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Tuesday, 10 December 1974
Page: 3273

Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania) (Minister for Agriculture) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have my second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The speech read as follows)-

The purpose of this short Bill is to obtain Parliamentary approval for the agreement entered into by the Australian and State Governments on 2 December 1974 to extend the fruit-growing reconstruction scheme to 31 December 1975. The scheme provides assistance, supplementary to the main rural reconstruction scheme, to meet some of the special needs of the horticultural industry. Orchardists who are experiencing, or are threatened by financial difficulties may receive financial assistance for the removal of surplus fruit trees. A subsidiary benefit of the scheme to the industry is that the removal of surplus trees helps to bring the industry's productive capacity into closer alignment with the market for its products.

The scheme offers 2 forms of assistance; clear fell, for the grower who is predominantly a horticulturist, who is in severe financial difficulties, and who wishes to remove all his fruit trees and leave the horticultural industry; and partial removal, for the grower whose property would become viable if some or all of the fruit trees were removed and the land put to an alternative use, but who lacks the financial resources to withstand in the short term the effect of the removal of the trees. Assistance under the scheme is provided by way of a loan which is converted to a grant after 5 years conditional on the recipient not replanting specified fruit trees within that period. The scheme is restricted to fresh apple, fresh pear, canning peach, canning pear and canning apricot trees at present, although it is open to any State to seek approval for the extension of the scheme to other varieties of fruit.

The fruitgrowing reconstruction scheme has played an important role in assisting growers in financial difficulties, especially in Tasmania. Over two-thirds of Tasmanian apple and pear growers have applied for assistance and approvals to date for removal of trees would account for more than 20 per cent of Tasmanian apple and pear production. The scheme has played a lesser role in other States because of the availability to growers of more remunerative market outlets and more profitable alternative enterprises. There are still many fresh apple growers in Tasmania who could be in need of assistance in the next 12 months. A substantial portion of the State's production is expected to be sold on markets which provide growers with very low returns.

Production potential of canning pears still exceeds long term assessed market requirements, although an unusually low crop in the Goulburn Valley and low current world stocks of canned fruit in general, resulted in a satisfactory market situation for canning pears in the 1974 season. It was in this context that the Australian Government accepted the view expressed by the appropriate Ministers of the Australian and State governments when they reviewed the scheme in April 1974, that there was still a need for the kind of assistance provided by the scheme.

Provision of additional funds is not required to enable the scheme to be extended. Of the original $4.6m alloted by the Australian Government, approximately $2m remains uncommitted. The amendment of the agreement also provides an opportunity to remove a restriction imposed on growers who applied for assistance before 1 July 1973 and who withdrew their applications after the first extension of the scheme was announced. Such growers will now be eligible to apply again under the scheme.

Mr Deputy President,when the scheme was introduced in July 1972 the intention was that it should operate for one year to June 1 973. As the initial response to the scheme had been slow, an extension to 3 1 June 1 974 was approved by the States Grants (Fruit-growing Reconstruction) Act 1973. This further extension to 31 December 1975 will allow orchardists in necessitous circumstances to avail themselves of the benefits of the scheme pending the outcome of the current inquiry by the Industries Assistance Commission. The IAC has been asked to include the question of assistance in the reconstruction of fruitgrowing industries in its inquiries on rural reconstruction, and to provide the Prime Minister (Mr

Whitlam) with the report coverning fruit growing by 3 1 October 1 975. The provision of assistance beyond 31 December 1975 will be considered in the light of that report. I commend the Bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator Cotton) adjourned.

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