-$1.3m going to 17,000 people dependent on the Australian dried fruit industry. However, people on the other side of the chamber are prepared to support a $14m subsidy on the manufacture of headers in a western Melbourne suburb that supports the jobs of only 260 people. There is absolutely no equity in that and I believe that anyone who believes that the sorts of measures that we are suggesting tonight are an excessive subsidy should look again at what he is proposing. I cannot agree with the Australian Labor Party view that rural products should be purchased in this country at Third World prices. This had been said tonight by the honourable member for Burke and it has been indicated by the Minister for Primary Industry.

I also briefly point to some of the demographic changes that have taken place in the dried fruit industry regions over the last few years, where so many of the households today are characterised by younger age structures, by larger household sizes and by high concentrations of overseas born persons of non-English speaking origins. In my region of Sunraysia, 24 per cent of growers have lived on their present properties for five years or less; 100 per cent of Turkish born growers have lived on their properties for five years or less; 35 per cent of Italian born growers and 44 per cent of Australian born growers have lived on their farms for less than 11 years.

In this Bill the Minister has accepted an IAC report that failed to take into account highly relevant considerations and I wish to emphasise them again in closing. The IAC did not project any results of its recommendations on the incomes of producers or the large regional communities they support. It did not target any optimum production levels for this industry. It did not account for the social welfare effects of these recommendations and it did not account for the increased unemployment in areas that already have rates double the national average.

I reject this Bill. I believe that the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition will go a long way towards meeting the needs of the industry. In closing, I mention the tremendous trauma and difficulties that the officials of the Australian Dried Fruits Association have faced in bearing the burden of this industry's problems over the last 18 months. I believe that they have done an outstanding job in endeavouring to consult with a government that has not been prepared to consult to the fullest. I believe that the market entitlement scheme they proposed would have met the needs of the industry, would have produced the market signals for growers and would have brought about the type of required adjustment, without the harmful effects we are going to see with the implementation of this equalisation levy.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Rocher) —It being 10.15 p.m., I shall report progress.

Progress reported.