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Thursday, 26 September 1974
Page: 1478

Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania) (Minister for Agriculture) - The Government will oppose this amendment. The Committee should be reminded that this legislation came into the Senate some months ago and was concerned primarily with extra levy on the industry for research and promotion of wool. The matter was explained then. The essence of the amendment does not concern that particular levy because, as I think we realise, there is no opposition to it from the Opposition. But this amendment centres on the 5 per cent levy, which has been agreed to by the Australian Wool Industry Conference and the Government after the Government decided to support the 250c wool price.

It seems from reading the amendment that the Oppostion's concern is with the identification of those moneys. Senator Maunsell made some reference to the fact that he would not want to see any portion of those moneys paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund or for some other purpose. Let me say that there is not the slightest intention on the part of the Government to see those moneys used for any purpose other than for the wool industry. The same thing applied when we dealt with the meat inspection levy and the brucellosis and tuberculosis levy earlier this year. Senator Maunsell mentioned that in the other place no explanation was given of what was meant by further amendments. When the agreement was reached with the industry on the 5 per cent levy it became necessary for legislation to be enacted. The most practical way of doing this was through this legislation. The other amendments referred to involve supply management powers and also full trading powers which will be given to the Australian Wool Corporation. These amendments will need to come forward when their technicalities are finalised. They will make provision for a separate account in the Corporation's accounting system for this 5 per cent levy.

So basically what we are looking at with the amendment are 2 propositions: Should the money be paid into a special market account of the Corporation or, alternatively, into a government trust account, as is proposed by the Opposition? I think it is fair to say that in either case the moneys would be clearly identified. There is no argument about that. But the adoption of the amendment means that the trust account would become subject to certain restrictions which would apply under the Audit Act, particularly in respect of investment. Moneys payable to the Corporation would need to be paid after concurrence of the Treasurer, whereas under the proposal of the Government the account would be at the discretion of the Corporation and would appear in the Corporation's accounts, still subject of course to audit but not to those restrictions which will apply if it is turned into a trust account.

I strongly suggest that the Senate would be well advised to reject the amendment. If it could be established that there were some reason to suggest that the Government had an ulterior motive and that it did not intend to see all these moneys used in the industry there might be some validity in the amendment, but I am making it clear to the Senate now that there is no such intention. The Government wants to see that all the moneys which are levied by the industry eventually are used for the industry's benefit. The 3 main purposes for which the 5 per cent levy is imposed- by agreement, of course, with the industry- are: Firstly, to repay the Government in the event of losses under the floor price scheme; secondly, to make advances to growers as a result of the introduction of the supply management scheme: and, thirdly if other moneys are remaining- we hope that they will be- to build up a reserve fund for the wool industry.

As I mentioned a few moments ago, we must bear in mind the wool marketing plan which is currently before the Government. I want to make it quite clear that the Government has as much desire as the Opposition to ensure that the proceeds of this levy are safeguarded for the benefit of the industry. The Government believes that the method it proposes will be a simpler method and it will certainly give the Corporation more discretion. Why should the Corporation not have that discretion? I do not think that, in the normal process of the business operations of the Corporation, the Government should interfere or that the Corporation should have to seek the concurrence of the Treasurer every time it wants to utilise the moneys in the account. That is what will happen if the amendment is carried. That is really what we are talking about. I strongly suggest that, in the interest of the industry, the amendment be rejected. Once again I give the assurance that the Government would in no circumstances deviate from the principle of applying any moneys collected under the levy for any other purpose than the benefit of the industry itself.

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