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Thursday, 27 May 1999
Page: 5566

Senator FORSHAW (12:50 PM) —Firstly, the opposition supports the government's amendments. We note that these amendments have been drafted after a tortuous exercise over the last couple of days, commencing with the recommendation of the legislation committee that the bill needed to be amended to ensure not only that independence of the trustee operation existed but that it was seen to exist.

We had originally felt that this should be achieved by an arrangement whereby an authorised trustee corporation should be appointed as the overall trustee. However, the arrangements that have now been proposed would ensure that TrusteeCo—that is, the trustee company within WoolStock Australia—would authorise another trustee corporation to exercise all the rights and privileges and benefits vested in TrusteeCo under this act.

That is particularly important, as Senator Crane has outlined and as I drew attention to in my speech and other senators have commented on, with regard to that block of shares that will not or may not ultimately be able to be converted and issued to individual equity holders because of technical problems or inability to identify the persons or companies involved. It was always a concern that we might not end up with a situation where a substantial block of shares—even if it is 20 per cent or 25 per cent, it is still substantial—were effectively in the hands of the directors of WoolStock Australia, who of course under the legislation are given the power to in turn appoint the directors of TrusteeCo.

One thing that has become clear throughout this exercise from the views right across the industry sector is that they did not want to see out of this privatisation process Wool Interna tional mark 2; in other words, that we just went through all of the processes of privatisation, of establishing new boards, new companies, new trustee companies, but ended up with either the same old faces or the same old agro-politics driving the decisions. I was going to say `agri', but I take Senator Crane's comment. We are glad that all members of the committee—government, Democrat and opposition—agreed to this and that the government has finally been able to produce an amendment which is acceptable and will enshrine that principle.

If the trustee arrangements ultimately are not as independent as was intended—we hope that does not happen—then senators from this side will have something to say about it. We have been assured by the government that this process will work. On that basis, we are happy to support the amendments.

I do not have time to take issue with all of Senator Crane's comments. We will leave them for another day. I reiterate: many decisions were made in the past where unfortunately the blame was laid at the feet of government or at the feet of the previous ministers, but the real culprits were those in the industry who thought that they could sustain the high prices forever. It was industry that had the power and pushed the reserve price up to 870c back in 1990—a totally unsustainable price, as was later proven to be the case.

With those few comments and with the expectation that there will be plenty more debate about the future of the wool industry—we all hope that the industry returns to prosperity for the sake of the nation and for those involved in the industry—we look forward to the ongoing debate over coming months.