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Tuesday, 21 May 1957

Mr KILLEN (Moreton) .- I do not propose to speak at length on any of the various bills under discussion, but I think it will be agreed by all honorable members that they are all of profound importance. It may be trite to say that the wool industry is, in a very real measure, the basis of our entire economy. One only has to read the second-reading speech of the Minister on this bill to find proof of that. He said -

Our export income from wool this year will be about £500,000,000, more than 50 per cent, of all export earnings . . .

Wool is also Australia's outstanding dollar earner, contributing over one-half of Australian dollar earnings from all merchandise exports

In the last five years, wool has accounted for 8 per cent, of the gross national production.

They are facts well known to every member of this House. Nevertheless, I believe that if we are honest with ourselves - and it would be a refreshing exercise to engage in some honest introspection - I think we will readily admit that we frequently overlook those facts. The wool industry is the largest and most valuable primary industry in this country. What affects the wool industry affects the entire economy of Australia. If the House would care to consider an hypothesis, I invite honorable members to assume that the present portents of drought bear on for another six or twelve months and that a fierce and intense drought prevails in this country. In twelve or eighteen months' time that would have a terrific effect upon the wool industry. In a relatively short space of time, that effect would snowball throughout the length and breadth of Australia. No section of the economy would escape damage. I do not think there is another nation in the world whose economy is governed so much by a single factor. I suppose one could say that some of the Middle East countries are dependent entirely on oil, but oil is not a product that is affected by seasonal conditions as wool is.

I rose this afternoon, however, simply to strike a blow at what I regard as a very disturbing attitude adopted by many people in this country to the challenge from the synthetic fibre industries. Not only is this attitude disturbing, but there is evidence of a very real measure of smugness and complacency. As an illustration, I read from an article entitled " Synthetics Industry Virtually ' In the Doldrums ' ", appearing in the issue of " Muster " of 14th May. The opening paragraph of the article is as follows: -

The synthetic fibres industry in the United States is "virtually in the doldrums", the "U.S. Textile Reporter " says.

I shall not read the whole of the article because this journal is available for all honorable members to see. I shall content myself with reading this paragraph: -

The industry remains, despite being surrounded by fat profits on all sides, virtually in the doldrums. At this point there are no factors present that would seem to indicate anything but a continuation of this unfortunate condition into 1957.

Only last Friday I spoke to a person whose standing and experience in the pastoral industry one immediately recognizes and accepts, but I was very alarmed to hear him say, "Why worry about synthetics? There is nothing in them at all. We have been faced for years with this so-called challenge - this so-called 'battle of the fibres ' or whatever other expression has been used to describe the contest - but nothing has really happened ". He referred me to the decline in the production of synthetics in the United States of America. I have the figures, and they are interesting. For the nine months ending November, 1955, the production of artificial fibres in the U.S.A. amounted to 1,683,000,000 linear yards. For the nine months ending November, 1956, production was 1,671,000,000 linear yards. That represented a decrease in production of 11 per cent. One meets many individuals who point to facts such as those and say that there is no need to worry about the battle of the fibres. They suggest that there has never really been a contest. It is precisely that attitude of mind that prompted me to rise this afternoon, because I believe that the struggle against synthetics is far from over. If people are going to remain possessed of the idea that this is a contest with no application to this country, I believe that they are exposing the nation to the gravest harm.

If I may suggest another hypothesis for the House to consider, let us assume that a synthetics firm - I do not care whether it is du Ponts, Unilevers, Imperial Chemical Industries or Shell - develops a synthetic fibre in five or ten years' time that has all the characteristics of wool. Where would this country be then? It would take £500,000,000 out of our export-earning capacity every year. I put it to honorable members that if a synthetic fibre to replace wool could be developed, this country would pass through such an era of depression that the 1929-32' period would by comparison seem to have been a boom.

I thought that the estimate of the right honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Casey), the Minister for External Affairs, that £15,000,000 was being spent annually on research into the fibre synthetic industry was remarkably conservative. I would have been inclined to move a little closer to £20,000,000. Be that as it may, here is an industry spending between £15,000,000 and £20,000,000 on research, but what is the wool industry spending? As the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) pointed out, the total being spent throughout the world is about £2,000,000.

I have already mentioned the activities of du Pont, Unilever and Imperial Chemical Industries Limited. Some of those companies are spending up to 25 per cent, of their profits upon research into synthetics. With all the goodwill and charitableness in my frame I say to my collagues of the Australian Country party that if the representatives of our wool industry were asked to devote 25 per cent, of their profits to wool research, there would be such a crop of coronary occlusions, strokes and cerebral haemorrhages that the hospitals would be packed out. I think there is urgent necessity for the House and the nation to come to the point and be realistic enough to admit that the challenge from the synthetic industry is far from over. The legislation now before us is a notable step, however minor it may be in the overall scheme of things, towards such a recognition.

I propose to take up the time of the House for a few moments in order to illustrate some of the characteristics of synthetics. They may touch no nerve of novelty so far as honorable members are concerned, but I believe that there is some value in reminding ourselves of some of the characteristics possessed by synthetics that are not possessed by wool. For example, terylene has a very real degree of moth and mildew resistance. It is not a contrast, but rather a notable fact that approximately one-fifth of suit production in the United States of America is devoted to rayon. Orion is resistant to a number of acids, has amazing strength and is also moth and mildew resistant. Vicara is nonitching and creates no allergy problem. Dynel is also resistant to chemicals, gives good warmth and can be ironed without damping. It, too, is allergy-proof.

The development of wool has not yet been brought to the stage where it commands all the various characteristics of the synthetics. I am the first to agree that wool possesses many characteristics that synthetics do not as yet command, but that is no argument for saying that synthetics will never, at any time in the future, command the characteristics of wool. I refer again to the smugness and self-satisfaction that prevail in the minds of many people who are directly associated with the wool industry of this country. In that smugness and self-satisfaction there lies a very real degree of danger.

There is a great time lag in Australian wool research. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has made a great contribution - one that is readily acknowledged by honorable gentlemen on both sides of the House - but some indication of what I mean by time lag may be gleaned from the following observation of Professor George D. Beal, an American engaged in wool research -

The time lag between laboratory development and commercial utilization ranges from 2- li years, in the aviation industry, to 85 years in the woollen industry.

The last matter to which I wish to refer is section 9 of the bill to establish a wool research trust fund. The bill might well have made provision for the recognition, in tangible form, of the contribution made by particular individuals to the woollen industry. If I may give a case in point: Some years ago I was jackerooing on a property adjoining the C.S.I.R.O. research station at Gilruth Plains, near Cunnamulla. I had the opportunity of using extensively the mulesing operation for the protection of sheep against blow-flies and other pests, I do not know whether the inventor of that operation - the person who first thought his way through the mulesing operation - was ever recognized by the wool industry. I have an idea that he was, but that is the sort of thing that I have in mind. Again, there is the case of the individual or individuals within the C.S.I.R.O. who developed the branding fluid that scours out readily. That sort of achievement should be recognized.

It may be argued that it is very difficult to single out one, two or three individuals and say, " We regard your work as making a notable and important contribution to the wool industry and we propose to recognize your talent and inventiveness ". I do not accept that argument. The difficulties, however real, are not insuperable. It would provide an incentive to an individual directly associated with the wool industry by way of research within the C.S.I.R.O., or outside of it - whether a jackeroo, station hand or station owner - or in woollen mills at any level, to exercise his energies in this direction. If he knew that his inventiveness would be recognized, I believe that we should have ideas and suggestions coming forward. Probably no more than a dozen or so ideas of that kind have come forward in the last five or ten years. Certainly, there has been virtually nothing of major importance.

There have been improvements in pasture research and breeding, but we have no had any facilities for recognizing tangibly work that has a direct bearing upon the wool industry. I ask the Minister in charge of the House to consult his colleague, the Minister, for Primary Production (Mr. McMahon), upon his return, and also the Minister in charge of the C.S.I.R.O. (Mr. Casey) to see whether some formula can be developed, for inclusion either in this legislation, or in one of the associated acts, to recognize the inventiveness of individuals who make a notable contribution to the wool industry.

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