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Wednesday, 24 February 1971

Senator LITTLE (Victoria) - I wish to bring to the attention of the Senate and the Government 2 matters which I believe require urgent consideration. Last Tuesday week I raised by way of question the problems facing the fruit canning and the fresh fruit industries of Victoria, particularly in the Goulburn Valley and Harcourt Valley. I do not wish to repeat to the Senate the information which has been given to it already about the very drastic situation in which the pear growers whose fruit is canned find themselves, but I want to press again before the Government the problems of peach growers and the uneconomic prices they are receiving for their product which, in itself, could affect the present and future marketing prospects of our tremendous surplus of pears.

Peaches are in short supply in many of the world's, markets where canned fruits are sold but pears can be obtained without any difficulty. T remind the Senate that overseas buyers will not purchase pears unless peaches are available al the same time. Unless peaches can be supplied this year and next year it will be even more difficult than it is to sell the quantity of canned pears- that we are selling now. Peach growers are reaching the stage at which they are prepared to grub out their trees. This could be disastrous because it will take at- least 10 years to re-establish them and there could be a further depletion in the supply of peaches in the years to come, so we will be further handicapped in our attempts to sell on the world's markets the pears that we are capable of . producing as well as those already in store for next year. This could be a cumulative problem - if the Government does not give immediate attention to the uneconomic prices being paid to peach growers for their crops.

The other particularly urgent matter that I want to raise relates to growers of fresh fruit for export in the Harcourt Valley. They have struck seasonal troubles and climatic changes which have caused tremendous problems. In fact a lot of orchards already have gone out of production while others are in a very doubtful situation and are being assisted by their cooperative which has had to borrow large sums of money to assist the fruit growers in these months of dire necessity. They have to borrow money at the ordinary overdraft rates of interest. I recall that the Government, when it promoted in the Senate its proposal to increase interest rales, promised that primary industry, with all of its problems, would not be confronted with the increased interest rates. Incidentally, I did not agree with the Government's justification for the increase. The growers are not borrowing direct; their co-operative is borrowing on their behalf. This is a matter which the Government could look at to see that the co-operatives are placed in a more favourable situation to borrow money at least at the rates of interest which apply to primary industry and thus give some relief to the fruit growers in the urgent and immediate problems with which they are confronted.

The next matter I wish to raise is entirely different, lt concerns industrial relations and inflation. There is an economy drive at present to help control the inflation that is current in the community. 1 point out to the Government that unnecessary aggravation in industrial situations which can cause stoppages of work in industries where stoppages hitherto have been unknown, can be more inflationary and aggravate the situation far more than wage increases or anything else. I am referring in particular to a situation that has developed amongst scientists who are employed in the Commonwealth Public Service. They include bacteriologists, biochemists, chemists, geologists, geophysicists, metallurgists, meteorologists, petroleum technologists, pharmacists and others. This is a very wide ambit of people who have not been in the practice of indulging in industrial stoppages to get economic justice in their professions. They are employed in a very wide range of departments including the Departments of Customs and Excise, Interior, Army, Supply, Works, Health and Primary Industry. Some are also employed at the Bureau of Mineral Resources.

These people have had claims awaiting decision since 1966. They have been dealt with in part and at one time they were on a parity with the engineers. That parity was upset in March 1969 when a 7} per cent increase in salary was offered to the scientists. They accepted this without prejudice to a claim they had made back in 1966 and which has not yet been decided. Following this in October 1969 the Public Service Board announced an increase of 11 per cent to IS per cent to professions which included engineers and experimental officers. These were people with whom the scientists had always been on a par until they had received the Ti per cent increase some 5 months before. Then the engineers gained an increase of from 1 1 per cent to J 5 per cent. Naturally that put the scientists in a situation where they wanted to press forward with the claims they had had before the Board since 1966 to bring them again to parity with the engineers. I have no wish to indulge in any speculation as to what a board properly constituted to hear a case such as this should or should not do with what evidence is submitted before it. The point I am pressing is that there should be a very early hearing because already the scientific people in Government departments are reaching a stage of impatience where they feel they will be forced to take extreme action, not necessarily to get what they want but to get a hearing of the case itself. That is the point 1 want to press to the Government. I think this is unnecessarily provocative and there must surely be some very important circumstances that could delay a hearing of the claims of people in these professions. I bring this matter to the Government's attention as one I consider to be urgent.

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