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Thursday, 30 August 1906

Senator DOBSON (Tasmania) .- When the Commerce Bill was before the Senate, I remember that I impressed upon honorable senators opposite the necessity of exempting fruit and potatoes from its provisions. There is all the difference in the world between the export of fruit and potatoes and the export of articles like butter, and other goods which can be adulterated, and the adulteration of which can be discovered only after analysis. I pointed out that in the case of potatoes a purchaser opens a bag and looks at its contents. It is not necessary that thev should be certified to as being sound and clean. because he can see whether they are sound and clean for himself.

Iri the same way at Covent Garden an intending purchaser of apples can have the top knocked off one or of fifty cases before he buys them, and the article is then plainly before him. Although I am quite sure that our honorable friends opposite desire to do nothing to discourage our export trade, I am quite certain that that will be the effect of these regulations, because they will put obstacles in its way. From some remarks which have fallen fi om him, I think that the Minister does not quite understand the difficulty of the position in which Tasmanian exporters are placed with regard to the export of apples and potatoes. We export from 300,000 to 400,000 cases of apples in a season. The Minister says that the apples will be on the wharf waiting to be shipped. But in very many cases that will not be so. Sometimes Jones and Company, who manage the greater part of the export business in Hobart, have arranged for the shipment of so many cases of Cleopatras, or of Adams Permail] apples, and it is found that at the time they should be shipped they are not quite matured. Jones and Company may receive a wire from the grower, to the effect, " Adams Per,main not fit for shipment for another week." and thev then have to telegraph to some other district such as that of New Norfolk, which is not so moist as is the Huon district, to send down, perhaps, 500 cases of apples to take their place, on the very morning that the ship is to sail. The apples have then to be brought to the wharf and taken on board by the big steamer, which may be delayed an hour or two, in order to receive them. Does not the Minister see how difficult it would be in such a case to comply with the regulation requiring all these brands to be put on the cases ? What I ask the honorable senator to do is to prevent these regulations becoming law, until he has made inquiries from experts as to the cost of carrying them out. How are these lengthy brands to be put on 500 or 1,000 bags of potatoes? I never saw any one try to brand potatoes. I have seen, woolpacks branded, but they present a surface almost as firm as the side of a box.

Senator Playford - How is a bag of flour branded ?

Senator DOBSON - It presents a much more even surface than does a bag of potatoes. I ask the Minister in justice to the representations of the Hobart Chamber of Commerce, and of men who export more apples, than are exported from any other

State in the Commonwealth, and who have pioneereed and created the English marker for Australian fruit, not to allow the regulations with respect to fruit and potatoes to become law until he has ascertained by reliable evidence what the cost of carrying them into effect is going to be. I think that is a reasonable request, and I hope it will be acceded to. Owing to bad weather or floods, growers may not be able to supply the potatoes they have undertaken to supply, and it may be necessary for the shipper to telegraph to Burnie or to Devonport at the last moment, to know whether 500 bags of potatoes can be obtained from some other source, to complete a shipment.

Senator Mulcahy - This does not affect the interchange of products between the States.

Senator DOBSON - I am aware that it does not, but we ship potatoes to some places outside of the State, and I hope we shall do so to a greater extent in the future. As Senator Mulcahy has said, instead of encouraging our exporters the action taken is calculated to discourage them.

Senator Turley - Will potatoes be shipped to South Africa from Tasmania in bags ?

Senator DOBSON - Potatoes are shipped in bags now.

Senator Turley - There will not be one shipment of potatoes in bags.

Senator DOBSON - They may have to be shipped in boxes. I think that Senators Macfarlane and Mulcahy have made out a good case, and in deference to the representations of the Hobart Chamber of Commerce the Minister should take every precaution to ascertain the cost which will be involved under these regulations, and should obtain the opinion of experts on, the subject before allowing them to become law.

Senator Sir RICHARDBAKER (South Australia) [4.58]. - I should like to say a word or two on this matter, because I have some practical experience in the shipping of apples. I venture to suggest that the Minister of Defence does not know very much about that subject. The honorable senator has made one or two statements which, I think, justify me in saying that. First of all he stated by interjection that we get a better price for our South Australian apples, because there is inspection of the export in that State. As a matter of fact, there is no inspection of the export of South Australian apples.

Senator Playford - I did not say any such thing.

Senator Sir RICHARD BAKER - I certainly understood the honorable senator to say so.

Senator Dobson - The Minister said so by interjection distinctly.

Senator Playford - What I said, by way of interjection, was that if the Tasmanian people had inspection they would very likely get a better price for their apples.

Senator Sir RICHARDBAKER.The Minister certainly made some statement with respect to South Australia in this connexion. However, the fact is that there is no inspection of the export of apples in South Australia. I obtained a letter from the manager of the Export Department, in which he stated that out of 70,000 cases shipped only 13,000 cases were inspected, and I gave that information to Senator .Macfarlane. The reason that those thirteen cases were inspected was simply that they were being shipped through the State Export Department. Another statement of Senator Playford was that apples are not shipped in small quantities; but, as a matter of fact, I myself have frequently shipped twenty cases, and, last season, as few as ten cases, at a time. There is no difficulty or trouble about shipping a small number of cases.

Senator Playford - It is not usual.

Senator Sir RICHARD BAKER - If honorable senators imagine that firms who ship 20,000 or 30,000 cases always ship their own apples they are quite mistaken. In South Australia one of the largest shipping firms, Messrs. George Wills and Co., who often export 20,000 cases, never ship any of their own apples; and only a little while ago I was speaking to another exporter in a large way of business, who has, during the last two or three years, shipped annually, on the average, 20,000 cases, nearly all of which, however, were from small growers, for whom he merely acted as agent. This shipper told me that only on rare occasions did he purchase apples to fill up the space for freight he had engaged, and never when he could avoid doing so. 1 do not know what is the case in Tasmania, but I can say that in South Australia the great bul'k of the apples shipped are from small growers; and I ask my friends of the Labour Party not to play into the hands of the middlemen by adopting regulations which will undoubtedly have that effect. I understand that one of the main principles of the Labour Party is that the consumer and the producer should be brought as nearly together as possible - that the middlemen should not be unduly helped. The Minister of Defence alluded to the suggestions made by representatives of the apple trade; but it must be remembered that all those representatives were middlemen.

Senator Playford - Is Mr. Laver a middleman ?

Senator Sir RICHARD BAKER - Yes.

Senator Playford - He is nothing of the sort ; he is a gardener and grower.

Senator Sir RICHARD BAKER - He is a grower and a middleman as well. What I say is that none of the small producers were represented on that occasion.

Senator Keating - The argument of Senator Baker could be used against Chambers of Commerce, which consist of middlemen.

Senator Sir RICHARD BAKER - I am speaking of the shipment of apples, of which I have had personal experience ; and I emphatically assert that these regulations unduly favour and help the middlemen to the detriment of the primary producer, who' by these regulations is asked to place no fewer than eight different brands on the cases for export. To begin with, the intending exporter has to place "apples" on the case, in order to describe the contents. Then he has to show on the case the net weight; though why there is this regulation I cannot conceive, in view of the declaration just made by Senator Playford, that apples should be sold not by the weight, but by the bushel. The third inscription which has to be placed on the case is the name of the State, followed by the word " Australia." When Sir William Lyne was in South Australia a deputation waited upon him with a request that "South Australia" should be considered sufficient, in view of the fact that these words combine both State and Commonwealth. Sir William Lyne promised to give the matter consideration; but, so far as I know, he has not done so - certainly the regulations do not show that the request has been favorably considered. Then, in addition, the producer must place " sound " or " unsound " on the case. Now, who on earth would be such a fool as to place " unsound " on cases of apples which he was exporting ? Undoubtedly, an exporter would inscribe the word "sound" ; but I can see no necessity for this regulation.

Senator Playford - The producer has not to inscribe "sound" or "unsound," but has to state the condition of the apple.

Senator Sir RICHARD BAKER - In what way could a producer describe the condition without the use of either of those words ? According to regulation ' 8 -

In the case of fruit and potatoes, the trade description shall specify their condition as to soundness. '

Senator Playford - Yes, " their condition as to soundness."

Senator Sir RICHARDBAKER.What description could a producer give except " sound " or " unsound " ?

Senator Mulcahy - If Senator Baker looks at page 6 of the regulations he will see that the trade description must be given by declaration.

Senator Sir RICHARDBAKER.I shall deal with that point by-and-by. For his own protection, the producer has to place on the case a description of the apples, showing their grade ; because it is no good exporting apples unless they have been carefully selected, graded, and packed.

Senator Playford - There is nothing about grading in the regulations.

Senator Sir RICHARD BAKER - I know that. But the producer has to give this information for his own protection - in order to get a fair price. If an exporter sends apples which have been carefully selected, graded, and packed, and hits a good market, he may think himself lucky if he averages 12s. a case; but I may point out that the expense of buying cases, packing, shipping, and so forth, comes to very nearly 8s. Under these circumstances, is it reasonable to suppose that a man would export apples which were inferior, when, to do so, would be only to cover himself with loss? Even with the greatest care, apples sometimes deteriorate on the voyage to England, Germany, or elsewhere, in which case they fetch a much lower price than 12s., and heavy loss is incurred. Next, the producer has to send the apples down to some place for examination. That may seem a small matter to honorable senators generally, but it is by no means a small matter to the exporter. If the importer is getting a profit of only is. or 2s. per case, and he has to incur the extra expense of storing them at some place for inspection, that profit disappears. Some time ago, I endeavoured to ship apples to Broken Hill, and I found that the New South Wales authorities, on the plea that there is codlin moth in South Australia, and none at Broken Hill, required the cases to be examined. What harm codlin moth would do at Broken Hill I do 'Snot know, but there is the regulation. When I communicated with the authorities, I was told that if inspectors were sent to my place to carry out the inspection, I would be charged two or three guineas. I pointed out that I did not expect to get more than a profit of is. or is. 6d. per case, and that, under the circumstances, I could not afford to pay three guineas for inspection. I was then informed that I might send my apples down to a store in town, where, on giving two days' notice, I could have them inspected ; but that plan would have run away with still more money. To middlemen and exporters in a large way of business such a regulation is not a serious matter, because they have their own stores in town, and when 500 or 1,000 cases are inspected at once, the cost per case is not large. But in the case of an exporter in a small way, who intends to ship at the outside, say, 50 cases, such arrangements mean ruin ; and, in the face of the difficulties presented, I gave up that branch of the business. I do not say that similar results will happen in every case; but the expense of storing the apples at some place for inspection will be found to be prohibitive to many small growers, who will be forced to sell to the middlemen ; and I am sure that is not an effect which either honorable senators or the Government desire. Further, the producer has to make a declaration as to the soundness or unsoundness of the fruit. I do not know whether honorable senators have considered this aspect of the case; but I repeat that all these obstacles play into the hands of the middlemen. I say nothing about potatoes, because on that point I yield to Senator Playford'ssuperior knowledge. As to apples, however, I can speak with authority, whereas I know that Senator Playford has not had any experience, lately at all events, in the exportation of apples.

Senator MACFARLANE(Tasmania} [5.10]. - I urge upon the Senate the importance of assisting the poor producer. By our legislation we have materially helped large manufacturers, and we ought to do all we possibly can for those engaged in primary production. So far from increasing the expenses in the export business, we ought to keep them down to their lowest limit, and on this ground I ask honorable senators, before it is too late, to adopt the motion I have proposed.

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