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Wednesday, 23 May 1973
Page: 2492

Mr LLOYD (Murray) - Of all people on the Government side of the chamber who should not be saying anything at the present time about creating uncertainty in rural industry it is the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) because he more than anybody else has caused the rural crisis because of the statements which he has made. If there is to be a discussion about actions taken by the previous Government which caused uncertainty let us see what was said previously by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) and the honourable member for Riverina who are now so great in defence of the wool growers. When the real crunch was on the wool growing industry in 1971 the honourable member for Dawson said:

The Australian Wool Commission has panicked because of its failure to bludgeon the wool market into accepting higher prices. Grave fears are now arising that the Commission's activities could wreck the entire foundation of the wool industry.

The action taken by the previous Government saved the wool industry. If the present Government had been in office at that time it is obvious that it would have chickened out and the wool industry would now have been in ruins.

We should remember that the most damaging thing that has even been done to the fruit industry has just been done by this Government. If one wants to look for examples of infamy by a Labor government in selling growers short one does not have to look any more at the sale of wheat to New Zealand in 1949 at a price which was under half the international price.

One has only to look at the direction given by the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) to the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee less than a month ago in which the Minister stated that the Committee which sets the price for canning fruit in this country must reduce its price to growers by $10 a ton for this season. The price had been agreed upon by the industry in January 1973. It is now May 1973 and the Minister has deliberately said: 'Reduce the price by $10 a ton'. This is a direct intervention by the Government to reduce the returns to the growers in this industry who are already suffering penury. At a time of rising prices there is intervention which has never been undertaken before by a government to reduce by 10 per cent the price to be paid to growers.

The whole position of the fruit industry indicates the uncertainty that is now in primary producers' minds of contradictory statements - the difference between promise and performance - that have been made by this Government and the lavish promises that have been made by some of its supporters. I will give the House some examples. No industry received a higher promise than the fruit industry that, with a new government, the long term problems confronting the industry would be overcome. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) is reported in the Griffith 'Times' of 20 November as saying at Griffith when he was speaking during the general election campaign:

Mr Whitlamwho took the stand as a leadup to Mr Grassby's opening of his campaign for Riverina clarified many issues affecting the rural sector.

He declared that Labor when elected will make full payment to fruit growers for all fruit delivered within 2 weeks of being elected to Government.

Those growers are still waiting for the complete payment. What talk has there been since the Government came to power of the statement made in its 'It's Time' booklet that long term stabilisation plans would be provided for the canning fruit industry? This was a promise which was made by the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) and one which would have been carried out if the previous Government had been returned. This is what any industry needs for certainty of planning for the future.

I refer now to the question of revaluation assistance. We are not talking about floating here and floating there, but about things that this Government has done. There have been 2 deliberate revaluations against the United States dollar since December totalling 18 per cent, the United States being our major competitor in fruit on world markets. When this assistance was finally announced it was not revaluation assistance and the terms of it were a radical departure, from anything this country had ever seen in the field of compensation. Instead of growers being paid for each ton of fruit produced the Government placed a limit of $1,500 on each grower. This completely overlooks the fact that there are high fixed costs in the production of fruit and that those costs will rise as production increases. We have here a complete departure from the, accepted principles which have been followed in recent times. The Government talks about what has been done in consultation with growers but one has only to remember that growers were not even consulted on this point.

To return to the real bombshell to the fruit industry in the announcement, that is, the instruction to canners to reduce their prices by $10 a ton. This was included in a Press release by the Minister for Primary Industry on 4 May. This carries with it 3 very serious and damaging implications to primary industry which add to their uncertainty for the future. Firstly, here is a Government which is prepared deliberately to reduce the price of a commodity to a farmer when that price has been agreed to by those people who have been appointed to set prices. Secondly, this move lets the Government off the hook on the question of revaluation because the statement indicates, as I understand from a letter that has been sent throughout the industry, that because of dropping prices, particularly if there is a good fruit season in northern Europe, the price for canned fruit will drop. Coupled with the fact that our currency has now risen so much following action by this Government, any claim for revaluation compensation by the industry will be rejected because the Government can say: 'Here is the price. It is $10 a ton less than it should be, but there is no need to worry about this extra $10 because the canners have paid all that they are required to pay'. The Government forced the canners to reduce their price by $10 a ton. What sort of certainty for the future does that action provide not only for the fruit industry but also for other industries?

One of the ironies of the whole business is that with the revaluation assistance pegged at $1,500 per grower, cutting out at a maximum production of 125 tons of fruit per grower, the Government is giving with one hand and taking away with the other. The average fruit grower in the Goulburn Valley produces more than that amount and the Goulburn Valley produces 70 per cent of Australia's canned fruit so do not let us get carried away with other areas. The Government is saying on the one hand: 'Here is $1,500 because our revaluation policy has hurt you', but is saying on the other hand: We intend to cut the price paid to you by $10 a ton'. The average grower will lose money because of that, and he will receive no assistance from the Government. In fact, he will be penalised. The third point arising from the Government's announcement was the means test applied to the tree pull scheme. There was a lot of talk about this when the present Government was in Opposition. The present Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby), the honourable member for Riverina, is reported as follows in the Griffith Area News' of 1 6 October:

The tree pull scheme is inadequate and hopeless if a means test is applied and State debts deducted from any compensation moneys,' Mr Grassby declared.

We will insist that the means test be deleted and that if money is to be made available it should be for the grower to decide what to do with it.'

Since this Government came to power there has been a meeting of the Ministers involved with this scheme. No change has taken place in respect of that industry reconstruction scheme. In the meantime many fruit growers were lulled into the false belief that things would be changed if a new government came to power. They kept on growing fruit and are consequently now in a worse position.

What about the dairying industry? There is complete uncertainty in the dairying industry because of statements made by the Minister for Primary Industry about what he might do, what he might impose on the industry. We have the new season starting on 1 July but there has been no statement by the Minister on what the policy will be. I sincerely hope that the Government will provide some certainty by allowing the situation which was set up by the previous Government and in view of the good markets available at the present time, to continue without restriction. I hope also that the $27m guarantee across the board will continue with none of these new dangerous ideas which have been introduced into the fruit industry. What of margarine quotas? In the statement made after the Australian Agricultural Council meeting on 6 February the Minister for Primary Industry said:

A separate quota for the Australian Capital Territory was discussed and this matter will be raised again at the next meeting of the Council in July.

I emphasise 'in July'. Yet here we have, in May, the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Enderby) setting up his own private little monopoly for margarine in the Australian Capital Territory in the form of a company, Marrickville Margarine Pty Ltd, which was widely rumoured to have financed the midyear campaign of the Labor Party prior to the 1969 election. One could go on for hours dealing with uncertainties that have been created whether by way of threats to the meat industry, protection commissions, demolition squads, taxation concessions, further revaluations by the Government or producer membership on marketing boards. The real crunch of uncertainty lies in what this Government will do about stabilisation in wheat, dairying, wool marketing and fruit. There is complete confusion and uncertainty among producers because of different statements by different Ministers who have no real knowledge or empathy of the great rural industries of Australia.

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