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Tuesday, 5 December 2000
Page: 20698

Senator CRANE (5:49 PM) —As I only have seven minutes, I am going to have to deal with a lot of these things in one-liners, unfortunately. The first point I will make is that it is a great day for the wool industry, because, at long last—and it is something that I have worked for assiduously since I got into this place in 1990—the day has come when the wool industry will take control of itself and will run its own affairs.

In terms of the Cape Wool decision, all I can say in shorthand to that is that it was a dumb decision, and the decision of the board of AWRAP to keep it secret was even dumber. I think that is the best way of putting it and keeping growers in the light. I reject totally the claims made by the Labor Party with regard to Minister Anderson. Minister Anderson did what was required of him under the legislation—legislation which was the brainchild of the Labor Party and brought in, I think, in 1993. They are the facts of the matter.

I just want to deal now with the cost that was talked about by Senator O'Brien. If you want to look for a culprit who nearly drove this industry into oblivion, just look at the Labor Party and what they did to this industry between 1985 and 1990. What did they do? They jacked up the reserve price, taxed wool growers almost into oblivion and then collapsed the price—that is what they did. Remember, Mr Kerin went overseas; what did he say? `This reserve price is rock solid.' What did he do when he got back to this country? He collapsed it. What did that cost wool growers? You people talk about $20 million; what did that cost wool growers? Two billion dollars of equity was written off, $2 billion of debt—if I remember my figures correctly—and four million bales falsely bought into a stockpile under a price regime that was not sustainable. Who was responsible for that? The Labor Party were responsible for that, and they sent a lot of my best friends broke. So do not come in here and lecture us about price and what occurred, because you got it so badly wrong.

The committee that I have been involved in has worked assiduously since 1990 through a number of things—the Garnaut report, the McLachlan report—to correct this. We are now at a day of reckoning when some of these things will be corrected. So I say through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, when people in glass houses start throwing stones, they want to have a very careful look at their own record. Because it ain't very smart; it ain't very good. A lot of people were hurt—hurt to the point of not being able to recover.

I want a say a little more about the freeze of the stockpile. If there was an architect for the freeze of the stockpile, it was me. It was done for a particular purpose. It was done so that the wool industry could have some breathing space to get their house in order. What was a direct result of that first freeze of the stockpile? The price of wool went up very smartly. The election came, the freeze on the stockpile was taken away and the price went down. I do not have the graph here, but I can get it. The day after the freeze was put back in place, the price went up again. Nobody can measure the importance of that in terms of that extra money that went into growers' pockets because of it. I regret there was a gap in the middle, because some people missed out. But that was unfortunate; that was one of those things that happened in the process of an election. Keeping that freeze in place could not be done during the election. You have to look at these things in a sensible and constructive manner. I reject absolutely and totally that it was not the beginning of the restructure of our great wool industry, and I must declare an interest in the industry—I have been in it for 50 years now. The freezing of the stockpile was the beginning of the commercialisation. Where is the stockpile today? We have had a significant payout. It is a non-issue. It never gets mentioned because the little games that were being played by the people who were running it then on non-commercial lines were costing growers many dollars.

I have had access to information—and I think I tabled some of it in this place previously—that they were not always selling to the highest bidder. That was what was happening. That is why we had to freeze the stockpile. That is why we had to reform this industry. This is part of the process. It was begun by the growers. It was begun by the growers with the sacking of the AWRAP board because of faulty legislation introduced by the previous government. Some of them drove 1,500 miles across the country to sack that board. Why did they have to do that? Because the process of getting rid of the board did not allow for a proper proxy structure so they could do it in the way you could with a corporations company. I am sorry that I am a bit emotional here today, but I have heard some of the nonsense coming from the other side about their performance in the wool industry. They throw these accusations around the place, but they have done nothing to hold their heads up high about; in fact, they should hang their heads a little.

We are still paying the price for the fact that that stockpile was allowed to run out of control by the previous administration in this country. It is something I believe we can now recover from. We are in the process of recovering from it. I only have to look at my own returns this year now we are getting some stability back into the industry. My heart bleeds for so many of those wool growers who should never have been forced out of the business by the bad policy—the terrible policy—that existed at that time.

I want to acknowledge the reporting process and the work that the committee has done. There is nobody on that side, on this side or on the Democrat benches who can claim the credit in isolation from anyone else. You only have to read the Hansard. You only have to read the questions that I have asked about the secret and disgraceful evidence, if you can call it that, that was put to us when a group of industry people gave two positions to the committee. I said you cannot have your cake and eat it. Do you remember that? In the last paragraph I said:

It is useful having the information as long as you people understand that and do not come out and belt us tomorrow for not taking action yesterday.

They gave us information we could not use in our report. The moment has passed for the use of that evidence. In due course, what Cape Wools and what AWRAP—or, more correctly, Mr Price and Mr Sherlock—put on the record will be released, if I can read the views of the committee. I am absolutely certain that will be done. We decided the other day in our discussions that we would not release it at this time because it may jeopardise the finalisation of the deal between Cape Wools and AWRAP.

Finally, government senators voted in our committee structure for the process to go ahead. Time will tell but, if the wool services legislation had been passed quicker and had been dealt with before the deal was made, we could have had a situation whereby the valuation of the new AWRAP, the wool services company under corporations legislation, would have been lower than it was under the existing AWRAP. Therefore, between seven per cent and eight per cent of a lower figure is a smaller slice of the cake. I suspect at the end of the day that, because that legislation was not passed earlier, it could well cost the wool growers another couple of million dollars. Having said that, I think on balance that what has been done over the last two years or thereabouts will put the wool industry on a much firmer footing. I do not want to hear any more nonsense—I will be disappointed to hear any more—comparing the cost of this government to the wool industry with that of the previous administration and the billions of dollars that went down the drain between 1985 and 1990.