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Wednesday, 6 October 1971
Page: 1928

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - We are dealing with an Apple and Pear Stabilisation Bill but the debate has ramifications beyond just apples and pears. I would draw attention to the terms of the amendment which the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) moved. They are: . . while not opposing the Bill, this House is of the opinion that a single national marketing authority should be established which will be the sole authority responsible for the export marketing of Australian apples and pears and which will administer, in conjunction with the Commonwealth, a well formulated apple and pear stabilisation scheme.

What we have said is that it is our considered opinion that there should be a national marketing authority and we have invited all members of Parliament to join us in this expression of opinion. It is not a matter of supporting the Government as all honourable members opposite or their predecessors have done for 22 years. It is a matter of being members of Parliament and giving expression to a principle. This is a terribly important point because across the countryside at the present time we have very just and correct demands nol only for a national authority to end the petty wrangling between the provinces which are called States but also for a national authority to govern citrus marketing as well as the marketing of apples and pears. We have a great ground swell of opinion in favour of a national meat marketing authority. We have these suggestions put 'forward. But we also have many honourable members opposite who, when the occasion suits them, pay lip service to this principle. They are being asked today in quite a reasonable way to say as members of Parliament and not as members of their respective political groups hiding behind the Government that this is their opinion. That is all. It does not change the Government's legislation. All it calls for is an expression of support for a principle which has wide and deep support in every State of the Commonwealth. But what have honourable members opposite tended to say in this debate?

Mr Giles - It is wrong.

Mr GRASSBY - I am delighted to hear the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) say that there is no support for national marketing in his bailiwick among the people he represents. At least he is consistent because he spoke last night on this measure and said that national marketing authorities are more trouble than they are worth, involve too much money and are not good to us at all. He may not have used those words but he knows that that is the impression that his remarks were intended to create. Fair enough; he stands by those remarks today. I hope. that when these great bodies across the nation .go to honourable members opposite , to. put for ward these views and receive the sweet words they will understand that they are getting one answer in their electorate and another answer in the House of Representatives. That is the situation. The honourable member for Denison (Dr Solomon) told the House that 60 per cent of the agricultural income of Tasmania comes from apples and that the Huon Valley is eminently suited for the production of this crop. Then he said that the growers' request for a marketing authority raises constitutional and financial difficulties. I might say that he was joined by his friends in this view. They say: "Oh, yes, we will have to have that one day in the future'. It will be one day in the future, but meanwhile 50 per cent of the apple growers in Tasmania are bankrupt and just hanging on. How long are they supposed to hang on . while the Government organises its members and while its members find their courage.

It is a little tiresome to come into. this chamber and to listen to honourable members put up alibis for doing nothing. Fifty per cent of the people they represent are in trouble, yet they come in here and talk of constitutional and financial difficulties and say: 'By all means let us find the money when they go broke; by all means let us move them off their farms.' The honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) said that growers in his electorate were broke and he asked the Prime Minister for assistance the other day. I suggest that one of the greatest forms of assistance we could have is a proper marketing system, which is desired across the nation.

Mr Lloyd - 1 have tried to do more than you have for the cannery people.

Mr GRASSBY - I think it is terribly important to have recorded in Hansard the remark of the honourable member for Murray that he did more for his people. Well, God bless him and I hope he keeps doing more for them. But I suggest that now he has found this courage and he has a burst of independence let him demonstrate his courage so that we can see where he stands on this -matter. People are going broke and these are the people who need the assistance and expertise of an orderly marketing system. It is of no use for honourable members to yawn as they sit in

Government in this chamber. I say to them, stay awake and stay with it because what 1 have to say to them is this-

Mr Giles - It is an old Australian custom.

Mr GRASSBY - The honourable member for Angas says that it is an old Australian custom. This is all nonsense. The honourable member should tell his constituents that he came into this chamber and voted against an expression of opinion, not a matter which affects the fall of the Government or a matter which affects the people he has supported for 22 years. I am not cavilling about that but I suggest that honourable members opposite should find their courage and vote on an expression of opinion on a principle. That is all I ask. What I am saying is that here we have a situation where we have invited an expression of opinion. That is all we have asked for. In return all we received was a series of alibis, except from the honourable member for Angas who is directly opposed to our proposal. The honourable member for Denison says to the 50 per cent of the Tasmanian apple growers, who are in serious trouble and who . are on the verge of bankruptcy: 'Wait, my friends. We will come up with it when we can see our way through the difficulties.' But in fact in his own State under the authority of the Tasmanian Parliament there was a report from a board of inquiry which stated very clearly and definitely: 'We recommend the formation of a statutory body.'

Then it has been said in Tasmania that the Premier of that State was so seized with the importance and urgency of this matter that he wrote to the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon). My colleague, the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Sherry) made a very simple inquiry of the Prime Minister. He asked: 'Have you received the letter?' The Prime Minister said: 'I do not recall having received it. I may have and it could be on my desk but I do not know if I have not really got it.' The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) said: 'Yes, you have.' That had a very great impact on the 50 per cent of the people of Tasmania who are bankrupt. He had lost the letter. He found it, perhaps. Someone may have it but we do not know. The Tasmanian represen tatives in this Government sit smilingly in their seats while their growers go broke. I think they should be ashamed of themselves. There is no urgency in the matters they have raised. They, did not address themselves to the deficiencies of the scheme. They did not address themselves to the fact that the scheme starts a year behind scratch with cost right away. They did not address themselves to the fact that there are 3 million bushels of fruit swinging in the scheme, They did not suggest what we might do with that fruit, and these are the supporters of the Govern- ment with the expertise and the weight of government with them. What will they i do with the 3 million bushels? . They would have to have monumental jumpers up which to put that amount of fruit.

I am a bit saddened because after all this is an industry which is in serious trouble. A committee of inquiry was set up under the authority of the Tasmanian Parliament and in this industry we have people for whom I have deep respect, yet we. have a measure which is obviously inadequate. We have said in a very reasonable way: 'Let us have it and let us try to improve it.' What we have said - and again I think we are being reasonable - is that wc are not asking the Government to go back on a decision of its caucus or its supporters. We have simply said, for goodness sake admit with us that something more has to be done. What did honourable members opposite do? They immediately made a political issue out of it. We did not do (his. No honourable member from this side of the House who has spoken in this debate has said this. The honourable member for Dawson dealt with the facts of the situation. That is ali he did. I think it is about time that there was a little bit of maturity on the Government side in relation to these matters, and I am sorry that there is not. The Minister for Primary Industry went to Tasmania and he was widely reported as issuing a warning to the Tasmanian fruit industry. I will quote a report in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' which I think is usually accepted as being reliable when it reports statements by Ministers. It reads:

The Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, has warned the Tasmanian fruit industry that unless it improves handling techniques, Commonwealth aid to assist in freight increases would become impossible to justify'.

This is what the Minister said when speaking at the conference of the Tasmanian Apple and Pear Growers' Federation. That article went on:

It must review marketing and handling arrangements from wharf to point of sale. It must also review all aspects of the call-up and loading of fruit, the utilisation of cargo and minimum quantities to shipping mark and bill of lading', he said.

This is tremendously good advice but who can do this - the growers in the Huon Valley, the Federation or that conference? Obviously there is only one body which could implement this very desirable recommendation of the Minister himself, and that is a statutory authority. Of course it is. This is a reasonable position and the reality of the situation. The Minister has said: 'All right, these things need to be done'. I accept the Minister's assessment. No doubt he was well advised on this occasion. But he said to the growers: 'You must do it'. The growers have said very plainly: 'We want a statutory authority and we want it to help us to do these things'. The growers have said to the Tasmanian Government: 'We want this. Will you try to bring it about'? The Tasmanian Government, as I understand it - and it is very difficult to understand the Tasmanian Government but I give it the benefit of the doubt - said that it also supports the growers and it has asked the Commonwealth to show some initiative. Once again Government supporters say that it is up to the growers. This is absurd, and I think the Government supporters know this, lt is a form of procrastination. It is of no use to proceed along these lines. Of course financial outlays will be involved.

After all, what are we faced with at the present time in our rural industries? We are at present faced with outlays for rural reconstruction. We are faced with real losses in terms of people not producing or being unemployed. The banking system - and I am not terribly concerned about the banking system because it seems to be doing quite well without my assistance - has a stake with the pastoral finance companies amounting to about $2, 000m. It can be seen that a lot of people are involved. Surely to goodness we are not asking for too much. When I say 'we' I speak on behalf of the growers. I will show why I have said these things on their behalf in a moment. It is not only on behalf of my own growers but also on behalf of the people in the Huon Valley. Surely it is not asking too much to say to the Federal Government: 'For once show some initiative'.

I have just said that I feel I can speak with some sincerity and some knowledge of growers' problems, apart from my own involvement in the Riverina district in the production of apples and pears. At the invitation of my distinguished colleague, the honourable member for Franklin, I went to Tasmania and I went from Rich*mond where the honourable member lives down to and right through the Huon Valley. I visited properties and I was told by the people on those properties what their problems were and what their cost situation was. I attended a meeting of about 300 apple growers ot Geeveston, which is a delightful spot. The growers at that meeting were not there for any party political purpose. They were there simply to express their thoughts as individuals and the thoughts of their industry as it is organised. They said what they hoped would be done for their industry which, as has been pointed out, earns 60 per cent of all the export income of Tasmania as far as agriculture is concerned. They were quite definite. They said they wanted a statutory marketing authority.

Mr Sherry - There was not one dissenting voice.

Mr GRASSBY - There was not one dissenting voice, as my colleague says. The growers at that meeting said that they had approached the Tasmanian Government and as far as they could understand their State Government - they were quite blunt; they did not have the greatest confidence in it - that Government also supported the growers' view and presented it to the Prime Minister and the Federal Government. The growers also pointed out that their burdens were growing. One grower, a very efficient grower whom I would be very proud to have in my electorate, said that he was now spending in a single year $7,000 on spray materials. That is a tremendous investment. He asked why he as an Australian and as a Tasmanian could not enjoy the same assistance as his New Zealand competitors did. The Minister for Primary Industry told me in answer to a question in August of this year that the majority of insecticides and fungicidesused by New Zealand orchardists are imported duty free and this is an arrangement by the New Zealand Government which in some cases results in our competitors in New Zealand receiving spray materials at a cost as much as SO per cent !ess than our own people do. They asked only for that. When h came to shipping they were confronted with the monopoly situation on the Australian waterfront. I refer to the shipping conference monopoly. They went from one monopoly to another. Again they said: 'Why could not our national Government display something of the enterprise even of the New Zealand Government which moved in an effective way to reduce freights on apples and pears from New Zealand which resulted in a saving of $800,000 a year? Why could not our national Government for once, even in its old age and decline, have used this sort of initiative?' We have not seen this sort of initiative but there is no reason why we should not ask for it. There is no reason why the Government should not give this sort of consideration to the problem.

It has been said in relation to the overall problem that perhaps 25,000 tons of pears could go to waste in the Goulburn Valley - drop on the ground and rot. Surely there is a need for an overall national programme, as I said with some emotion at - the beginning of my speech. I think I could be pardoned for showing some emotion in these matters. - lt does not give me great pleasure to go to industry after industry, group after group and family after family to find them asking questions to which we are not given answers in the national Parliament. One of the things which is obvious in our country is that since Federation we have not yet become truly a nation in trade, finance, investment or any of the other major matters. We are still a cluster of petty provinces. This is dramatically so when it comes to marketing fresh fruit.

I said last night in. answer to a Government supporter who was speaking that the same problem arises in relation to citrus fruits. Have honourable members ever seen a group of salesmen of foreign citrus in Asia, for example? If one finds 3 people who are at each other's throats more than anyone else, these 3 people will probably be identified as 3 Australians from 3 rival areas happily cutting one another's throats publicly because of the fragmented and stupid way we have marketed for a long time: This is a matter of economic life and death for literally thousands of people in Tasmania - not only the growers but also the people in the towns such as the port of Hobart. Yet the Minister for Primary Industry inexplicably has wiped the Parliament again and has left us. That is not a right and proper procedure. He should be here when his own legislation is being debated, lt is his duty. If he cannot manage his manifold duties then I suggest he should step down and make way for somebody who can. It is not good enough to have this casual kind of approach to a matter which is so vital and essential to the people of a whole State. There has been a long delay in this legislation. We have had legislation that is inadequate on 2 major counts. The first is the cost basis after 2 years.

Mr Sherry - Four years.

Mr GRASSBY - The honourable members says 4 years. My goodness, that is an indictment if ever there was one. Four years for a people in trouble, and the best the Government can come up with in answer to the constructive suggestions that the Opposition has made is that it will do something when it overcomes the constitutional difficulties which were not seen by the committee of inquiry that sat in Tasmania and when it overcomes some of the financial difficulties which never seem to exist in matters appertaining to the mining industry, for example. When it comes to these matters for a primary industry, no matter how important it is, we get this very casual approach which has led us into our present trouble. It is still not too late for members of the. Parliament, as distinct from members of the Government, to find their consciences in this matter and to say: Yes, it is right. We will need a national authority. It is our opinion'.

If the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) is not of that opinion, then let him hold it. The only thing I would ask him to do is that when he is asked in his electorate whether he supports it or not, he will be consistent. That goes for each and every member of Parliament whether he is on the other side of the House or on this side. I commend the amendment for all those reasons which I have stated fully with all the sincerity I can muster.

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