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Tuesday, 5 December 2000
Page: 20697

Senator FERRIS (5:38 PM) —It is with a great deal of optimism that I speak on the Wool Services Privatisation Bill 2000. Surely, this legislation will bring to an end the industry uncertainty of the past 10 years and the enormous and unquantifiable damage that has been inflicted on wool growers around Australia and their families. Importantly, this legislation will hand back to growers direct ownership of a new company—Australian Wool Services. This will allow wool growers at last to have ownership of their own organisation delivering services to the wool industry. A strong, market driven and commercially based struct-ure with growers themselves as the shareholders will enable them to at last determine the direction for the industry.

The lack of accountability and transparency that had existed within AWRAP and previous wool grower organisations will at last come to an end. I shall never forget the look of amazement on the faces of the growers that I spoke to in South Australia when I first talked to them about the newly disclosed Cape Wools debt, nor for that matter the look of embarrassment on the faces of the industry leaders and departmental advisers as they tried to justify—quite disgracefully, in my view—a single line in the annual report, which was the first public indication of the financial liability that growers had incurred without their knowledge. In my opinion, that was an absolutely irresponsible position. Perhaps within a day or two this acrimonious situation involving Cape Wools and the previous wool grower organisations, beginning with IWS, will be publicly aired and resolved to the satisfaction of growers.

I remain cautiously optimistic that the new wool promotion body can rid itself of the perception that AWRAP spent far too much time promoting itself and paying executives rather than fulfilling its basic and most important purpose: to promote wool and increase returns to growers. I would also hope that the legislation before us will ease the frustration felt by many growers who are conscious of the fact that, while more than $8 billion has been spent on wool promotion over the last 20-odd years, demand and prices for wool have declined.

During our committee inquiry into this legislation, I argued very strongly that the key to making this privatisation process successful was to ensure that a fundamental cultural change was made within the AWS, the new company. I firmly believe that all positions in AWS should be contestable within the first 12 months of the company's operation. In doing this, the company will more effectively demonstrate accountability and the discipline necessary to bring about long overdue cultural changes in both management and staff, allowing the AWS to become an industry representative body in the most basic sense. I am aware of the likely redundancy costs that may arise from this process. There is no doubt that too many wool growers have had to pay far too much money and endure a great deal of personal hardship over the years. It does seem a great irony to me that still more dollars may be required, but this company simply has to make a fresh start.

The historic wool grower meeting in Goulburn almost two years ago now—when the no-confidence vote in the AWRAP board took place—was a very clear indication of growers' anger. I am not sure that that anger does not still exist out in the paddock, but I often wonder to what extent it is understood by the peak wool grower body. That Goulburn meeting was a very important milestone in the process of corporate democracy within the wool grower organisations and the industry itself. I now believe that the passing of this legislation will be yet another significant step in the long and painful process of reforming and strengthening this truly great Australian industry. The pastoral area of South Australia, along with all producers of high micron wools, not only have had to contend with poor management of their industry, which has been quite eloquently discussed in this chamber today, but also have had a series of very poor seasons and now, for many them, a disastrous locust plague. I fervently hope that this legislation will finally remove much of the government interference that has plagued this great industry for so long and that it will be welcomed by growers everywhere as a significant first step in the rebuilding of this great industry.