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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1257

Senator WOODLEY (6.12 p.m.) —I rise to speak to this report. I have been trying to do this for some weeks but, because of the way the program has been operating, that has not been possible. I have taken a great interest in this particular report and I believe that it is useful for the Senate to receive some update on progress of some of the recommendations in the report. I believe that it is useful for us to do this with reports because they are not simply passed through the Senate in order to be put on a shelf where nobody reads them or takes any notice of the recommendations.

  I believe that this was a very timely report and one that raised very serious and historical issues within Australian industrial relationships, and particularly within the development of the shearing industry. Many Australian shearers were not happy with this report and a number of those have contacted my office since the report was brought down. It is important to know that they still have some concerns. By taking note of the recommendations of the committee those concerns can be taken on board and we can ensure that the wool industry goes ahead and is not subject to the kinds of disputes that we have seen over many years.

  I note that this disillusionment, anger or perhaps frustration of some of the shearers has been noted in the media. I noted that an article in the Australian of 24 February—that is how long I have been waiting to speak on this report—stated:

A UNION branch has threatened to oppose the pre-selection of Labor senators after a Senate inquiry's rejection of union allegations that New Zealand shearers were taking Australian shearers' jobs and dodging tax.

It is interesting that the level of frustration is such that they have raised that possibility.

  When the report was brought down, I spoke to it. I pointed out that, even though we were convinced as a committee that the level of intervention by New Zealand shearers in our shearing industry was really only about six per cent of the total number of shearers in Australia, nevertheless, of course, even that six per cent is significant in terms of the downturn and the crisis in the wool industry which we have had over the past few years and which, thankfully, is now beginning to mitigate. Far more significant factors in the downturn in the shearing industry of which we were aware were growers shearing their own sheep; fewer sheep being sheared; and the incomes of woolgrowers, of course, being slashed by the downturn in prices. But, even so, the six per cent loss of jobs to New Zealand shearers is significant if you are one of the people who have been replaced by that six per cent.

  However, another article was brought to my attention by shearers. It was in a magazine which is published in New Zealand, simply called Shearing. The subtitle is `A magazine for all in the shearing world'. That article drew my attention to the fact that New Zealand shearers very aggressively market their talents in the UK. A couple of paragraphs from this magazine state:

  Negotiations with the UK Employment Dept on entry of shearers over 27 years old has produced a system which worked smoothly in a trial last season, writes Tony Cave-Penney from the National Association of Agricultural Contractors. Still, it means planning and paperwork for both contractor and shearer. Tony explains:

  If you are over 27 we advise you not to try the old "holiday routine" method of entry. Unfortunately, last year, a number were turned back at UK airports because the immigration authorities considered they were coming here to work.

  It is thought that about half the national flock is shorn by itinerant shearers.

This is in the UK. The article continues:

No-one knows the number that come into Britain each year. With the increase in unemployment in the UK and EC, the authorities are trying to fill jobs within the Community in the first instance. Hence the increased vigilance at ports of entry.

However, the article concludes:

  The UK sheep industry has to show that it is training people to become shearers. There are already training schemes but very few trained people are enticed to become professional shearers. New welfare codes demand that all wool breeds of sheep are shorn at least once a year so Britain will still need qualified NZ shearers for many years.

I read those extracts from the magazine article to show that Australian shearers are very alert. They still feel that, if New Zealand shearers market their talents so aggressively in Great Britain, perhaps the committee in its report could have given a little more weight to the marketing of the New Zealand shearers' talents in Australia.

  However, I fully support the report of committee. I am just raising the issue that out there in the shearing industry there is still some sense of frustration. I believe that there is a need to listen to that frustration and to try to come to some resolution. I would underline the fact that the committee recommended the establishment of forums for consultation between the Australian Workers Union, the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia, the National Farmers Federation and other farming organisations. That was a very creative suggestion which I believe has been taken up. I really hope that the Senate will in due course learn of the progress of those talks and learn also that the conflict and frustration, which still exist, have been dealt with.