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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2858


Mr SIMMONS(8.37) —The Wool Marketing Bill and the Wool Tax (Nos 1 to 5) Amendment Bills will govern the operation of the Australian Wool Corporation and the wool auction system and, as has been mentioned previously by other speakers, it replaces the Wool Industry Act 1972. But most importantly from the Government's perspective, it introduces a number of changes that are consistent with the Government's policy statement issued by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) entitled `Reform of Commonwealth Primary Industry Statutory Marketing Authorities'. I think it is worth while at this point to remind honourable members that, under the changes that were announced in the reform document, all the statutory marketing authorities now have powers to borrow, to open bank accounts and to invest surplus funds, subject to the approval of the Treasurer (Mr Keating) and the Minister. Obviously, the Australian Wool Corporation, as one of the largest of the statutory marketing authorities, is involved in quite significant transactions. Statutory marketing authorities have now increased commercial independence to improve their effectiveness as marketers of our rural export wealth. They are now much more autonomous organisations that control matters such as staffing, property, capital works and shipping.

There are significant change in these Bills to the financial powers of the Australian Wool Corporation as well. The interesting point about the legislation at this time is that it comes before the House, I understand, after a high degree of consultation with the Wool Council of Australia, the Australian Wool Corporation, and other elements of the wool industry. It is important, when we have a major change in wool marketing Bills such as this, that those people who are involved in the industry have an opportunity to make an input into it.

I would suggest that it is also significant that this legislation is being debated when, clearly, the wool industry is our nation's major rural export industry with a likely contribution this year of $4 billion to our balance of payments situation. Wool provides somewhere in the order of 18 per cent of the gross value of rural production and 30 per cent of our rural exports. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a document prepared by the Department of the Parliamentary Library which gives an indication of the movement of wool prices over the last few years and the changes in the wool stockpile which clearly indicate the very significant boom times that the wool industry is currently experiencing.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

Statistics Group

Department of the Parliamentary Library

WOOL PRICES

AUSTRALIAN WOOL CORPORATION MARKET INDICATOR

cents/kilo

1984-85 (average)...

526.2

1985-86 (average)...

533.4

July 1986-December 1986 (average)...

570.5

30 January 1987...

609

27 February 1987...

639

27 March 1987...

701

10 April 1987...

735

Note: clean equivalent

WOOL STOCKPILE

'000 bales

end June 1985...

979,611

end June 1986...

924,296

end December 1986...

882,954

end January 1987...

815,737

end February 1987...

720,962

end March 1987...

493,504

end April 1987 (provisional)...

425,000

Source: Australian Wool Corporation Bureau of Agricultural Economics.

Compiled at request by the Statistics Group of the Legislative Research Service.


Mr SIMMONS —I thank the House. I wish to mention briefly a couple of figures from the table. The Australian Wool Corporation market indicator in 1984-85 showed an average of 56.2 cents per kilo. As at 10 April this year the market indicator has risen to 735 cents per kilo. At the end of June 1985 there were nearly one million bales of wool on the Corporation's stockpile and the provisional estimate for April 1987 is less than half a million bales. I think those figures speak for themselves.

The present legislation for the wool industry, the Wool Industry Act 1972, commenced on 1 January 1973. The circumstances at that time were quite different from those currently enjoyed by the industry. During the debate I was pleased to hear recognition being given to a number of people in the wool industry who have made a significant contribution to it. I join the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) in acknowledging the contribution made by the present Chairman of the Australian Wool Corporation, Mr David Asimus. Most honourable members would acknowledge that he has made a very valuable contribution. My colleague the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell) mentioned the contribution made by Mr Bill Gunn. The recovery of the industry in the last 14 or 15 years can be attributed to some of the major changes that were set in place at the time. Wool is seen as a quality product in the current textile market because of wool promotion and research and development by the Australian Wool Corporation. I am sure that all honourable members would acknowledge the very valuable contribution by the Corporation.

Wool is a very special fibre. It occupies a small and declining share, unfortunately, of total textile consumption. I understand that it presently accounts for about 5 per cent of the overall world textile use compared with about 47 per cent for cotton and 48 per cent for synthetics. The other interesting change we have seen in recent years is the decline of the use of wool in the menswear market. Wool had 33 per cent of the market in 1970. That figure is down to about 18 per cent today. In womenswear its use has fallen from 27 per cent to 14 per cent and in knitwear from 40 per cent to 27 per cent. Those figures indicate that we are dealing with a very volatile market which is obviously very much subject to changes in the fashion whims of consumers.

What we have seen in the last couple of years as a result of changing circumstances with respect to prices is a rapid increase in the sheep flock. The numbers of sheep have grown rather rapidly, from 133 million sheep in 1983 to a current estimate of 160 million. Therefore, there is likely to be downward pressure on prices as we enter the 1990s. It is important that we take note of that. Wool prices are expected to increase by 9 per cent in 1986-87 and production is expected to increase by just over 2 per cent.

It is also significant in this debate that the honourable member for Gwydir, the Deputy Leader of the National Party, is to move a number of amendments which the Government will oppose, in particular, to clauses 41 and 42-provisions relating to equal employment opportunity. This is unfortunate. National Party members are thumbing their collective noses at the people whom these clauses of the Bill are intended to assist. To National Party members, any time equal employment opportunity is mentioned it is some sort of emotional trigger, suggesting that it may have something to do with women. In this case the equal employment opportunity provisions most certainly have something to do with women. But they also deal with the disabled and with the people who do not have English as their first language, the migrant community. The National Party should keep that point in mind. I note that the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Andrew) in his contribution tonight did not give any indication of his feelings about clauses 41 and 42.


Mr Hawker —Don't you worry about that.


Mr SIMMONS —I am not sure that we will have to worry about it but I suppose the critical time will be if the National Party or the Liberal Party has the intestinal fortitude to call a division on them. I guess that many members on this side of the House will wait with a great deal of interest to see whether National Party members have the courage of their convictions and decide to vote against this legislation when the chips are down.


Mr McGauran —You won't be disappointed.


Mr SIMMONS —I may not be disappointed because it may be some sort of attempt by the National Party to seek to embarrass members of the Liberal Party whom they see as wets and wimps.


Mr Peter Fisher —This is a democracy, you know.


Mr SIMMONS —It is, but the whole attitude of the National Party is somewhat hypocritical when it comes to equal employment opportunities. A number of Bills in this House in recent years have discussed this matter-the Sex Discrimination Bill and the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Bill. We hear platitudes mouthed by members of the National Party, particularly with respect to women. I quote from a speech delivered by the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Slipper) on 10 April 1986. He is quoted in Hansard as saying:

We in the National Party of Australia are 100 per cent in favour of equal opportunity. No doubt our opponents will endeavour to suggest that our commitment to equal opportunity is less than complete. But that is incorrect.

The honourable member for Fisher went on to say:

I am pleased and proud to be able to stand in this Parliament and join my National Party colleagues in opposition to this Bill.

We have seen many instances in the last few weeks and months of the attitudes of the conservative forces in this Parliament to legislation relating to women. On the one hand we have legislation on equal opportunity that was supported by the then coalition in 1986. On the other hand, we saw the fiasco when it came to the crunch a few weeks ago when the National Party used its heavy-handed standover tactics that it has used for years against the Liberal Party to say that the Liberal Party should oppose the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill on some sort of spurious technicality.

Tonight we see the Deputy Leader of the National Party suggesting an amendment to the Bill and suggesting that the National Party will oppose the Bill. Once again, it will be interesting to see the attitude of the Liberal Party in this regard because its members have funny views. For example, in debate on the sex discrimination legislation in 1984 the honourable member for Goldstein (Mr Macphee) said:

Both the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia are committed to the removal of discrimination against individuals on whatever basis. Both are committed to equality of opportunity for individuals and in government took action in many fields to eliminate discrimination and enable genuine equality of opportunity to be achieved.

Later in the debate, the then honourable member for Darling Downs, the honourable member for Groom (Mr McVeigh), said:

Women now comprise a significant percentage of the work force in Australia. There are 2,576,000 Australian women in the work force.

To that remark, there was an interjection from the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) who said: `Too many'. That is an indication of the sort of attitude on that side of the chamber when it comes to legislation that deals with equal employment opportunities for women, migrants and the disabled. We are seeing some very strange actions. I find it most difficult to understand. People will appreciate from those limited quotations-and I could go on with many more but time does not permit-and from further quotations if I went on, the whole series of double standards that we are used to. I am most anxiously looking forward to the Committee stage of this Bill. I am looking forward to any divisions that may be called and to seeing the actions of those people in the Liberal Party who have the guts to live up to their convictions and the comments they have previously made in this House.

This legislation is most significant. Yet, on hearing some of the comments from the Deputy Leader of the National Party, we could be forgiven for believing that somehow or other the Australian Wool Corporation owns all the shearing sheds throughout Australia. Some of the contributions that he made suggested that some of the dags-I think that was the term he used-appearing in some of the bales of wool for overseas sale were put there by women who work in the wool sheds. Surely that is a whole load of nonsense. It is an indication of the sort of attitude that we have seen from the National Party. I hope it is not the sort of attitude that we are going to see from members of the Liberal Party but one can never tell in this place. We do not really know where they stand because, unfortunately, we have seen too much chopping and changing of attitudes within the coalition in this Parliament.

I will finish my contribution shortly because many other honourable members are anxious to speak on this piece of legislation. I am most bitterly disappointed that in this important change to the functions of the Australian Wool Corporation there is not a united stand. For some spurious reason-perhaps because of some of the dictates from the fascist from the north being sent down to his people in the National Party sitting in this Parliament awaiting his arrival here as the new leader of the sort of neo-fascists that we are unfortunately seeing in this place-we are seeing support for this amendment.

I state in conclusion that this is a most important piece of legislation. I congratulate the Minister and those people from the Department of Primary Industry associated with the preparation of it. I am mindful of the fact that the Australian Wool Corporation supports the legislation, as do the other people I mentioned earlier. I understand that the Australian Wool Corporation, as late as yesterday, telexed, the Leader and Deputy Leader of the National Party and the Leader of the Liberal Party indicating that the Australian Wool Corporation strongly supported this Bill. I hope that when it comes to the crunch all members of the Liberal Party will support it and that some of the agrarian socialists, the troglodytes on the other side who have some sort of hatred of women being mentioned in equal employment opportunity legislation, will come to their senses.