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Thursday, 12 May 1994
Page: 768


Senator CRANE (3.35 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Collins), to a question asked by the Leader of the National Party of Australia (Senator Boswell), relating to the funding of the rural adjustment scheme.

The government has well and truly pulled the rug from under the wool industry in this budget. Not only has it taken away the exceptional circumstances provisions which existed, with the wool industry coming out of the worst period in its history, but it has removed any further assistance in terms of research funding and promotion for the industry—something that is traditional and is a contribution that has been made by successive governments for many years, certainly for as long as I have been involved in the wool industry. I find the comments made by Senator Collins rather ironic, in contrast to the comments made by Senator Gareth Evans at the National Farmers Federation conference dinner last night.

  For Senator Collins to say here today that the price of wool had risen from somewhere around 380c a bale cleaned at about this time last year to 580c a bale cleaned now, and that the exceptional circumstances assistance was not required and should go, shows his total lack of knowledge of the industry, of how it operates, of the income flows and what the break-even points are in terms of running costs for that industry. It is particularly sad that, even in the depths of despair of the worst year in the wool industry's history, the industry still put over $3 billion into the Australian economy. Yet, at the same time, those people producing the wool were losing something like $5 for every sheep they had on their properties.

  We now see that the industry is getting close to a break-even point in terms of costs. At a time when individual producers were getting back to a situation where they would have qualified under the viability criteria to receive assistance, now those exceptional circumstances provisions have been removed. I think that shows the total lack of understanding by this government of the industry.

  From last year, when the price was 380c, to now, when it has gone to 580c, at least 80 per cent of wool growers in this country would not have received $1 of wool income during that period of time. That will come in over the next two or three months, when most sheep are sheared and the income comes in. One must also recognise, which Senator Collins obviously does not, that it is the wool industry that underpins the infrastructure in rural and regional Australia. We hear a lot from this government with regard to that.

  The other point that Senator Collins mentioned is that the market signals were there to move to produce 19-micron wool. Senator Collins does not understand that it takes a 15- to 20-year breeding program to take a micron down an average of two microns. It is not something that wool growers can go out and do just like that: click their fingers, and suddenly have 19-micron wool. It requires a very sophisticated approach.

  Within that, there is also the impact of seasonal conditions, and the fact that there is a large percentage of Australia that is not suitable for growing 19-micron wool. It can be grown in certain areas of Victoria and New South Wales, a lot can be grown in Tasmania and in southern parts of Western Australia, but the great hinterland is just not suitable country. The feed is not suitable; the structure that is required of the sheep is not suitable. It is not as simple as what was portrayed to us here today.

  It would do Senator Collins a lot of good if he were to get an understanding of how the wool industry operates, how breeding programs operate and how to change the quality in terms of micron. Of course, having 19-micron wool does not necessarily mean that it is good quality wool because there is good quality wool in the broader ranges. I think it is very sad. The answer that was given to us today is a bad reflection on the government, in terms of removal of the exceptional circumstances provisions and, particularly, Senator Collins's lack of knowledge about how to produce 19-micron wool and any other micron wool. (Time expired).