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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Coffs Harbour, New South Wales

Forty years ago, close to 80% of Australia's bananas were grown around Coffs Harbour on the mid north coast of New South Wales, today there is less than 5%. The banana industry is now concentrated in North Queensland where the land is flatter, cheaper and growers can harvest two crops a year instead of one in NSW.

Coffs Harbour has a population of around 80,000 that swells to over 100,000 during summer. As the sprawling city continues to grow at a rapid rate, more and more banana farms are being bulldozed for housing development. Some farmers who decided to stay on have changed to blueberries and avacados and are having some success.

Last year the Labor government agreed to allow Filipino bananas into the country. Understandably, everyone went bezerk, how could anyone possibly do such a stupid thing? But Agriculture Minister Tony Burke has defended the move and says it was the National Party and Warren Truss, as the then Agriculture Minister who initiated the proposal in 2000. He says that since they drew up the legislation and had it passed, it was too late to intervene. With the fear of bringing in diseases from the Philippines foremost in everyone's mind, all he can do now is make the requirements so exacting and stringent that they won't want to export bananas to us at all.

Tony Burke explains "First of all you've got to find a plantation that has low pest prevalence and there's a limit to how many of those they've got to start with. Australian inspectors then have to be on the plantation conducting the inspection and the Filipinos have to pay for the Australian inspectors. The feedback from their growers is that if they have to follow all of the rules set down, their bananas would be too expensive to sell in Australia. From all the indications so far, it is highly unlikely that we will see bananas from the Philippines in Australia but if they were to come, they would probably be more expensive than our own locally grown anyway."

If they do ever turn up here one day, I hope that the major supermarkets, Coles, Woolworths and Aldi will only buy the home grown product.