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Wednesday, 27 September 1972
Page: 1989

Mr KENNEDY (Bendigo) - 1 wish to raise a few points in relation to the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry. First of all, I want to deal with the position of apple and pear growers. 1 am particularly concerned, however, wilh the position of the fruit growers in my own electorate, particularly those at Harcourt, because almost every single device in the form of assistance by the Federal Government and every measure of assistance provided by the State Government to apple and pear growers has been so limited as to be virtually useless to the people I represent. The problems facing the fruit growers in the Harcourt area have been very severe. There is a danger that the economy of the township of Harcourt as a whole will be effectively subverted by what is being allowed to happen in the fruit industry without assistance from the Commonwealth Government. There is a possibility that the town of Harcourt might eventually jus wither away. For example, there are now only about 64 fruit growers in the Harcourt area compared with about 104 in 1970. Men have been leaving the industry. They, have been transferring in some cases to other industries or they have been going off the land entirely and selling up their properties.

Harcourt Co-op. Fruitgrowers Ltd which employs approximately 29 people has been in financial trouble itself for almost ail of the time that I have been representing the area. There is a danger that it could face more serious problems in the future. If these problems are not tackled by the Commonwealth Government very soon the future of the Harcourt district will be in jeopardy. In the past some of the problems affecting the Harcourt area have included continual frosts, hail storms, bush fires and a whole series of natural disasters. In spite of this the area has received very tittle assistance from the State or Commonwealth Governments. The hail storm which struck the area in December in particular did very extensive damage to the fri; 1 growers. Virtually no-one in the area was insured against hail damage because the type of insurance offered by private enterprise is so costly that it is not worth taking out the insurance. This has been one of the great difficulties, I think, for the apple and pear growers in Australia, that the Commonwealth and States have not found any means of providing insurance against natural disasters such as those I have mentioned.

The stabilisation scheme that the Commonwealth introduced has been valuable; I am not saying that it has not. But it has not provided assistance on the scale that the industry requires. The increase under this Budget by 500,000 bushels of the maximum quantity of apples and pears which may attract the guaranteed payment again, has been useful but it is not of the scale nf assistance that the industry really requires. Recently the Harcourt growers put forward what I thought to be a well documented and well thought out plan of reconstruction for the area which was submitted through me to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). This proposal was rejected. So they have received no assistance in that regard either. Very few of the growers in the area have received any assistance through the rural reconstruction scheme. On the whole probably no more than a handful at the very most has received any assistance under that scheme.

I have been informed by one grower that the Rural Finance and Settlement Commission in Victoria has been instructed by the Commonwealth Government that fruit growers are not to receive assistance through the Commonwealth rural reconstruction scheme. This has been very damaging to growers in the area. Recently one grower who had a very good property and good security applied for assistance under the farm build-up scheme in order to purchase a neighbouring orchard. Of course, he was knocked back. He had to obtain finance from a traditional lending source at twice the cost through the rural reconstruction scheme.

The tree pulling compensation scheme, again, is of some assistance but it is too restricted. Virtually nobody in the Harcourt area has any chance of benefiting from this scheme. For many, of course, it came too late because they have just left their properties. For many others it is too restrictive because many of them, especially those affected by the series of natural disasters that has hit them, have taken extra employment outside their orchards and this, of course, has disqualified them from receiving assistance under the scheme. They are now receiving a major portion of their income from sources other than fruit growing. I would like to read an article from the .7-:-------- Times' which circulates in the Harcourt area. The issue of 16th August reported a meeting held on 15th August. It states:

Last night orchardists met at Harcourt to discuss the latest Government proposal to help the fruitgrower - the Tree Pulling Scheme.

This scheme recently announced by the Commonwealth Government was an offer to the States to assist sections of the fruit industry by providing compensation for the removal of fruit trees from orchards and compensation given, administered in Victoria by the Rural Finance and Settlement Commission.

The compensation would encourage old trees to be taken out and enable the grower to diversify into an alternative activity or to leave the industry.

However, after their second meeting on the subject the growers from Harcourt and district could noi find one of their number in the area who would be eligible.

The scheme was considered from all angles. From a neglected orchard; from an orchard ready for development; and from an orchardist looking to diversify. But various requirements ruled out any from qualifying.

If he has got another job, he is ruled out, even if his profitability is threatened, no matter what way it could not be seen by the growers how anyone could benefit by the tree pull scheme in Harcourt - considered generally to be in as difficult circumstances as anywhere in the fruit industry.

So the big question was - just who will gain from it?

The meeting ended at a late hour feeling disappointed, and hostile with the belief it was more of a political gesture.

The report continues:

It was said that the 'help' offered to growers so far, that of hail damage offers, rural reconstruction, and the present offer with the tree pull scheme, the amount of real help handed out had to growers had been infinitesimal.

In addition, if a grower wanted to keep in the industry he would find it virtually impossible to re-plant and keep an income off an orchard if he could get tree pull compensation.

That is a rather scathing condemnation of the scheme. Obviously there are people in that area who would appreciate the assistance that is being offered but the assistance does not go far enough. Generally speaking the exporters are not being assisted to overcome the problems facing them because of the refusal of the Government to introduce a single statutory marketing authority. We are not tackling the grave problem of rising costs of production and competition in our markets. One way we could describe the Government's proposal in regard to the apple and pear industry is that it allows the patient to get sick and once he is on the verge of death the Government helps to pay part of the cost of the aspro. The basic problems facing this industry are not being tackled.

I would like to refer very briefly to the egg industry. There is gross over-production in this industry, not through any fault of the industry but because of a failure of State governments, particularly the Victorian Government, to agree on production controls on a nation-wide basis. There is vast over-production in the industry. It is estimated that to store 18,000 tons of egg pulp this year will cost about $1.7m. The assistance of $750,000 offered by the Government will be useful but it is not sufficient. The basic problem facing egg producers is that they need a guaranteed cost of production of 28c. When the egg producers' representatives spoke to the Minister they pointed out that it would cost $3. 5m to cover the costs of production. I believe this to be a reasonable request. They needed this financial assistance to tide them over until such time as they can gain the benefits of production control on a nation-wide basis. This assistance has not been offered to them and therefore it means that as the assistance is not forthcoming hundreds of egg producers will leave this industry over the next year.

This industry is a basic prop to the economy in my electorate and any decline in the industry is a threat to the economy in that area. For example, I have been informed that since July 1971 there are now 244 fewer producers supplying eggs in the Bendigo and in the northern district, 82 of whom derived most of their income from egg production. Many of the farmers in the area I represent have been going off their properties as a result of falling prices and rising costs of production. They are being squeezed off their properties. I believe they have a case for much more assistance than the Government has provided so far. I believe they have a case for a guaranteed cost of production on their returns to give them some protection until they can obtain the benefits of national controls over production.

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