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Thursday, 14 October 1971
Page: 2409

Mr COHEN (Robertson) - Mr Deputy Speaker-

Mr Mackellar - What about your suit?

Mr Buchanan - Look at the creases in it.

Mr COHEN - I do feel somewhat guilty in standing up to speak to this Bill whilst wearing a dacron and cotton suit because most of my suits are made of wool. I did not know that this Bill was to be debated today, otherwise I would have been appropriately dressed. Some time ago when the Australian Wool Commission Bill was being debated I spoke as a retailer who had had some 1 2 years experience in handling wool and selling woollen garments to consumers. I am not the only one in this House who has some retailing experience. I have a colleague on the other side who I understand has had some experience in this field. 1 refer to the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter). I hope that he will join in the debate and mention some of the things I hope to speak about this evening.

What I want to do tonight is to reiterate a lot of what I said in speaking to the Australian Wool Commission Bill. I think that we need to look at wool from the consumers' point of view. I must say that I could not agree with much of what the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan) said in relation to the importance of forgetting whether woollen garments are washable and of selling wool for its own quality. I think we have to look at the qualities of synthetic materials and measure those qualities against the qualities of wool. In this way we can ascertain the deficiencies in wool and thereafter try to improve it. I think the problem of a washable material is a very, very real one. Having dealt with housewives in the sale of garments over many, many years it is my experience that they have constantly asked the question: 'Well, can I throw it in the washing machine'? What can one say?

Mr Buchanan - What do you want to throw in the washing machine - suits?

Mr COHEN - Not suits, but knitwear. People do not ask whether suits can be washed. They ask whether slacks, knitwear and children's garments can be thrown in the washing machine. I think this is one of the reasons today why we are losing out in the field of children's garments, because anyone who has 3 children, as I have, will know that within 10 minutes of dressing them their clothes will be filthy dirty. The housewives want something that can be washed every day. In the debate on the Wool Commission Bill I said that I thought it would have been possible for Australia to become a fashion centre, but this we have not become. There have been changes throughout the world in regard to the fashion centres. There was a time back in the 1950s when we looked to the United States and then in the early 1960s the switch was to Europe. Then of all places England became the centre of fashion. Honourable members will recall that in the swinging sixties England became the fashion centre when the Beatles achieved fame. The young people in the world followed the fashions of Great Britain. Nothing has been done in this country at the marketing level to promote Australia as the fashion centre. For this reason I believe that a great deal of criticism can be levelled at the people who have marketed our wool.

In my speech on the Wool Commission Bill I asked: What attempts have been made to assist the Australian textile industry and the fashion industry to produce garments? I want to talk only about the garment end because I do not pretend to know anything about the production of wool. Coming back to what the honourable member for McMillan was talking about, there are certain areas in which we should concentrate in regard to the use of wool. In my earlier speech on the other Bill I said at that time that pure wool suits and slacks were still in great demand. I would think that 60 per cent to 70 per cent of suits sold by most Australian retailers would be made of wool. The balance would be made up of blends, mixtures of terylene and wool. The firm of Anthony Squires has used hundreds of thousands, if not millions of yards of material, called 'varano' in their suits. It is one-third terylene, one-third wool and one-third mohair. That represents 66} per cent natural fibre. Those suits are mostly sold as summer garments.

I think we have to recognise that a light weight woollen garment is a very comfortable garment to wear. It is the most comfortable summer suit that one can possibly wear but it is a fact that it crushes very, very easily. One has to have a pretty fair sized wardrobe to be able to afford a number of light weight woollen suits. The average man, and he represents about 90 per cent of the market in the purchase of suits, cannot afford this type of luxury. I can afford - perhaps because I get them at a better price - a couple of light weight woollen suits, and I would rather have them. However, I think we must recognise that there are limitations in this field. Slacks are in the same category as suits.

In regard to shirts my view is that there is a very limited market for woollen shirts and certainly not in the business shirt Held. Cotton and synthetic materials are in demand in this field. As to sport shirts, a woven fabric shirt is very comfortable but it is very expensive. The cheapest woollen shirt today in a quality brand sells at about $14. This does not give a mass market, in the knitted field there is the problem with the coarser woollens of skin irritation. 1 thing it is true to say that most people do not like coarse wools close to their skin. In the knitted field the fine wools are superior but the price range in this field is from $14 upwards.

In the sock field there is no : question that woollen socks - a 50-50 mixture of wool and synthetics - are on their own. There is nothing better. I have had a tremendous amount of trouble and complaints from customers who have complained after wearing synthetic socks of any description. I certainly never, wear them. I wear a mixture wool sock all the year round, summer and winter. To talk about pure wool socks in this field is absurb because today housewives will not darn socks when they can buy a mixture sock which will last for 12 months or more and worn each week. There are limitations. I heard someone talk of woollen ties. The amount of wool in woollen ties is infinitesimal. There is not much in that field at all.

I said then and 1 will repeat that I do not think that the people in charge of the Wool Bureau have satisfactorily sold WOO to Australians. I think that the general promotion - and I would agree with my friend here - has been concentrated primarily on the big retail stores, on television and on the sophisticated women's magazines. But there is no community consciousness about the need for Australians to use wool. The best interests of Australia and Australians are served by Australians buying wool whenever the opportunity presents itself. We could refer to it perhaps, as economic nationalism, and I see nothing wrong with that.

Most other countries do this with fabrics and products that they manufacture. They encourage their own people to buy the products upon which the survivability of their nation depends. I do not think that we have got this message through to the Australian people. It is all very well to say: You have not got it through'. How does one get it through? Previously I have related my own experiences with the Wool Bureau. At the start of every season we would ring up the Bureau and say: 'We are going to start our winter season. We would like some help from you. We have got a 37-foot window and we can do a very beautiful promotion'. We have done some excellent promotions, but we need help. One cannot spend $500 on a window promotion. One needs props. I have done this. I have gone to great trouble to obtain raw wool in order to demonstrate with posters the production of wool from the sheep's back right through to the finished garment. One can do a very attractive display. That is the sort of thing that one would want to do. We would ring up the Wool Bureau, but the assistance which we received was deplorable. We would get one or two posters, and that was it; that was the total contribution. We would receive no financial assistance.

I believe that someone from the Wool Bureau should have come up there, spent a day with us and helped us with the windows, lt could have provided a window dresser, if you like, and better quality posters and props that could have been moveable; they could have been moved around bie; they could have been moved around from retailer to retailer. A retailer will not go out of his way to promote wool. He wants to sell garments. If he can get this work done inexpensively by someone who provides that sort of a service, he will avail himself of the opportunity. But he will not spend $100 or $150 - and window dressers are extremely expensive - to do this for someone else, although in his long term interest, in a very vague sort of a way, this will benefit him. So I think that this is the sort of provision that the Wool Bureau ought to make.

It seems to me that growing numbers of tourists are coming to Australia. I have forgotten the exact figures although I should remember them because I made a speech on tourism recently. Hundreds of thousands of tourists are visiting Australia every year, and1 the number is increasing. I have done a little travelling, as I am sure most honourable members have. We know that when we visit a country the thing that we most want to take back from that counry is something which represents it. One does not go to New Zealand to buy woollen garments. One does not go to Fiji to bring back Savile Row suits. One buys something which represents the country. If you go to France, or even to Noumea, you bring back French perfumes because that is what Mum wants you to bring back.

I have found, particularly with American visitors who come here, that they want to take back something which represents Australia. It may well be boomerangs or koala bears. But the thing of quality that we have, that they immediately think of, is woollen garments. Yet when one goes to our international airports at Tullamarine and Sydney one would not know that Australia ever sold or grew any wool at all. All sorts of leases are let out for shops at Tullamarine and Sydney airports. I hope that if the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) is listening he will give consideration to this suggestion concerning our major airports. 1 notice that he is talking to the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) who in this chamber represents the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton). At our international airports people should be greeted with the image of Australia as a wool country. We also should let out these leases - I do not mind who gets them; I am not asking for one myself - to the big retailers or to a consortium of retailers who, I am sure, would establish wool stores at the airports - not small, pokey little things, but something fairly grand in which people could buy woollen garments either as they arrived, or preferably as they left, the country. The important point would not be the total amount of wool that is sold at those shops; it would be the impression given of the country which is the producer of the finest wool in the world.

I also think that there is a need to communicate at the store level with the people who sell wool. I am not talking about the owner or the manager; I am talking about the man in the big retail stores and in the small stores. We ought to establish some sort of lecture system so that these men could be invited to come out for a day or two and have explained to them the qualities of wool and be imbued with the spirit that the selling of wool is in the long term interests of themselves and this country. What happens is that these people will approach a customer - and I have seen it happen constantly in stores - who is looking at 3 garments. The natural thing to do is to select the most favourable features of the garments. The customer will ask: What do you think of this one as against that one - wool versus synthetics'? The man serving the customer will say: *You can throw the synthetic one into the washing machine'. He forgets all the qualities of the woollen one because he knows that this will appeal to Mum. What he should be doing, in my view, is selling the qualities of wool - -warmth, wearability and the whole range of qualities which wool possesses - against the synthetics because, as 1 have said, it is in his long term interests.

Encouragement should be given to manufacturers to use wool. I note that the Australian Wool Board, in its report, stated:

In the past, wool growers have defined wool marketing as the method used - to transfer the ownership of wool from the wool grower to the wool trade. However, the Board believes the definition should cover all that happens to wool from the sheep's to the consumer's back.

Within this concept the Australian Wool Board's current major research effort is aimed at establishing the cheapest and most efficient way to market raw wool.

Fortunately the Wool Board has changed its attitude towards the restrictive practice with the Woolmark. It will now allow a Woolblend mark, which . will allow manufacturers to use a little bit of synthetics with woo] and still receive the imprimatur of a type of Woolmark. I went and spoke to a number of manufacturers. I went out to one of the biggest woollen mills in Australia. I spoke to a manufacturer about the problems which he has to face. He said: 'I am a wool man'. I might say that most of Australia's manufacturers are extremely loyal. They know of all the qualities that wool has and they want to use wool as much as possible. But they have said: The frustrations that we have in dealing with the Wool Bureau are unbelievable'.

One gentleman, talking about shirting, demonstrated the point. He said: 'I will produce 12 pieces of cloth in say, these 9 coloures - blue, red, bone, light blue, orange, mustard, dark green and so on'. The Wool Bureau will then say: 'Yes, they are very good. They are the colurs that we have set for this year's Wool Bureau's colours. We will give you the Woolmark in that one, in the blue, in the bone, in the orange and in the mustard, but the other 4 colours do not come up to scratch'. No manufacturer can send out half of his range with the Woolmark on it and half without the Woolmark because it is not exactly as it was desired. All the manufacturers have experienced these sorts of frustrations. The other matter is that if the quality was not exactly as laid down, it did not get the Woolmark. Eventually, what they said was: 'To hell with it. Who needs these sorts of headaches? We will go on and use synthetics'. I met another gentleman who manufactures school uniforms. I am very glad to see the reference on pages 25 and 26 of the report to market research; a special school uniform marketing team was appointed. I have had some discussions with these people and I know the volume of cloth used in the school uniform field. They said to me that the synthetic manufacturers had set out to undercut the price of pure wool just enough to make their product sufficiently attractive for a switch over and there was no way that the manufacturers of the wool textile could get their price down those extra few cents. As a result they lost the market for hundreds of thousands of yards of material.

It seems to me that there should be some avenue open to the manufacturers when these problems crop up to go to the Board and say: This is the problem, this is what you will lose in yardage and this is what you will lose in customers who are now wearing wool. Can you give us some assistance to get the price down?' This could possibly be done by way of an incentive to help them reduce their prices below those of their competitors. When one talks of losing a market for school uniforms one is talking, 1 would think, in terms of millions of yards of material and it is a field we may well never get back into. I feel also that there should be more cash incentives not only to promote the use of wool but also to assist in constantly finding ways of plugging gaps in markets we are about to lose as well as to encourage manufacturers such as Anthony Squires, Speedo and Sutex, to export their products. A lot of manufacturers are already exporting to the near north, to America and to Great Britain. This is a way not only of getting export income and selling wool but also of selling the name of wool in the long term.

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