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Thursday, 23 April 1936


Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES (South Australia) . - I do not agree with Senator Hardy that, excellent as was the speech of Senator Guthrie, it should have been the end of the debate. Surely thi 3 matter is one of prime importance to Australia, and one on which it is very desirable for honorable senators to seize the opportunity to express their views. I expected from the Leader of the Country party (Senator Hardy) some fuller references to the general importance of the wool industry than the bare statement that he made.


Senator Hardy - I am reserving them for the tariff debate.


Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - I suggest that those remarks might appropriately have been made at this stage. When the Senate is debating the tariff, there will be such interesting matters for consideration as glass lamp chimneys, goloshes and mouse traps.


Senator Collings - And rat traps?


Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - Yes. Rat traps and vermin traps too; there will be plenty of opportunity to discuss those items at a later stage; but now is the time to deal with the subject of the wool industry.


Senator Hardy - Even though the Leader of the Government has pointed out that a discussion on certain phases of this subject might embarrass current, trade negotiations?


Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - That does not affect the general question of the importance of the wool industry to Australia, a question which Senator Guthrie has discussed, but which he would not claim to have exhausted. We should be grateful to Senator Guthrie for having, year after year, brought this matter forward in an endeavour to keep the members of the Senate mindful, of the fact that the wool industry is the mainstay of the country. It has always been so, and anything which imperils the stability of this industry is a direct threat to our national life. I do not entirely agree with the assertion that this industry has never received any assistance. In minor ways it has been assisted, having received help from the State governments in regard to the control and destruction of wild dogs, &c. Further assistance has been forthcoming in the way of exemptions from sales tax, and under the hardship section of the Income Tax Assessment Act, though I am doubtful regarding the desirability of this form of assistance. Generally speaking, however, it is true that, not only has little assistance been given the industry, but real obstacles have been placed in its way. Senator Guthrie mentioned an outstanding instance, the Commonwealth land tax, but another obstacle is the provision that sheepbreeders may not even export stud rams from the country. I admit that there are opposing schools of thought on this question, but, for my part, I believe that, as we have in the past produced the best merino wool, we shall continue to do so in the future whether we export our rams to South Africa or elsewhere, or whether we do not. The soil and climatic conditions of Australia are admirably suited to the production of high-grade merino wool. Senator Guthrie will agree with me, I think, that Australian merino stock exported to South Africa has, after one or two generations, shown marked deterioration.


Senator Hardy - 'But the fact that we produce the finest wool in the world does not necessarily mean that the world must continue to buy it-


Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - I am glad to have had that contribution from Senator Hardy; it has, in itself, perhaps justified my participation in this discussion but it would have been better if he had developed his argument by speech rather than by interjection. Senator Collings urged honorable senators on this side of the chamber to become realists rather than theorists. It would never have occurred to me to regard the Leader of the Government as an idealist and the Leader of the Opposition as a. realist unless I had been told that such was the case ; but the wool-grower, on the other hand, is bound to be a realist. It is of no use for him to look to the Government for support or help in his difficulties. He must face his own difficulties and overcome them if he can. He must sell his product in the world market if he is able, and he must meet and overcome all those natural difficulties such as rabbits and other pests which confront the primary . producers of this country, whether they be woolgrowers, wheat-growers or anything else. Docs the Leader of the Opposition seriously suggest thatwe should call the pioneers of Australia theorists? If he does I can only remark that theory is even more important than I thought it was. I can understand that, from the Labour party, we need not expect much sympathy with the wool-growers. The claims of those engaged in the industry will make little appeal to that party. There are several reasons for this, one of them being that the wool-raising industry is of such a nature that it can be, and is, carried on with a relatively small number of employees, scattered in such a way as not to be readily amenable to industrial control. Again, it is frequently asserted that those engaged in wool production hold too much land, and that this is detrimental to other members of the community. Wool-growers, also, are often of a conservative type, and do not make a ready appeal to the sympathies of members of the Labour party. Notwithstanding these considerations, however, I remember Senator J. V. MacDonald stating on one occasion that the Labour party was on the side of the wool-growers, and had done a great deal for them. I challenged that statement at the time, and I should like to hear Senator J. V. MacDonald justify it if he can. I should like to know what the wool-growers have ever had from the Labour party except constantly increasing taxation and governmental interference.

I point out to Sena.tor Hardy that, so far, I have not said anything which might be regarded as embarrassing to the Leader of the Government. I have been discussing the wool industry in general terms. A suggestion has been made that a levy should be raised for the purpose of research and advertisement, both, I think, admirable objectives, I expressed myself in favour of them ten years ago, and I am still in favour of them. Senator Guthrie mentioned that the Bradford manufacturers have offered to subsidize £1 for £1 the Australian wool-growers' contribution to this fund; but I have yet to learn that the Australian manufacturers of woollen goods have made a similar offer.


Senator Leckie - Have they been asked to do so?


Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - I cannot say.


Senator Leckie - If they were asked, they would be willing to contribute.


Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - Did a request go from Australia to Bradford for contributions to the fund, or did the Bradford manufacturers make the offer of their own »free will ? In any case, would it not be reasonable to expect the Australian manufacturers to make the offer first ! I should have expected it. The whole problem is tersely dealt with in a book entitled The Greater Illusion, byF. . S. Alford, and I quote the following extract from that publication: -

The extension of the policy of " protection all round," making a powerful appeal to sectional interests, resulted in the subsidization of certain primary industries. The sugar bounty, the butter bonus, and the dried fruits subsidy, are the more notable examples of the sheltering of primary production. The rising costs from the institution of this extension of the protective policy increased the burden carried by the two remaining unsheltered export industries - wheat and wool. And when it appeared inevitable that wheat, too, would be drawn into the "vicious circle," Professor Giblin was inspired by the strange vision of " Australia as one enormous sheep bestriding a bottomless pit with statesman, lawyer, miner, landlord, farmer, and factory hand all hanging on desperately to the locks of its abundant fleece."

The wool-grower has seen for years that nothing has been done for his industry. As Senator Guthrie has said, he has asked, not for assistance, but to be left alone. But he also sees, as the days pass, that his markets are tending to slip away from him one by one, that other interests are undermining his interests and his sales abroad. He sees, too - and this is why Senator Guthrie has raised the question - that in one foreign country his sales have been increasing, and thus compensating him to some extent for what he has lost elsewhere. He merely asks the Government to be very careful to avoid imperilling the interests of this industry in that particular country, as it has imperilled those interests in other countries.







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