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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2249

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (4.12 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate—

  (a)notes that 24 to 30 March 1994 has now been officially designated National Wool Week, with National Wool Day being celebrated on 30 March 1994;

  (b)calls upon Senators to present appropriate speeches to this chamber to celebrate this occasion;

  (c)pays tribute to the enormous contribution that the wool industry has made, and continues to make, to the economy and the Australian people; and

  (d)welcomes and encourages the increasing number of value-adding industries, both small and large, which are starting up in this country to process our woollen products.

I have great pleasure in moving this motion in regard to the celebration of wool week which commences today. I speak today in support of the wool industry, an industry that has made a unique and immense contribution to our great country. For a week, starting today, the political system helps focus the attention of the wider Australian community on wool related issues.

  All nations, all peoples, must sometimes spend a little time celebrating their past. Wool has played a pivotal part in Australia's development and it will play a pivotal part in the future. Without wool, we would never have opened up our hinterland. Without wool, the transport systems would have been even worse than they are now. Without wool, the infrastructures and towns of rural Australia would be a shadow of what we have. It was wool that put us near the top of the world's standard of living in the early part of this century. Without it, we would not have had the standard of living that all Australians now enjoy. It was wool that encouraged many impoverished Scots to this distant country, of which I am most thankful.

  The young nation rode very proudly on the sheep's back. It was, in retrospect, a mighty comfortable ride. Without wool, the identity we have of our sun bleached land, much of the wry humour, much of the courage of the Australian light-horse and the many who rode to husband the nation's sheep in the outback would not have been. But as I speak, there is a continuing heartache for many woolgrowers—the inheritors of the 200 years of hard work that developed Australia's first great industry. There is an old saying in the bush: the worse things get, the better they will get.

  Time will bring the long hoped for change in market sentiment and confidence. The first flicker of light that is appearing in the world's economies is starting to be seen in our marketplace. Wool has seen difficult times before, and will in the future, but the increase in market confidence, the Garnaut recommendations which I substantially endorse, the ending of the most recent drought in much of the north-west of New South Wales and most of Queensland, have all placed Australia's 60,000 woolgrowers in a position where they can have cautious optimism. I endorse that optimism. My family's wellbeing and the wellbeing of the people who work for me are dependent upon it, so I do not place that optimism lightly.

  For wool's recovery to continue, the government must address a number of uncertainties. First and foremost is the uncertainty over interest rates. The possibility that interest rates will rise again—particularly to anything approaching the rates of the late 1980s—fills many farmers with despair. No-one was unaffected by them. Interest rates alone, more than low commodity prices, have taken the stuffing out of a generation of Australian farmers and have left many rural areas in near desperation. Very often it has been the best, brightest, most innovative and expanding farmers in their 40s and 50s who have really been let down by the 1980s interest regime of this government.

  Next, the uncertainty surrounding the sufficiency of funds for promotion must be urgently addressed. Professor Garnaut made special mention of the government's decision not to fund wool promotion next year when he said that it is `particularly unfortunate that at this difficult time the Australian woolgrower will be left to carry the burden of promotion alone'. Woolgrowers themselves have made very considerable contributions to promotion which this year will be around $85 million—down from around $170 million in the 1980s when prices and production were higher.

  There are only two ways to increase demand for a demand-led industry. The first is the lowering in price; the second is promotion. The lowering of price, whilst involuntary, has had the most rapid effect. As Professor Garnaut says, woolgrowers have, by accepting the lowest ever real prices, exported more wool in the last two years than in any time in Australia's history. We have regained market share from cotton and synthetics and recreated demand because of price, even with one of our major buyers, the CIS, virtually out of the market. Even with these record low prices, growers have continued to contribute a 4.5 per cent tax to cover the errors sanctioned by the previous minister, John Kerin.

  The second means of increasing demand in the longer term is by promotion. The government's contribution ceases in June 1994. Considering the amount of tax paid by growers in the 1980s, the current government contribution of $20 million for 1993-94 is a drop in the ocean. For more than three years the International Wool Secretariat has been unable to meet its proper promotion program. The shortfall, which is around $100 million this year, means that any substantial advertising campaign in the major consumer countries—the United States, Japan and Europe—is impossible.

  The IWS is to be congratulated on working with manufacturers and retailers. But the impossibility of advertising to end users in every country except China, which is very cheap, means that we are missing out as consumer confidence returns. In simple terms, the protection of wool's most tangible and obvious asset, the wool symbol, is under threat. This is a symbol that rates with the symbol of Mercedes Benz and Coca-Cola. We must protect it.

  Senator Collins has said that he will fight as fiercely as he can for his portfolio. The promotion budget is vital and I believe that the minister understands this. I remind the minister of the ALP rural policy statement in the 1993 federal election. It stated:

Labor will work with the industry, the Australian Wool Corporation and the International Wool Secretariat to develop a three-year funding package to ensure continued and effective promotion of wool.

I trust that this will not turn out to be yet another broken promise. Further, when will the promised contribution from the International Wool Textile Organisation to help wool promotion be forthcoming? The minister has yet to give an update on this vital promotion plank that flowed from the Garnaut changes and recommendations. It is time for some lateral thinking on funding wool promotion.

  The next uncertainty for growers is the falling contribution to research and development carried out substantially by the CSIRO's Division of Wool Technology. The IWS does research into raw wool as well, but Australia's own Division of Wool Technology has done vital and substantial research in raw wool. Objective measurement technology is one of many areas where it has directed its energies. In simple terms, the contribution of the industry to R&D is matched dollar for dollar by the government.

  While the industry's contribution is still substantial, with the fall in production and price the government's dollar for dollar share has fallen by $8 million—44 per cent—to $11.2 million over the last three years. That is a saving to the government of $8 million. This is a considerable saving and the apparent power struggle between the board of the CSIRO and the Minister for Science and Small Business, Senator Schacht, about the setting of research priorities will hopefully be sorted out to the advantage of the Division of Wool Technology before too much longer.

  A key industry development is the establishment of the Australian trade investment packages as recommended in the Garnaut report. Both the Minister for Trade, Senator McMullan, and the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Senator Collins, have agreed to co-chair ATIP and the industry is very hopeful that these will enhance the development of textile industries in developing countries. However, with bilateral trade negotiations ongoing, we have been disappointed until today when we heard what Senator Collins had to say. But we are disappointed that the government has been slow to adopt these recommendations.

  The Australian wool industry is anxious to see the full adoption of the GATT agreement. International trade in wool apparel is currently significantly restricted by the multi-fibre arrangement. Under the MFA the United States of America, Western Europe and Japan place quantitative restrictions on the importation of garments. The MFA is inconsistent with GATT principles and Australian woolgrowers encourage the government to maintain pressure during bilateral negotiations with the USA, Western Europe and Japan to see the phasing out of the MFA as agreed during the GATT negotiations. The rural adjustment scheme advisory committee recently met to consider extending exceptional circumstances for woolgrowers, and I hope it agreed to extend the extension. My colleague, Senator Boswell will speak further to this.

  I would like to end my contribution on a lighter note. Against the background of a harsh, new pioneering nation with little time for frills and niceties, it is not surprising that some of our best known and most popular poems are not particularly profound or literary in style; but they are full of country life and vision and held in great affection by all Australians. Australia's unofficial national anthem stars the swagman and the jumbuck and there are very few Australians, young or old, who are not familiar with Click go the Shears. In the interests of bipartisanship and with apologies to the poet, H.P. Tritton, who wrote Shearing at the Bar, I would like to finish with an ode to Senator Murphy, a former shearer from Tasmania and, from my research, the only former shearer in this place.

Senator Panizza —What's that? Did you say the only former shearer in this place?

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —That ode states:

I shore away the belly-wool and trimmed the crutch and hocks,

Then opened up along the neck, while the rousy swept the locks,

Then smartly swung the sheep around, and dumped him on his rear—

Two blows to chip away the wig—(I also took an ear!)

Then down around the shoulder and the blades were opened wide,

As I drove them on the long blow and down the whipping side;

And when I tossed him down the chute he was nearly black with tar,

But it never seems to happen—when I'm shearing at the bar!

Senator McGauran —On a point of order. With respect to my colleague Senator Macdonald, and just so Senator Murphy does not think he is unique in this chamber in that great profession of shearing, I would point out to the chamber that Senator Winston Crane is an old shearer of great repute.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McKiernan)—Order! There is no point of order.