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Wednesday, 6 October 1971
Page: 1953

Mr DAVIES (Braddon) - I rise to support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson). Once again I assure honourable members opposite that our request is made on behalf of the industry itself. We were accused earlier today of putting up our own scheme but the request comes from the industry. I have had hundreds of representations from people in the industry. I could refer to only one or two of them last night, but I would like to refer to some more of them in a minute. The whole question is that the quantity sold at risk has doubled in the last few years, and we are now selling about 7.5 million cases of fruit per annum at risk. This situation has been brought about by the fact that, because of the dock strikes in England in 1970, the people who bought apples in the orchards lost millions of dollars as the ships that were carrying the apples were diverted from one port to another. Sub stantial costs were incurred by the exporters who owned the apples at this time; as I say, the cost ran into some millions of dollars. So we found that in the 1971 season no buyers visited the orchards as they had done for the past 50 years, and the large quantity of fruit that was forwarded on consignment during the 1971 season is a direct result of the loss that was incurred by the people in the Old Country to whom we sold in advance. We do not think - I speak for the industry - that they will come back in the near future. It might be some years before sufficient confidence is again engendered in the industry for these buyers to reappear in the orchards during the apple season.

I think the Government agreed more or less to the stabilisation plan as a substitute for the devaluation compensation that growers once received. I think this was referred to by the former Minister for Primary Industry when he opened the annual meeting of the Apple and Pear Federation conference in Hobart last year. The present Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) opened the second annual conference last week. This scheme is a substitution for compensation devaluation. The growers have asked us to come to the Parliament and to ask the Minister whether he will try to do something under this scheme because, for the 7i million cases that will be sold at risk, the growers will receive only 45c a bushel. That is not even equivalent to the devaluation compensation payment.

The present position of the industry was brought about by the devaluation of sterling. The Government decided to compensate growers for the lower returns they received on fruit they sent to markets in countries which had devalued their currency. But even in the first year of devaluation compensation payments growers in Tasmania were in a parlous state. But this year, when we will give the growers 45c a bushel under this stabilisation scheme, they will be in a far worse state. As I said last night, in 1968, the first year following the devaluation of sterling, some 68 per cent of growers in northern Tasmania had net farm incomes below $2,000 a year despite the fact that they had received an average of about $1,900 for each orchard as devaluation compensation. In other words, the net farm income was only $100 a year. Under the stabilisation scheme the payment must be considerably less than $1,900 for each orchard, and growers will be in a very bad state. If there had been no devluation compensation in 1968, growers in northern Tasmania would have bad a net farm income of minus $1,200, and the growers in southern Tasmania would have been a little better off with a net income of plus $600 a year.

Surely the very basis of a stabilisation plan is to try to put the industry on its feet. The figures I have quoted obtained 3 years ago. My word, we have gone down very quickly in the last 3 years. I refer also to the disastrous bushfires that affected southern Tasmanian orchards in 1967. So we had not only devaluation of sterling to put up with but, as I say, bushfires also. In the couple of minutes I have left I want to make a plea to the Government to do something about this because the bushfires that affected these orchards were an act of God. As we know, because we debated the matter in this Parliament, the fire travelled through the air. As 1 have said here, 1 can show honourable members slides depicting dry country with not a skerrick of fire damage on the ground for acres and acres and yet the tops of telegraph poles were burnt off and wires collapsed. Fires added greatly to the indebtedness of the orchardists in the Huon. Next year will be the most difficult one that I think we will go through. The Government loans that were made to farmers after the fires in 1967 have an interest rate of only 3 per cent, but the first call on this money will be made on 1st April 1972. The first instalments will have to be met on 1st October 1972. Some of the loans are on the basis of twenty 6- monthly instalments and some of them are on the basis of ten 6-monthly instalments. I know of farm after farm that is up for $700 or $800 every 6 months. Even if they had received the income that they obtained in 1968, as I tried to point out. the position would have been practically hopeless. But in the 3 intervening years a downturn has occurred in the industry. The 45c a bushel which is to be paid under the stabilisation scheme will nowhere near compensate even for the devaluation loses.

The position of those engaged in the industry is very grim indeed. Those in the industry know that they cannot obtain any more than 45c a bushel. They were hoping for 80c a bushel. I realise that an amendment proposing this increase cannot be moved to this Bill because the sum appropriated with respect to the Bill would need to be increased and amendments of that type cannot be made. But I do appeal to the Government to accept the proposed sub-clause so that this figure will be reviewed each year prior to the establishment of the support price for each season.

The growers realise, as a result of the returns achieved, that the position is hopeless. With the payment of 45c a bushel under the stabilisation scheme the position will still be hopeless. Last night I quoted the case of one grower who dispatched 222 cases of apples and received a bill of $104 in respect of them. He was $650 down the drain - that was the break-even figure - before he received the bill for $104. I do not wish to weary the House with these examples but they show that the situation in different orchards is similar. One grower consigned 440 cells of sturmers - honourable members should note that different types of apples are involved - on the vessel Halifax Star' to Rotterdam. The sturmers brought $858 or $1.95 a bushel. This represented a loss of 86c a bushel. The compensation payment will be 45c a bushel only. So, this grower will still lose 41c a bushel. Put another way, he will lose $378.40 on that shipment of apples.

Another example that I have here concerns a consignment of 264 cartons of granny smiths. These apples are supposed to be the top line and the ones which attract the highest support price. This quantity of apples was sent on the vessel Port Nicholson' to Hamburg in the last season. The return that they attracted was a little better than the return in the last example I gave. These cartons realised $675.97 or $2.55 a bushel. The loss on that shipment is $95.04. The next example that I give concerns a shipment of 373 cells of democrats on the vessel 'Greenland' to Hamburg. These cells realised $79.80 or 22c a bushel. The cost f.o.b. on the wharf in Tasmania was $2.91 a bushel. So, this grower has lost $2.69 a case or $1,003.37 on that one shipment. I could continue to give further examples. These statistics indicate that a more realistic figure than 4.4 million bushels should be adopted. That figure may have been acceptable 3 years or 4 years ago for the total at risk in relation to the state of marketing in the industry then. It is not a realistic figure now. If these growers are to be assisted in any way at all we must be more realistic and must increase the figure to 7.5 million bushels or something of that order.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Hallett) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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