Supporting our fruit growers amid biosecurity and import concerns

I am very pleased to strongly support the member for Murray and her private member’s motion. I have seen her absolute despair for the growers in her electorate, because of the fact that there has been no reaction from this government to the plight of the SPC Ardmona growers. She lives in this community and sees their despair day after day. I commend her for this motion.

We know that it is in the member for Murray’s electorate; fruit-growing industry has also long been a mainstay of the economy in my electorate the south-west of WA and the electorate Forrest. The value of fruit production in the area was around $80 million in 2010-11, according to the South West Development Commission.

The birthplace of the Lady Williams apple variety was in Donnybrook in around 1935. Our growers have to compete in some of the most competitive marketing environments in the world just to stay in business. Yet, we do know like in the member for Murray’s region, the legacy of the fruit industry is under threat as the industry struggles.

We know about rising costs on the ground. We know about the high Australian dollar. We know about tightening margins. We know that this is seeing more and more orchards being pulled out right across Australia and in my region. We have seen the impacts of the government’s decisions on biosecurity and the impacts that that is having. We know the cost of labour is high and our producers have to constantly do more with less.

The fruit growers in my area are paying close to $20 an hour for relatively unskilled pickers, and competitors in developing nations pay much less. The standard wage in South America is less then $4 an hour; for much of Asia, farm workers get less than $1 an hour. Yet, our Australian producers have be some of the most efficient in the world to compete at all.

We know that where mechanical picking is still impossible for most of our orchard enterprises, the chance of competing with those foreign imports is negligible because of the high labour cost.

On top of this, there are significant differences in safety and compliance that our growers have to comply with—some of the most stringent occupational health and safety requirements in the world. By comparison, occupational health and safety barely exists for many of our competitors.

More importantly, there is the difference in the quality and safety of the product. Australian producers bring to the market some of the world’s highest quality and safest food, recognised worldwide. The OECD’s report on food safety entitled, ‘Food Safety Performance World Ranking of 2008’ found that Australia was one of the top five performing countries, all of whose food safety standards were rated as superior.

The top five were the UK, Japan, Denmark, Australia and Canada. The other OECD countries tested were rated as average to poor. Yet can you imagine the result if the same test with the same standards were applied to the non-OECD nations?

There is no doubting the quality of Australia food production. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advise that Australia has a worldwide reputation for producing superior-quality premium food and Australia food producers are committed to providing the highest quality international standards of quality management and food safety.

Yet look at the challenges they face, even with biosecurity with this government. In Australia’s high-quality, high-safety and high-wage reality, is it any wonder that other nations are seeking to use their own competitive advantage, that of price?

Given the reality, what is the response of the government? Ad hoc at best, with antidumping legislation and a lack of understanding of what actually happens on the ground and what you do in a fruit-growing business. There is no understanding at all. We have seen that with the whole handling of the biosecurity issue.

Given the response to your SPCA growers, Member for Murray, I would ask the question: does this government actually want a fruit industry in Australia? That is the question I would ask and I am sure that is the question your growers are asking given the lack of response from this government.

Dr Stone interjecting —

Ms MARINO: ‘No evidence to the contrary,’ said the member for Murray. I commend her for bringing this particular motion to the House. We need this parliament to actually stand up and take notice.

This government has taken no interest in the issues facing your growers on a daily basis, and the member for Murray has to live in the same community and watch these families in these businesses suffer, and I commend her for this motion.