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Thursday, 23 April 1936

Senator GUTHRIE (Victoria) . - I move -

That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till to-morrow at 10 a.m.

I thank honorable senators for giving me this opportunity to discuss a challenge to the Australian wool industry, which, if not countered, is likely to curtail seriously, and with most serious results to Australia, the demand for, and the price of, wool, which is our most important primary product. It is a challenge which comes from countries that are not large wool producers, particularly the continent of Europe, Japan and the United States of America. It is sponsored by very wealthy and highly organized manufacturers of competitive fibres which are really artificial fibres, although recently they have dropped the term " artificial " and substituted other names. Enormous sums of money have been expended, and much scientific effort has been applied in the perfecting of competitive fibres, for thi purpose of displacing to a very large extent, the use of sheep wool for the clothing of mankind. Science has of late made very rapid strides iu that direction. Manufacturers have greatly improved one competitive fibre which is called rayon,; but another, of more recent origin and a much more dangerous competitor, with natural wool, is known as staple fibre. These manufacturers are using their organizations and their wealth to boost the alleged virtues of clothing manufactured from these fibres, but fortunately for us, some of them are doing themselves damage, in that some of their claims are most untruthful, and are easily disproved. Nevertheless, so seriously has the position developed that immediate action is. imperative to safeguard this, the greatestsingle industry in the Empire, and by far the most important industry in Australia. In fact, the sheep and wool industry is the very life blood of Australia. There is no need to exaggerate its importance. I am aware that some honorable senators may regard some of the remarks which I am about to make as more or le3s alarmist statements, but I feel sure that, when 1 have finished my brief address, they will realize that I have not exaggerated the position, and that I have simply made a plain and truthful review of the situation as it exists. Like myself, they will realize also, I feel sure, that Australia is vitally concerned in the attack being made on this industry.

I have said that the wool industry is the life blood of this nation. A study of statistics will prove it. Information contained in the Commonwealth Year-Booh shows that products of sheep are responsible for more than 50 per cent, of the annual total value of exports from the Commonwealth. I am not now referring to wool alone. Wool solely would not account for that proportion of the value of our exports, but the value of the products of sheep accounts for 50 per cent, of the total value of our exports; and I venture to say that when statistics are available up to the 30th June this year, it will be seen that the products of sheep will have been responsible for considerably more than that percentage of the value of products exported from the Commonwealth during the preceding twelve months. This means that the sheep industry alone, on the basis of export values, is more valuable than all our other industries put together. When, therefore, we view the position in the light of the production of those overseas credits which are so necessary to enable us to pay interest on our overseas debts, and to supply the funds to purchase our imports, we must realize its value to Australia. Furthermore, it enables us to meet our overseas commitments to the extent which I have indicated, only after millions of pounds worth of wool, mutton, lamb, tallow, sheepskins and other products have been used in Australia; so that it is merely the surplus wealth created by sheep that accounts for over 50 per cent, of the total value of exports from the Commonwealth.

Some honorable senators may inquire why all this fuss should be made about wool. They may ask, "Is not wool selling well ? " or, " Is not the statistical position of wool strong? " Admittedly, wool is selling fairly well. This fact has proved a great blessing to the Commonwealth during the last twelve months. Furthermore, the immediate market outlook is admittedly fairly satisfactory. But I remind honorable senators that prices are not nearly so high as the general public imagine them to be. People read in the newspapers reports that wool is selling at this or that figure, and immediately assume that the high prices quoted are average prices, and not simply top prices.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - The reports nearly always deal with an increase of the price.

Senator GUTHRIE - That is so, and if all the various reported increases were added together, the price of wool to-day would be sky high, as it were. Admittedly, one-millionth part of last year's clip realized 35½d. per lb. That was for a portion of the Tasmanian clip. But a lot of people, and, I am sorry to say, some public men, take these reported increases of top prices as an indication of what the Australian clip, as a whole, brings on the market. Wool, generally, does not bring anything like these prices. We must deal with averages. The average price for Australian wool for the last clip was 14£d. per lb. gross, ex seaboard warehouse. That is equivalent to 18id net, or at country railway stations, which is the price which 97,000 Australian woolgrowers obtained for this year's clip. It is quite .a good price; but it must be remembered that the average price of wool for the last six years has been only 10l£d. per lb. gross, or 9 3/4d. per lb. net. On a sterling basis, the price for last year, 13Jd. per lb., is equal only to lOd. per lb., and on gold it is equivalent to about 6$d. per lb. Many people are apt to be lulled into a false sense of security by newspaper reports that wool is selling at exceptionally high prices. Present prices are admittedly fairly satisfactory; but I draw attention to the fact that even the satisfactory price of 13£d. per lb. net - the average realized during the last twelve months - is only Id. per lb. above the average price realized during the last 34 years. I point out, further, that for most of those- 34 years we were on gold. If we were back on gold to-day, or even on sterling, the average price for last year's wool would actually be below production costs.

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