A GRIFFITH retiree has embarked on a one-man crusade to save the struggling citrus industry, knocking on doors of politicians and Victorian households to push the issue of protectionism back onto the political radar.
Former engineer Brian Mills, who was born and bred in Griffith but last year moved to Victoria's Gippsland region, is even selling oranges door to door in a bid to bolster farmgate returns to local growers.
Mr Mills said with many growers "financially suffocating", it was time for Riverina MP Michael McCormack to muster the political courage to start the tariff debate.
"We know citrus concentrate from Brazil is killing the local industry, why can't we put a selective tariff on it so it's the same price on the shelf as Australian citrus?," Mr Mills said.
"That would put us on a level playing field but no one is even talking about it.
"In my dad's day, people were constructive and dynamic but it seems no one even wants to comment on this."
He said free trade had only served to boost the relative GDP of developing countries at the expense of developed countries like Australia.
Mr Mills has already sold two tonnes at $1 a kilo through door to door sales in an attempt to side-step the supermarket duopoly.
"They (Woolies and Coles) know the industry is in trouble and buy fruit at a very low price and then make a 1000 per cent profit," Mr Mills said.
"We can sell them at the same price as the supermarkets but return a living wage to growers.
"When I knock on a door, I show the person a photo of oranges rotting on trees and the people invariably say we want to help."
Mr McCormack said while he felt for the plight of export-reliant agriculture industries like citrus, tariffs were not the answer.
"If we just put up the shutters, other countries we trade with will do the same," he said.
"I believe in fair trade, not free trade, but the government should be focusing on quarantine issues, like not allowing contaminated Brazilian juice in, rather than tariffs.
"The citrus industry is always going to be in a volatile position with the way the Aussie dollar is."
Griffith and District Citrus Growers vice-president John Sergi welcomed Mr Mills' crusade, saying cheap imports were destroying his industry.
"We just can't compete with countries like Brazil on wages," Mr Sergi said.
"We've pushed for tariffs for a long time but their excuse is always the same free trade.
"Yet there are countries, like Korea, that put 50 per cent tariffs on our fruit so I just can't work it out."