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Thursday, 23 April 1936

Senator ARKINS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Has not the carrying capacity an acre and the production of wool a sheep been increased during recent years ?

Senator GUTHRIE - .Yes ; especially in areas with good rainfall where scientific methods, and particularly the use of fertilizers for the growing of better pastures, have been adopted. No pasture known in the world is so suitable for the production of that fine and beautiful wool which has made Australia world-famous as are the native grasses, particularly the various danthonia grasses. Although during the last 40 years the production of wool a sheep in Australia has doubled, the general opinion of practical men is that the limit in regard to the size of the carcass and the production of wool a sheep has probably been reached. There may be some who say that there is no need to worry, because the sheep industry in this country is efficiently conducted, and produces great wealth; but, although the industry produces wealth for the nation, I cannot help worrying because, with many others who, like myself, have -had a lifelong experience of the wool industry, I see grave danger ahead. On a price basis, Australia cannot compete with those artificial fibres which are being manufactured in various countries in unlimited quantities at half the price that it costs to grow greasy wool in this country. These artificial fibres are produced in a form which enables them to be placed on the machines immediately, whereas Australian wool must first be sorted and scoured. Nevertheless, I am confident that if the industry is organized and the world told of the incomparable superiority of wool over all artificial fibres for the clothing and use of mankind, wool will win through. The first known reference to the superiority of wool over other materials for the clothing of mankind was made 2,000 b.c. The Bible contains no less than 50 such references, and throughout the ages wool has proved its superiority for that purpose. From the point of view of both hygiene and comfort, and in the long run economy, wool is superior to fibres. Highly organized and wealthy interests are making huge fortunes from the production and sale of synthetic fibres, the basis of which is wood pulp. When textiles manufactured from wood were first placed on the market as artificial silk, they did not appear to be dangerous, nor was the position much worse when they were offered as artificial wool. In the United States of- America in particular, the word " artificial " had a deterrent effect on the sale of such goods. Later, however, the word " rayon " was coined, and since then the production and sale of artificial fibres made from wool pulp has increased enormously. Australia can no longer ignore the facts. The countries which manufacture rayon have unlimited supplies of wood, which is turned into a kind of gelatine, and forced through small holes of any desired diameter and made in any lengths and quantities required. Rayon is a dangerous competitor with wool, first, because there is an unlimited supply of the raw material required for its manufacture; secondly, because it can be manufactured more cheaply than wool can be grown; and thirdly, because it can be made in fibres of finer diameter than that of the. finest wool known. "We do not know to what degree of perfection the manufacture of these artificial fibres will yet attain.

Senator Arkins - -Is rayon the chief competitor of wool?

Senator GUTHRIE - There is also staple fibre, which is a great improvement on rayon. As it can be cut into the same lengths and turned out in the tops the same as wool, it can be put on the cards and combs and spinning machines in the same way as wool. Practically no new machinery is required to produce it in a mill previously devoted to the manufacture of woollen textiles. It is difficult, even for an expert to distinguish it from wool. The world consumption of rayon for the twelve months ended 31st December last was equal to about twice the total production in Australia of clean-scoured wool.

Senator Hardy - 'Has there been any change in the total wool consumption of the world as the result of the increased consumption of rayon?

Senator GUTHRIE - Yes, I shall explain that. Apart from staple fibre and other synthetic fibres manufactured from wool pulp, the production of rayon last year increased by 22 per cent. Honorable senators may say that, in the past, wool has stood up to other competitive fibres, that it has stood up to rayon so far.

Senator Arkins - The effect of rayon has been against cotton, not wool.

Senator GUTHRIE - It has been against both; but rayon is not the product of which we are most afraid. It is the staple fibre that presents the chief danger.

There is enormous power behind the organizations which are pushing these products. !N"ot only have they launched throughout the world a campaign for the promotion of the use of the synthetic or artificial fibres, but they are also condemning wool. Signed by doctors and professors, grossly untrue statements have been issued so damaging to wool that one dare not indicate them. Europe and Japan are not wool-producing countries, and they are naturally falling in behind these synthetic or artificial fibres. The British Empire is the great supplier of wool in the world. It supplies 50 per cent, of the total wool produced. Australia supplies 27 per cent, in bulk and S3 per cent, in value. Who are our customers? First of all there is Great Britain, and, in recent years, although it is only 25 years since it first purchased wool from Australia, Japan has taken the place of Germany as customer number two. This year Japan has purchased from this country no less than 700,000 bales of wool. It has taken as much as the whole of the countries of Europe combined, this despite the fact that Germany formerly was our second best customer.

In America, with the advent of rayon and other artificial fibres, the use of wool so decreased that, in a few years, the per capita purchases fell by 50 per cent. The American wool interests - the growers, brokers, wool manufacturers, and workers in the industry - formed a powerful organization which has started a " Use More Wool " campaign, and a very clever one it is. It is simply telling the people of the advantages of wool against any other commodity for clothing. Propaganda for one year has resulted in the per capita purchases of wool in the United States of America increasing by 81 per cent.

Senator Hardy - In spite of the fact that, because of bad tactics, the campaign for the first three months was a failure.

Senator GUTHRIE - I did not know that, but what they can do in America we can do elsewhere. American purchases of wool from Australia rose from 15,000 bales in 1934-35 to 100,000 bales in 1935-36.

Japan is a very valuable customer of Australia, a vitally valuable customer, not only for wool and wheat, but also for other commodities. Therefore, I know that the Government, when dealing with international agreements or the tariff,, will take seriously into consideration the value of the Japanese demand for our greatest product.

Right down through the ages wool has proved the best commodity for clothing, and what we have to do is raise funds to enable us to tell .the world so. Hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum are being spent by opponents of wool, and iris proposed by the graziers of Australia to put a levy upon themselves of up to ls. a bale, which on the current Australian clip would raise a fund of £150,000 a year. We have had Lord Barnby's warning about the necessity for action. We have with us now, Mr. Wilson, the representative of the manufacturers of woollen products in Great Britain. Both authorities, as I do, take a very serious view of the position. Mr. Wilson told me that he was the third generation of his family engaged in the woollen clothing industry in Scotland, but that he had been forced to go into the manufacture of products from synthetic wool fibres. He had been compelled to do so by the public demand for cheapness, and by the advertising and boosting which artificial fibres had received. He regretted the fact that many of the wool-spinners of Scotland were now manufacturing artificial products. He has come out here with a scheme for Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to combine to raise for five years an annual levy of £50,000. As British manufacturers have pledged themselves to contribute on a £1 for £1 basis this would mean £100,000 a year for five years. That, however, is only for scientific research and propaganda in. the British Isles. I take the view that it is necessary to raise £150,000 a year in this country, because we want the money, first to assist further scientific research in Australia - wonderful work in this direction has been done by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. but that body is rather short of funds - and secondly, to institute a world-wide advertising campaign. Some of the money would also be expended on scientific research ' to make woollen articles more attractive for women and men. The various improvements that have been,, and are being made, are of immense importance.

For instance the Americans are now producing the best and most satisfactory sponges in the world entirely from wool. If that can be done in the United States of America, it can be done elsewhere.

It is proposed that we should raise this amount of money for advertising

Senator Guthrieand propaganda purposes. The British manufacturers are prepared to join in the scheme. South Africa and New Zealand have already agreed to this proposal. The graziers of Australia may come to the Commonwealth Government and ask for a measure of justice. They do not want either interference or assistance - for this is the only Australian industry that has never asked, either directly or indirectly, for governmental assistance. All the industry seeks is justice. Seeing that the wool-growers meet their share of the general taxation, they request the removal of the obnoxious federal land tax, which is an annual direct impost upon the capital of all primary industries, four-fifths of their capital being the value of their land. They may also ask that administrative machinery be made available to collect, as an excise duty, the proposed levy of up to ls. a bale.

The Government and the public generally should realize that our sheep and wool industry is the very life-blood of the nation. The industry is being attacked by vested interests and also by other powerful forces in Europe and elsewhere. Unless these attacks are countered, a damaging, if not a fatal, blow may be struck at this industry. It is, therefore, essential that every possible encouragement should be given to this Empire- wide campaign.

As my time has now expired, I thank honorable senators for the considerate attention they have given to the submissions that I have made to them.

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