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Wednesday, 8 March 2000
Page: 14258

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (12:50 PM) —in reply—I thank all those members who have contributed to the debate on the Australian Wool Research and Promotion Organisation Amendment (Funding and Wool Tax) Bill 2000. These amendments themselves are not earth changing, but they are a significant further step in the reform in the wool industry. They are amendments which will progress the industry towards the new structures that it wants to put in place to ensure that effective services are provided to support wool growers.

The debate has ranged over a number of wool industry issues. The wool industry has been one of Australia's greatest industries over many decades. In more recent times, its economic returns have declined and there has been considerable hardship confronted by many people, particularly coarse wool producers as the demand declines around the world for their product. It is in this kind of context that the industry is seeking structural reform to ensure that the services that are provided, and for which wool growers pay, are delivered in an efficient and responsive way. The government is committed to supporting the industry in coming to that position.

Wool growers throughout Australia have now cast their votes in WoolPoll 2000. The closing date for ballots was 3 March. I do not as yet, naturally, have any details of the wool poll outcome but the participation rate has been encouraging, with about 50 per cent of wool growers having voted and their ballot papers having been returned. That is better than we had thought was going to be the case a week or two ago, and obviously more ballot papers would be still in the mail. Whilst that represents about 50 per cent of the number of growers, the votes are weighted according to production and the amount of wool tax that has been paid, and so we believe that the percentage of the industry that is actually represented in the vote is very significantly higher than 50 per cent. The outcome of the poll will be a very clear demonstration of the industry's real wishes in this matter. Wool poll gave growers the opportunity to vote on the types of business services they want and how much they are willing to invest in those services.

WoolPoll 2000 is the first stage of a two-stage response to the Wool Industry Future Directions Taskforce report. The results will be known later this month and then the government will move to stage 2 of the reform process. This will involve, as I have foreshadowed, the establishment by 1 January 2001 of the most appropriate company structure to provide the services that wool growers decide they want for AWRAP's successor. The bill allows this to happen by giving AWRAP the function of facilitating and funding the reform process, as was done in the privatisation of Wool International but is currently precluded by AWRAP's governing legislation.

It will also allow the government to take wool growers' wishes into account if WoolPoll 2000 clearly indicates growers' wishes to have a lower wool tax from 1 July 2000. Currently the legislation would require a second vote of growers to actually alter the levy. That would clearly be a waste of time and effort when this poll has given growers the maximum flexibility in choosing the type of levy arrangements they want for the future. Obviously, whether we need to use this provision will depend on the outcome of the poll, but it is important that we are in a position to put wool growers' wishes into place as soon as possible.

The honourable member for Barker, in his remarks, gave an excellent summary of the history leading to this legislation. I can do no better than acknowledge the summary that he has provided as a record of the events that have brought us to the legislation.

There will be costs associated with whatever decision the industry makes about its future structure. The costs will be the greater, the more radical the change to the existing arrangements that are required. And the greater the prospective reduction in wool tax revenue desired by the industry, the greater the costs of restructuring will be. Wool growers can be assured that every effort will be made to manage the process in a manner which minimises the costs. It may be appropriate to make any reduction in wool tax in phases to ensure that these costs are able to be met without unduly disrupting the transformation of the business activities of the new entity.

I want to be able to release the results of WoolPoll 2000 by the end of March, at which time I am hopeful of being in a position to map out more clearly the government's approach to stage 2. The growers have participated in a very difficult exercise in working towards the future regime of measures and services that will be provided to the industry. I want to give an assurance again today that the government is committed to implementing the outcomes of the poll and to responding to growers' wishes in relation to the future services to be provided to the industry. I thank honourable members for their constructive contribution to this debate and commend the bill to the Main Committee.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! It being 1.00 p.m., the debate is interrupted.

Main Committee adjourned at 1.00 p.m.