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Thursday, 23 April 1936

Senator COOPER (Queensland) . - Honorable senators generally will congratulate Senator Guthrie for having given us this opportunity to discuss a matter so important to the national welfare as is the wool industry. The honorable senator rightly claimed that this industry is the greatest in Australia. It is unfortunate that our 97,000 wool-growers are scattered right throughout Australia. The very nature of their operations necessitates their living in the distant parts of the country, and, unfortunately, they have little direct representation in this Parliament. If this discussion to-day will result in the industry being given greater representation in Parliament, it will be to the advantage of not only the industry itself, but also Australia as a whole.

Senator J.V. MacDonald urged that the industry should be thoroughly organized. An effort in that direction has been made, but owing to the wool-growers being scattered throughout the sparselypopulated areas of the Common.wealth, it has been difficult to obtain unanimity among them. However, the effort will be continued. Probably the units of the industry have been brought more closely together by reason of the period of low prices and bad seasons through which the industry has passed.

Senator Guthriesaid that the average price of wool to-day is 13£d. per lb. That is probably a fair price, but we must remember that, for six years previously, the average price was 9Jd. per lb., and that the higher price this year does not compensate for the losses of those years. "We must also bear in mind that a great number of wool-growers have suffered enormous losses of stock, and will not benefit from the improved price of wool.

While Bawra existed, wool prices were high.


Senator COOPER - Many woolgrowers desired that Bawra should continue, and that a reserve fund should be created for use in times of adversity. The unremunerative prices of recent years have brought home to the growers the necessity for organization along the lines of Bawra. It is now proposed to impose a levy on the industry, with the object of improving prices and increasing the demand for wool.

The risks run by those engaged in wool-growing are greater than those taken in any other industry in this country, with the possible exception of goldmining. The grower of wool i3 dependent on world prices for his product, but he must produce it in a country in which manufactured goods are highly protected. He is faced with the prospect of recurring droughts, and, in good seasons, of floods and fires. So many and so great are the risks, that it is a wonder that pastoralists can make a living at all. Only by their heroic efforts can they carry on. The balance sheets of the big pastoral companies reveal their losses during the last seven years, whilst evidence of the difficulties associated with the growing of wool is easily obtainable by those who visit the homesteads of the selectors and smaller graziers. If the experiences of the recent bad seasons cause the growers to unite and organize for better prices, then that period of adversity will not have been in vain. In western Queensland an area of about 60,000 square miles, which is devoted to the growing of wool, experienced a succession of exceptionally bad seasons, which were followed by floods that destroyed large numbers of sheep. Many pastoralists lost as much as 95 per cent. of their stock. It seems incredible, but it is nevertheless true, that, as a result, on a number of properties, on a capitalization basis, each surviving sheep represents from £300 to £500. Had such a disaster overtaken city industries, the press of this country would have made much of the hardships suffered, but because these things happened in the far interior, very little was said about them. Senator Guthrie has placed before the Senate a number of sound suggestions. At this stage I offer no suggestion as to the amount of the levy or the purpose for which the fund proposed by the honorable senator should be used, but I do suggest that provision be made at the manufacturing and selling end . for propaganda directed towards the greater use of wool and the securing of higher prices for it.

Senator Brownadvocated the building of railways in far-western Queensland. I agree with the honorable senator that such railways are necessary, but, in my opinion, their construction is more a matter for the State than for the Commonwealth. The honorable senator appears to have attempted to draw a red herring across the trail, for I remind him that, during the drought in western Queensland, strong representations were made to the Government of that State for the construction of a railway between Blackall andCharleville. The continuation of this line would have saved from 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 sheep. However, the Queensland Labour Minister to whom the representations were made stated that the line mentioned would not pay axle grease.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator's time has expired.

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