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Thursday, 7 October 1971
Page: 2054

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - Mr Deputy Chairman,1. rise to take the opportunity afforded by the consideration of the estimates of the Department of Primary Industry particularly to draw urgent attention to a most serious situation which has developed in the canning fruit industry in New South Wales. I notice that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten), who is also the Minister assisting the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony), is at the table for this debate. I ask him particularly to note the facts which I am presenting because these are facts that I have been asked to bring to the attention of the Committee and the Government at this stage by the growers' organisations and the co-operatives concerned.

The situation is summed up in an urgent telegram that I have just received from the General Manager of the Griffith Co-Operative Cannery Ltd, Mr Stan Polkinghorne. The telegram states:

Delay in decision by State and Federal Governments on Griffith Co-Operative Canneries application for financial assistance causing stone and pome fruit growers severe hardship some growers relying entirely on stone fruit for income have received no payment at all for fruit delivered in 1970-71 season. Now preparing for 1971-72 season and require finance immediately.

Request you take strongest possible action to ensure matter brought before both authorities as matter of extreme urgency. Further delay will mean impossible for cannery to process growers fruit in coming season.

The cannery in fact faces closure. The seriousness of this happening is illustrated by the fact that unemployment in Griffith, probably one of the most prosperous towns in the Australian countryside in normal times, has increased by 40 per cent in the past year. The Griffith Co-Operative Cannery Ltd last season gave employment to 180 women, that is, 3 shifts of 60 women each. It gave additional employment to 15 males and to administrative staff. For this cannery to close would be a disaster for the growers, the employees and the entire community. The growers, 1 stress, have received nothing for the fruit. This is fruit that has been harvested and processed already. Some of it, I have no doubt, has been sold or earmarked for future sale. But the growers have received nothing at all for peaches, nothing for pears, and only 2 growers who made tomato deliveries have been paid for those tomatoes. The only payments that have been made at all in this season have been one-third of the money owing to apricot growers.

The cannery faces closure and the growers face bankruptcy. The banks have said in some cases: 'We will not advance any more money'. That means that the growers are not able to get essential advances to enable them to carry on their farm opera tions. In fact, this situation brings us tac to face with a major economic disaster. This is not all of the problem. There are approximately 600 canning fruit growers in New South Wales, about 2,000 people on the farms with their families and about 10,000 people who depend upon them. The Leeton Co-operative Cannery is 3 months behind with payments to growers. This means that a total of $226,000 is owing to growers at this time. They need the money; the community needs the money.

The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) - I am pleased to see him in the chamber for this discussion - introduced on 9th September the New South Wales Grant (Leeton Co-operative Cannery Limited) Bill. Representations have been made to the Minister by me on behalf of growers' organisations and co-operatives urging that help to be extended. The Minister replied: We have introduced this Bill and, under the grant, the Federal Government will make $.8m available, that sum to be matched by the State'. The inquiries that I have made indicate that it is suggested - I am not sure by whom; it could well be that this is a State decision - that the money which is being anxiously awaited by the cannery and the growers is likely to be taken back almost immediately by the 2 Governments concerned. It is suggested that the Commonwealth 'will take money to finalise its claims and the State will take the remainder to satisfy its old debts, and the cannery will be left exactly as before except that interest payments will be reduced to some extent.

The urgency is to keep the suppliers in business. The producers are basically the people on whom the entire superstructure of the industry depends. I hope that this in fact will not be an empty gesture or a mere book entry. But I ask the Minister for Primary Industry to confer urgently with his opposite number in New South Wales to prevent the closure of the Griffith Co-Operative Cannery Limited and to end the confusion over what will happen to the $1.6m for Leeton. I stress to the Committee that these are not abstract matters. They touch on the lives of people and the prosperity of whole towns. 1 do not know whether in fact the Minister for Primary Industry has felt it necessary to take any initiative in relation to the disposal of the money. I say that quite frankly in ' an atmosphere of probing for information and seeking help. I will make available immediately to the Minister the latest material that has come to hand. I appeal to him again as a matter of urgency to confer with his opposite number in New South to ensure that this cannery does not close. It would be a major economic disaster. I wanted to raise this matter with the Minister and with the Committee and to draw to the attention of the Committee the great need that exists at the moment.

In the minutes remaining I wish to turn from this matter to the wheat situation at the present time. It is a matter of sadness among people who are anxious to see the wheat industry remain stable that an increasing amount of trade still continues outside the Australian Wheat Board. I wanted to draw the attention of the Minister for Primary Industry to an apparent discrepancy, which I feel should be cleared up, in the wheat situation in Australia. As honourable members know, the first quota that was set was with respect to the 1968- 69 season. That quota does not appear to have been reached. At page 3 of the Wheat Situation', published by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics in February 1971, chapter II dealing with The Situation in Australia' states that wheat production for 1968-69 was 543.95 million bushels. Turning to page 5 of the same publication, we read:

Receivals of wheat by the Australian Wheat Board from the 1969-70 crop were 357.9 million bushels, 31 per cent lower than the 1968-69 record of 515.6 million bushels.

The 1968-69 figure is the record figure. The reference here is an interesting one because a discrepancy of nearly 30 million bushels appears between the 2 figures. I am wondering whether this figure represents the extent of trading outside the Board, the trading that has been described as black market trading.

Again, the situation is that we did not reach the national quota for 1968-69. The national quotas for 1969-70 and 1970-71 also have not been reached. The quota this financial year will not be reached. We have a situation where the crops either have not been planted or have been blasted by dry conditions. A great deal of concern is felt that, if an early announcement is not made by all concerned, all of the wheat which is likely to be harvested and is likely to sur vive will be taken in and paid for, and then a direct fillip will be given to interstate trading, black market trading or whatever term may be used to describe- it.

The need for the Minister to take the initiative with his State colleagues in this matter at this stage is urgent. He should say: 'We have an assessment, we know that we will not be reaching^ the targets and quotas and it will be desirable that all wheat that is produced is delivered'. If that announcement is made I suggest that it will end a lot of the trading which is presently going on. Nobody really wishes to trade outside the established stable system, but when a bank manager says 'You will take what you can get and be sure of it' a grower has no choice. I commend this matter also to the examination of the Minister and the Committee and ask for an early announcement in accordance with the realities of the present situation. Before I resume my seat I make again a sincere appeal to the Minister for Primary Industry to look urgently at the possible situation which we are facing at this time in the Mumimbidgee Irrigation Area.

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