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Tuesday, 15 May 1928

Mr STEWART (Wimmera) .- I did not have an opportunity to speak during the second-reading debate, and I do not propose now to deal with all the various points that have been raised by other honorable members. As has been stated, the clause under discussion is really the bill, and I observe that in the discussion on it, you, sir, have allowed honorable members to deal with almost every aspect of the wine industry. Though I do not wish to speak at length, I desire to make my position clear. As a representative of a large number of primary producers who are vitally concerned in the Government's proposal to reduce the bounty, I, together with the honorable members for Wakefield and Angas, joined a number of grape-growers from South Australia on a deputation to the Prime Minister to discuss this matter. There is no doubt that they are very much concerned over the proposed action of the Government. The right honorable the Prime Minister and the Minister in charge of the bill have emphasized, over and over again, that the Government has the interests of the grapegrowers at heart, but the Minister has suggested that, in advancing reasons why the bounty should not be reduced, the wine-makers were attempting to mislead me and other honorable members. He endeavoured to persuade the committee that in spite of all that had been said by the wine-makers, and by certain honorable members in their Con. stituencies, it was possible, owing largely to changed circumstances in Great Britain, for the industry to carry on under the reduced bounty. In effect, the Minister's statement was calculated to make one believe that the wine-makers were endeavoring to " put one over " honorable members. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) that when we were considering legislation for a bounty on wine for export a blunder was made in not granting assistance to the dried fruit-growers, concurrently with the growers of doradillo grapes. Why should a bounty be given to growers of doradillo grapes and denied to producers of dried fruits ? The point has not been sufficiently stressed that the producer of doradillo grapes, and of dried fruits is not infrequently one and the same person. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) has submitted an amendment to clause 3. Evidently he fears that without the provision which he seeks to include in the bill, there will be a tendency to increase the acreage devoted to the growth of doradillo grapes. I should like to point out that the increase in production of wine has been due, not to increased acreage, but to the fact that a large quantity of grapes previously absorbed by the dried-fruits industry has been diverted into the wine-making industry. We had an unfortunate experience during the war years in connexion with the granting of a bounty upon canned fruits. So many leakages occurred that it would have been better if the Government had bought all the fruit from the growers and buried it. It appears that under this bill the wine-makers' measure will be full and running over, but, unfortunately, the growers will get only that which runs over, which may be nothing. I endorse the remarks of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) concerning the unwisdom of introducing the bill at this juncture. The time is most inopportune. The Government, if it had intended to reduce the bounty, should have taken action much earlier, instead of waiting until the middle of the season when the grapes were being picked. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Cook) appeared to balance on the tight rope very well indeed. He seemed to be torn with conflicting emotions. He did not wish to criticize unduly the Government, and at the same time he desired to put himself right in the eyes of fruit-growers in his constituency. The honorable member has my sympathy. The honorable member for Boothby (Mr. DuncanHughes) chided him gently for his attitude. The clause touches a very important issue. The problem of markets is really the problem of the cost of production. This bill affects vitally the future of settlers in the Murray valley and the huge works undertaken by the Government to ensure the success of settlers engaged in the fruit-growing industry. The Minister suggested that the deputation of fruitgrowers which waited upon him in Melbourne last September had asked that the export bounty should be sufficient to bring the price received for all dried fruits for export up to the level of Australian prices. That is not the position. What they asked for was a bounty sufficient to return to the grower his cost of production. It is significant that all those engaged in the industry - the Australian Dried Fruits Association, the wine-makers, the doradillo growers, and the Returned Soldiers' League are unanimous in urging upon the Government that the passage of this bil1 will create a very serious position. If, as the result of this reduction in the bounty, wine-makers refuse to huy grapes in the usual quantities, and at a payable price, the effect will be that a very large proportion of the grapes now used in wine-making will revert to the dried-f ruits industry. This is a point which I wish to impress strongly upon the Government. The problems of .the industry will not be solved by this reduction; but other problems will be created. I was glad to hear the Leader of the Opposition and other honorable members on both sides of the chamber support an export bounty on dried fruits. Whether the growers are producing doradillo grapes or any other drying varieties of fruit, if they are engaged in an industry that depends upon an export trade, they are compelled under the present economic system' to compete in the markets of the world, and at the same time submit to Australian costs of production. They have to pay Australian rates of wages, buy Australian implements at high prices, pay high railway freights and water rates, and purchase dear clothing. Sooner or later it will be necessary to face the unanswerable fact that no industry that depends upon export can carry on for long under these conditions. Tt is extraordinary that, while we are spending millions of pounds on water conservation along the Murray Valley, reduced production is being simultaneously preached. But, unless we have a reduction in production costs, we must have either bounties upon exports in the case of all primary industries, or reduced production. These are ugly alternatives; but we cannot escape from the fact that all our primary export industries must choose one of the three. Whatever may be the outcome, it seems to me that the wine-makers, by threats of refusing to buy the grapes if the Government's intention is carried out, are creating a serious position, and I am glad that the Minister recognizes it. The Minister has stated that he will see that the interests of the grape-growers are safeguarded, and I appreciate the manner in which he has committed the Government in that respect. The position r.f the dried fruits industry is bad enough already; but if the Government's present intention is given effect to, and more fruit than heretofore is diverted to the dried fruits industry, the Government, in dealing with the problem of the wine industry, will create a greater problem.

Mr Fenton - "What does the honorable member think of the amendment by the honorable member for Henty?

Mr STEWART - I see no objection to it, except that it will result, as I have already indicated, in reduced production. It is extraordinary that while the Development and Migration Commission has recommended that no further planting of fruits of drying varieties be made-

Mr Gregory - That matter will come up for consideration later.

Mr STEWART - But the interests of the two industries are so inter-related that they should not be discussed separately. This Parliament is going ahead with the development of the Murray Valley, and spending millions in water conservation; but the Government has said, " No further production of wine grapes.*' Concurrently, the Development and Migration Commission has recommended that there be no further planting of fruits for drying purposes. It is a most serious situation when a young country like Australia, with all its potentialities for development, should adopt as a slogan, " No further production." Personally, I see no help for it. The people of Australia and this Parliament must realize that the primary producers engaged in export industries cannot longer continue to meet the high costs of production and compete in the world's market- without assistance of some description. The growers of doradillo grapes and denied to down under the strain, and they have been followed by the dried fruits and dairying industries. The next section to be reduced to this pitiable condition will be the wheat-growers, and when they collapse it will be a sad day for Australia. The Government accepts the amendment moved by the honorable member for Henty, and I am prepared to vote for it.

Mr Parsons - It is harmless.

Mr STEWART - Yes ; but it is significant in that it is a gesture of no increased production. If there are to be no further bounties, then I am in favour of the curtailment of production in the vine-growing and every other primary industry.

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