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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2850

Mr HUNT(6.20) —I regret that the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Cunningham) made a pathetic, political contribution to this debate about some very significant pieces of legislation, the Wool Marketing Bill and the Wool Tax (Nos 1 to 5) Amendment Bills. I can only say that it was a very destructive and inappropriate contribution to the debate. The National Party of Australia-indeed, the Opposition parties-support this legislation, subject to reservations that I will talk about in a moment. But I dismiss the speech of the honourable member for McMillan with the comment that it was a pathetic contribution.

The legislation is of great significance to the Australian wool growers and, indeed, to Australia. It should be of interest to all Australians, as we are all likely to benefit this year from an all-time record $4 billion return from wool exports. Clearly, this makes the industry our second most prominent source of export income, behind only the coal industry which is earning a shade more than $5 billion. In net terms, the foreign exchange earned by the wool industry probably exceeds that of coal, because the wool industry does not repatriate much of its earnings to overseas parent companies and certainly it does not have to satisfy the demands of very substantial loans from overseas borrowers.

Wool is perhaps the best placed of all farm industries in these difficult times, although grower incomes on average this year across all sheep and wool farms still do not reach the level of the average wage. The industry's stability is an enormous tribute to the efforts of the producers themselves in developing self-help plans focused on the need for strong international market promotion. The wool industry, which carries a disproportionate share of the costs of tariff protection, remains one of the most important export industries, exporting about 90 per cent of its production. Graziers are sick and tired of carrying a disproportionate burden of government costs such as tariffs.

I am pleased to say that this legislation reflects the strong input from the industry in updating marketing arrangements to meet the changing conditions and world trading circumstances. It is pleasing to acknowledge the industry's input to these Bills, in view of my recent criticisms of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) for not ensuring adequate consultations with farmers over the content of legislation. Time and again I have had to attack this sloppy approach to the administration of the primary industry portfolio. But on this occasion the Minister has consulted widely with the industry and all outstanding areas of disagreement have been largely settled.

Growers deserve the full co-operation of the Government. They have extended a total of 8 per cent of the gross value of the clip into self-help marketing, research and promotional activities. The activities of the Australian Wool Corporation are fully funded by the wool growers. I think people need to understand that the wool industry is not subsidised. It has established a very complex, but very efficient, marketing arrangement and, of course, the funding of it is met by the growers themselves. The market support arrangements are, I think, something of a model. They have evolved over a period of time. The self-funding arrangement is reflected by the relative stability of grower incomes when the farmers have suffered heavy income fluctuations. But it is reflected also in the wool fight-back against competition from synthetic fibres. Some honourable members will recall that back in the late 1960s economists by the dozen were writing off the Australian wool industry as an industry on its knees and having no future. The management of this great industry by wool growers through the Australian Wool Corporation is one of the great success stories of Australian agriculture. Of course, there are those who are determined to see the end of the Australian Wool Corporation. As far as I am concerned, they will do it over my dead body, and they will certainly do it over the dead body of the National Party.

The Wool Tax Bills go a step further, raising the maximum contribution from 8 to 10 per cent. I congratulate the industry on this decision. The Wool Council has given great leadership, and the fact that there has not been grower opposition to this increase indicates the confidence that growers have in the Council. For the time being contributions will remain at 8 per cent, but this legislation will offer the flexibility for contributions of up to 10 per cent should the demand arise for increased allocations for such things as research or promotion. I note the recent decision of the Wool Council's executive committee to recommend an increase in funds to the International Wool secretariat, a decision I strongly endorse. But I understand that, due to wool price increases, the increase can be accommodated within the existing 8 per cent wool tax.

The Wool Marketing Bill is designed principally to govern the operations of the Australian Wool Corporation and replace the Wool Industry Act of 1972. This legislation is the result of an evolving process which grew out of the wool price crash crisis in 1969-70. I recall the Rt. Hon. J. D. Anthony, when he was Minister for Primary Industry, introducing on 27 October 1970 the historic Bill to establish the Australian Wool Commission. In introducing the Bill, Mr Anthony announced that it would establish the Australian Wool Commission which would be empowered to operate a flexible reserve price scheme for wool sold at auction and would involve a number of major changes relating to the marketing of the wool clip. He conceded that the idea of setting up a statutory wool marketing authority originated within the wool growing industry itself as a result of severe price declines which all but crippled this great industry. The financial affairs of the wool growers were so serious at the time that the Liberal-Country Party Government of the day introduced the short term wool deficiency payments scheme to help the bulk of our wool growers to survive.

Unfortunately, prior to 1970 there were enormous differences among the wool growers, with reactionary industry leaders who held a blind belief that the so-called free auction system was the only effective way of disposing of the Australian wool clip. They were right. It was an effective way of disposing of it, but at the lowest possible price. The free auction system, as it was called, was being manipulated by merchants and others who had robbed the Australian wool growers of an initiative to be the world price-setters for this product. Australia is by far and away the biggest exporter of wool. It was outrageous that Australia had not established itself many years before as the price-setter for raw wool. I recall raising this issue in my Party room soon after I became the member for Gwydir in 1970. The then Leader of the National Party, the Rt. Hon. John McEwen, challenged me by saying: `You don't have to convince me, Mr Hunt. Go out and convince the Australian wool growers'.

Mr Cowan —And you did.

Mr HUNT —And I did. I did that by contacting key people who supported reform and I initiated the first major grass roots rally of wool growers in Moree in north-western New South Wales. It was the first such meeting in Australia. It was called by Mr Ron Hunter, OBE, at Moree on Saturday, 21 March 1970. I was chairman at this, the biggest mass rally of primary producers-wool growers-that had been held until that time. There was an overwhelming vote for a wool selling organisation. Mass meetings were then arranged throughout Australia.

With two federal wool growing organisations at loggerheads, it was necessary for the grass roots wool growers to force the leaders of those organisations to accept that change was necessary. As a consequence, the two major wool grower organisations-the Australian Woolgrowers and Graziers Council and the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation-resolved to form a peak council organisation, later to become known as the Australian Wool Industry Conference. It was through this body that a special advisory committee of the Australian Wool Board was asked to prepare an outline plan suggesting the principle on which a statutory wool marketing authority could be established. The late Sir John Crawford played a significant part in making an independent assessment of the recommended proposal from that body.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Mr HUNT —Just prior to the dinner break I gave some authoritative history of the development of the Australian Wool Commission and its successor the Australian Wool Corporation. I said that the late Sir John Crawford-a man for whom I think most honourable members have tremendous regard-played a very significant part in undertaking an independent assessment of the recommendations of the special advisory committee that was set up through the Wool Board to look at the way in which a special marketing authority should be established. Since that time many changes have been made to this statutory authority. Indeed the name of the Australian Wool Commission was changed to the Australian Wool Corporation. The Corporation and the Australian Wool Council have given admirable service to the Australian wool growers. Very few industries in Australia have been structured as well as the Australian wool industry. Its research, promotion and marketing arrangements are a model in the field of commodity promotion and marketing. Very few industries are making as much of a contribution towards that purpose off the top of the gross proceeds of their production.

Wool has many unique qualities. One is that it is not a perishable commodity in a real sense. This quality has enabled the Wool Corporation and the wool selling system to hold in stock adequate quantities to help iron out marketing fluctuations and at the same time to allow the flow of wool on to the market to various points of the world enabling an assured supply for the needs of processors.

I want to pay a tribute to those people who bit the bullet in 1969 and 1970, those who were in the forefront of this radical change to wool selling in Australia. Firstly, I pay tribute to Doug Anthony who was the Minister for Primary Industry; David Asimus, who was in the forefront of activity in those days; Sir William Gunn; Mr Ronald Hunter; Mr Bryce Killen; the late Claude Bohay; the late Bill Fagen; Mr Claude Renshaw; Mr Bruce Wright; the late Bruce Walker; and Mr Dick O'Brien. Indeed dozens of others played a monumental role in helping to bring the Australian wool industry leaders to their senses and to a point where the industry was able to take decisions for the long term future and viability of this great industry.

I also pay tribute to those who have continued the great work of helping the industry adjust to modern marketing demands under the chairmanship of Mr David Asimus and all the many chairmen who have given leadership to the Australian Wool Council. It is a tribute to their responsible leadership that the Government has extended further discretions, flexibility and responsibilities to the operation of the Australian Wool Corporation in association with the Australian Wool Council.

The Wool Marketing Bill builds on the co-operative ground work laid by the industry in association with governments since the late 1960s. It implements many of the guidelines laid down in the statutory marketing reform paper-an admirable paper-issued last year. The Bill aims to place the Corporation on a sound commercial footing. It ensures that the Corporation remains fully accountable to both the industry and the Government, introduces new arrangements for quality assurance of the Australian wool clip and provides a businesslike footing for the Corporation's day-to-day activities.

The Corporation's Board will be selected by a committee to be headed by the distinguished Australian, Sir Roderick Carnegie. I am sure all honourable members will join with me in offering Sir Roderick our best wishes in his important role. I wonder why it was necessary because, quite frankly, I believe the industry has proved to be very responsible and quite capable of choosing its own people. I pay a special tribute to the Chairman of the Corporation, Mr David Asimus, who has indicated that he will retire when his current term expires in June next year.

It it to be hoped that Mr Asimus will see fit to maintain a close relationship with the industry, perhaps with the International Wool Secretariat of which he is Chairman and to which he has made a tremendous input. The importance of his role on behalf of Australian wool growers cannot be underestimated. He is a man of exceptional ability and integrity and with qualities of perseverance and foresight. May I simply say to him on behalf of every member of the parliament: `Thank you, David, for your magnificent, tireless work on behalf of all wool growers and the industry as a whole. Its dynamism and buoyancy are largely attributable to your efforts'.

Mr McGauran —The National Party salutes him.

Mr HUNT —Yes, indeed. I turn briefly to several other matters relevant to these Bills. The National Party is opposed to clauses 41 and 42 of this Bill dealing with the equal employment opportunity program because of the burden these place upon management. The Party has no objection whatsoever to appointment of females or males on the basis of merit, but there are provisions within the equal opportunity program that we regard as unnecessary impositions and government intervention in the workplace. The National Party had already opposed the legislation and is not prepared to allow this provision to stand in the body of this legislation without contest.

Among the major concerns held with legislation such as the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill 1987 was the imposition of quotas which, in substance, were effectively proposed by that Bill. Such a move would impose employment conditions which have been neither arbitrated upon nor agreed upon. It was clear from the definition of `employee' that the Government's intention was to apply the Bill not only to employees but also to independent contractors. This was equally unacceptable, as was the clear intention of applying the Bill to so-called `designated groups'-a move which would have given that Bill an excessively wide, vague and uncertain operation.

I acknowledge that the Corporation is not opposed to clauses 41 and 42, because clause 43 ensures that the Corporation can appoint staff according to merit without reference to gender. Clearly, therefore, clauses 41 and 42 are unnecessary window dressing for political purposes and, as far as the National Party is concerned, these clauses can go out the window. Let me say that I have shorn on the same floor in the same shed as women shearers. I am not anti-women, but I think this is just a political stunt. I foreshadow that the amendments circulated in my name will be moved in the Committee stage. I also foreshadow that the National Party will take this position on every piece of legislation where this program appears.

Another element of the Bill is the power extended to the Corporation to determine the qualifications of a stenciller or classer-a measure I am happy to support. There will be compulsory registration of wool classers classing wool to be sold at auction, and unless such registration is obtained the wool processed by that person may not be sold at auction. Classers will face penalties of up to two years deregistration under certain circumstances if they fail to meet the required standards.

The Corporation will have power to acquire samples from wool testing houses to establish the ownership of any wool fund, for example, to hold excessive levels of residue. This is a positive move. I commend the Minister for agreeing to this. For too long the outstanding reputation of Australian wool has had to suffer reports of bale contamination. It takes only a few instances to mar the collective reputation of the industry-a problem we cannot afford on today's hard-fought international markets. Reports of wrist watches, cigarette butts, grappling hooks, dead chooks, eggs, or whatever, found in wool bales--

Mr Hawker —Boots.

Mr HUNT —Yes, boots, moccasins-you name it, it has been found. Reports of these things being found in wool bales unloaded overseas are not helpful, and it is to be hoped that a wide range of measures can be implemented along with the handling chain to cut such instances to an absolute minimum. What is probably even worse is coloured wool-black wool, brown wool-in with white wool, and dags. People who chuck dags in with fleeces are really irresponsible. There are a few dags around here. With the likely switch of grain farmers to wool production, it is imperative that wool clip preparation standards are not allowed to slip.

I turn to one other matter of concern relating to the American wool industry and the United States demand for our product. I am advised that a move is under way within the United States to alter defence contracts-and I hope that the Minister is listening to this-which presently specify that clothing and other apparel should be made of the efficient, high quality, hard wearing wool fibre. Such a move could easily rebound on Australian exports of wool to that nation, as its domestic growers will be forced into other areas of the domestic market which we currently supply. Our annual wool sales to that country are now topping the $100m mark and we must strive to maintain and expand those sales. The defence contracts in the United States are an issue which could be appropriately raised by the all-party delegation which the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) is sending to Washington at the end of next week.

A further matter of concern is two Bills recently introduced in the Congress which carry provisions which I doubt will be carried by both Houses, but which nevertheless give vent to the strong protectionist sentiment welling up among certain elements of the Congress. The two Bills, known as House of Representatives 2043 and Senate 980, are identical and seek, among other measures, to prohibit altogether the importation of farm commodities such as lamb, wool or skins bearing wool. Whilst I expect that these Bills will not win congressional support, they represent a tide of sentiment to which Australia must place its objections. We stand to lose out in the battle between the trading giants of Europe and the United States unless our voice is heard clearly among our many friends on Capital Hill. Despite these concerns there are tremendous signs of new opportunities opening up for Australia. The Chinese market undoubtedly is potentially the most important new market for the Australian wool industry. In conclusion, I reiterate that these Bills will help to consolidate the position of the industry.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —(Mr Leo McLeay)-Order! The honourable member's time has expired. I call the very dapper member for Kalgoorlie.