Goulburn Valley apple and pear growers are being treated as second class citizens by the Gillard government, which could result in major financial and job losses in the region.
The Nationals Senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie has met growers and packers at Ardmona to hear their concerns over the importation of New Zealand apples into Australia.
“They are not worried about the competition presented by imports. The growers welcome that. Their grievances surround the lax quarantine standards suggested by Biosecurity Australia and the threat that NZ apples could introduce the disease fire blight,” said Senator McKenzie.
“Fire blight has existed in New Zealand for almost 90 years, but we’ve managed to keep it out of Australia.
“To the apple and pear industry fire blight is the equivalent of foot and mouth disease in livestock. If it took hold in Australia it would be devastating for the apple industry and catastrophic for the pear industry, almost 90 percent of which resides in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley.
“Without strict quarantine measures the importation of NZ apples could decimate our local pear industry. Pear orchards are more vulnerable to fire blight than apples. Apple trees can be pruned heavily and recover several years later whereas pear trees have to be destroyed and replanted. Orchard replacement costs would be in the order of $50,000/hectare, which would spell ruin for many pear growers.”
With 90 percent of the pear industry concentrated in the Goulburn Valley, the damage to the region’s economy would be colossal. Under threat would be pear production worth around $200 million p.a. and the jobs of almost 2000 people.
Senator McKenzie is urging the Greens and Independents to support the Nationals bill (Quarantine Legislation Amendment Apples Bill 2011) introduced by the Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food Security John Cobb. Legislation resulting from the Bill would force the government to review quarantine arrangements for the importation of NZ apples and to present another case to Parliament.
“I will also be joining the National Apple Rally in Shepparton on July 28 to highlight the stupidity of importing to Australia fruit from a country that’s riddled with fire blight and demanding that quarantine controls be strengthened to match the seriousness of the threat