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Tuesday, 22 May 1973
Page: 2440

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - I find myself in agreement with much of what the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Kerin) said. Of course, in the wool industry there has been a remarkable transformation from the deplorable state of impoverty that faced everyone - not only the wool industry but also every other sector - only 2 years ago. More than any other agricultural commodity, wool is fundamental to agriculture in Australia. For a long time we have been told that Australia has ridden on the sheep's back. We have seen Australia develop not peculiarly because of the income earned from wool but predominantly because wool is a commodity which is part of nearly every farm and part of every primary production budget in the major part of Australia's rural sector.

This means that, in terms of the buoyancy of the industry, most farmers are affected to a greater or lesser degree by their wool cheque. It is therefore important that we take note of the changes that have taken place in the wool industry. To those 2 supporters of the Labor Government who were officers of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics and are now members of the House, I think it should be said that they served the people and the wool growers far better in their former role than they do as parliamentarians. I think it is necessary that there be, within the services available to government, a reservoir of knowledge which constantly prods the system in order to generate a new approach.

The wool industry itself, probably more than any other sector, has been essentially conservative because it has been such an important income generator and because, until recent years, it was said with some validity that irrespective of the quantity of wool produced there would be no real difficulty in selling wool. Only in the last 18 months have people come to accept that there are factors which need to be taken into account in relation to the production of wool - factors which relate to synthetic substitutes, fashion trends and trends in the costs of different styles of producing different types of end fabric, all of which affect the salability of wool.

The things that I want to say to this House in regard to this Bill relate, firstly, to what I see as a very necessary momentum for change which will be fundamental if the industry is to survive. Of course, this relates not only to competition from synthetics but also to the entire traditional way in which wool has been marketed and the way in which the wool industry looks on itself. It is necessary that the chain between the fibre on the sheep's back and the fibre as it appears in the suits, the fashion goods, or whatever the end products might be that are seen by the consumer, be modified to meet the escalating costs which, unfortunately, have eroded considerably the past profitability of the industry.

Wool is a product which, fortunately, through its own inherent or natural properties, has been able to regain its primacy as a textile fibre. But it is no use relying just on that in the future. Objective measurement techniques and changed methods of shearing and of handling wool at every stage will be increasingly necessary if wool is to remain competitive. The Bill before us tonight fortunately provides - albeit for the short term of one year - additional funds which will enable, at the stage of promoting the finished product, increased funds to be made available to enable the International Wool Secretariat to continue to operate.

It has been true that, over the last few years, a great deal has been said in criticism of the existing institutions within the wool industry. I deplore the statements that have been made by some honourable members opposite, particularly the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan), regarding the constitution of the Australian Wool Corporation. The Corporation was generated out of a very real need to change the past patterns of marketing the wool clip. Regrettably, in making the appointments to the Australian Wool Corporation it was not possible to appoint the personnel to the Corporation as early as I, as Minister for Primary Industry in the previous Government, might have liked. The reason for that was simply that the availability of the man who we hoped might have been managing director of the Australian Wool Corporation was dependent on a meeting of the International Wool Secretariat and the appointments of the other members of the Corporation were dependent on the availability of the man who now has been nominated as full time chairman of the Australian Wool Corporation. I refer to Mr Alf Maiden, who is about to take up his appointment.

The Australian Wool Corporation represents an amalgam of the Australian Wool Board and the body known as the Australian Wool Commission. It is obvious that a body representing the wool industry in the promotion sense and a body representing the wool industry in the marketing sense must have many areas where there is a common bond. That common bond covered a whole field of administrative detail and it was utter nonsense to maintain 2 organisations when a total marketing concept was forced on the industry in order to achieve the cost savings in the areas to which I referred a while ago and in the areas of objective measurement and changed selling techniques of which the honourable member for Eden-Monaro was a pioneer. It is a great pity that a reflection has been cast not only on the Australian Wool Corporation but also on the integrity of individual persons who have been appointed to that body. Those allegations are completely unjustified. Regarding the appointment of those men, I can assure this House and the Australian people that at no time did I select persons for those positions other than because of their inherent qualifications for the tasks which they were required to fulfil. The changes which this Bill introduces do not, of course, touch specifically on the functions of the Australian Wool Corporation so much as on those of the International Wool Secretariat.

One of the few steps that the present Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) has undertaken with which I find myself in agreement is in looking at the operations of the International Wool Secretariat. Indeed, one of the reasons that I am so hopeful for the promise given to the industry through the appointment of Mr Alf Maiden as incoming chairman of the Australian Wool Corporation, is that it will bring to the Corporation and the International Wool Secretariat a greater integration of purpose - an integration of purpose which is part of the continuous change towards an integration of the function of what formerly was 2 bodies within Australia and one outside Australia, is today one body within Australia and one body outside Australia and what I hope in the future will be looked at as an allied body both inside and outside Australia. Of course, I am speaking of the former dual organisation of the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission which today is the Australian Wool Corporation and, outside Australia, the International Wool Secretariat. To the degree to which these 3 bodies are capable of integration - and I am sure that Mr Maiden will achieve this - there will be a more effective use not only of taxpayers' funds, to which reference is made in this Bill, but also of the funds which producers will be asked to contribute to a greater degree through this Bill.

One of the reservations I have about the Bill is that regrettably it takes no account of what in the recent past have been marked fluctuations, upwards and downwards, in the price received for the wool clip. I think it would be a great pity if the Bill is seen as automatically imposing upon producers a continual obligation to contribute according to the maximum which is specified in the Bill. I believe it necessary that instead of financing the International Wool Secretariat for one year it should be financed for a longer period. The wool growers' contribution and the Government's contribution need to be related to the returns received from wool at any particular period. In other words, it is a great pity that in this Bill there has not been an accommodation for fluctuations in wool prices so that when returns are low contributions by wool growers can be reduced and the contribution by the Government increased. It is imperative that the International Wool Secretariat at the same time should have a projected contribution from the Australian wool industry and the Government combined which will enable it to plan its program not on a short-term basis but on a long-term one.

It is deplorable that nearly 6 months after this Government has come into office it should introduce a measure which fails to take into account the long-term needs of this, Australia's major export industry. It is quite paradoxical that one of the principal motives laid down by the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) for his assumption of office - one of the claims he made in his policy speech - was that it was necessary that there be long-term planning within the whole totality of government and yet here, in rural policy, we find provisions of a short-term nature. Instead of longterm planning, it is short-term planning. Instead of planning for the future, the Government is planning for today. The Government should be concerned with how wool might in future be able to offset all the difficulties of transformation from subjective measurement to objective measurement, all the difficulties of competitive promotion against synthetics and all the difficulties concerned with its general competition not only with other synthetic woollen substitutes but also with cotton and other natural fibres. The Bill provides, for 12 months only, an increase for the International Wool Secretariat budget. To my mind this Bill, more than any other that has come before the House, demonstrates the ad hoc character of the financial administration of this Government with respect to the rural sector.

In terms of the future of the wool industry, there are very marked changes in which I think producers, wool brokers, other marketing organisations and buyers need to be associated. The honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Kerin) this evening referred to the role of the innovators in the wool industry. The innovator he referred to significantly was Economic Wool

Producers Ltd and, to a lesser degree, some of the private wool buyers, particularly Compagnie d'Importation de Laines, known as CIL. I think it needs to be said that innovation is easy if one handles only a small percentage and a selected percentage of the Australian wool clip. The wool industry is a complex industry but it is no more complex than any other producing sector. If one looks at the percentage of wool which can be absorbed by a big proportion of the textile industry one can see that there are in the quality fibres opportunities to sell and to market without any real doubt. But there are difficulties with the coarser and stronger fibres. Some of the dust stained wools and some of the burry wools are fibres which need more complex handling. There are still difficulties in handling them objectively and it is these wools that have created problems in introducing a lot building plan.

I think it a great pity that there has been criticism of the degree to which wool brokers are capable of introducing new methods of handling and marketing wool. I am critical of the wool brokers because I think they have been too slow in moving into new methods of handling wool, but do not let us think only of Economic Wool Producers Ltd whose initiative is largely the product of reports of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. Do not let us think only of EWP and CIL as innovators, for these 2 organisations still hold and handle only selected parts of the Australian wool clip. The wool brokers are an important part of marketing wool. They have played an important function not only in marketing but also in financing wool growers. They still have a role to play but I believe it is now up to them to ensure that they demonstrate to the whole industry that in their actions they have the interests of the producers, buyers, and the Australian nation at heart.

I hope that the lot building plan can be introduced in the near future. It is through a lot building plan that we can accelerate changes incorporating much of what has been traditional and good in marketing wool. I believe a great deal has been achieved in recent times in changing the whole of the concept of the selling and handling of the wool clip. There still remains a great deal to be done. This Bill regrettably does not take us as far along the trail as one might have expected.

Indeed, with the technical expertise that should be available to the Government through 3 former senior members of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, 2 of whom have been associated with the wool industry and who today are supporters of the Labor Party Government, I think it deplorable that we have a Bill introduced in this Parliament which provides only short-term ad hoc assistance to Australia's major industry. While I support the Bill, I believe it does no more than provide just a token payment to an industry which in the last 12 months again has established its primacy as Australia's major export generator.

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