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GIPPSLAND fruit growers' concerns about fireblight being imported into Australia on New Zealand apples have been taken directly to the Federal Parliament.

By Christian Zahra - 7th June 2001 - Back to News

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GIPPSLAND fruit growers' concerns about fireblight being imported into Australia on New Zealand apples have been taken directly to the Federal Parliament.

In a passionate speech to the House, Member for McMillan Christian Zahra relayed messages from fruit growers across Gippsland directly to the Howard Government.

Christian wrote to local apple and pear growers in February, inviting them to send a message directly to Canberra through their local representatives on their local representatives.

Fruit growers from across Gippsland responded with messages to the Prime Minister, which Christian relayed to the House of Representatives on their behalf.

“This is a critical issue for apple and pear growers in my constituency,” Christian told the House.

“We are, in Australia, still a sovereign nation, and we should be able to choose what comes in and out of our borders.”

“Tonight I want to communicate to the Parliament, the Prime Minster and Ministers exactly how strongly people in my constituency feel about this.”

David McKenzie from two Macs Fruits in Tynong North asked whether the Government would be prepared to compensate all Australian growers if the disease destroyed the fruit-growing industry.

“Some of us are third generation fruit growers and it is hard enough now to make a living. If this is allowed into the country, growers will simply walk away from their properties…”

Hayden Witchell from Golden Lodge in Labertouche said that fireblight could, if NZ apples come into Australia, destroy the livelihood built up over four generations.

Julie and Brian Witchell from Witchell’s Golden Apple Orchard said that their ‘small’ business has employed 84 people in the last twelve months and urged Mr Howard to recognise their industry and protect it.

John Wiadrowski from Wiadrowski Orchards in Pakenham Upper told Mr Howard that we should capitalise on Australia’s disease-free status and use it to our advantage.

Many growers pointed to the Mad Cow Disease and Foot and Mouth out breaks in the UK and Europe as examples of what can happen when import restrictions are relaxed and called on the Government to protect Australia’s “clean, green image”.

Glen Fankhauser from G.E. and E. fankhauser in Drouin implored Mr Howard not to destroy all that he and other growers have worked for by risking the introduction of fireblight or any other disease into our country.

To sum up the views of apple and pear growers in our region, Christian quoted from a letter from Helene Armour, head of the Gippsland Fruitgrowers Association Inc.

“Australia is one of the only a handful of countries in the world that is fireblight free. Fireblight, the foot and mouth disease of horticulture is now endemic in 43 of the world’s pome fruit growing areas. Gippsland’s growers have had enough. We have proven out point that the DIRA (draft import risk assessment) is scientifically flawed and therefore valueless…”

Christian then told the house that the views of the apple and the pears grower in his electorate would be very typical of the views of growers in his electorate would be very typical of the views of growers right across Australia.

“ I have tried tonight to give voice to the very legitimate concerns they have in relation to the serious threat that fireblight poses to their businesses and to the Australian economy,” Christian said.

“A lot of these businesses have been built up over three, four, and five generations. These are people who have shown a lot of guts, resilience, application and determination.”

“That is the sort of effort we should applaud and celebrate. Instead, what these people are getting is a federal government that is an apologist for the World Trade Organisation.”

“The role of the Federal Government is to stand with the apple and pear growers of Australia against this risk.”

The day after Christian’s speech the federal minister for Agriculture Warren Truss will maintain Australia’s ban on New Zealand apples until scientific concerns raised in public submissions have been addressed.


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