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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2846

Mr CUNNINGHAM(6.00) —At 6 p.m. on this Thursday evening, with only 10 people in the gallery, we have witnessed, I think for the first time in many years, a major piece of rural legislation coming before this Parliament on which Opposition debate has not been led by either a Country Party or National Party spokesperson. In fact, there is only one member of the National Party, the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Cowan), sitting in this place tonight. What has happened to the great National Party? The legislation with which we are dealing this evening-the Wool Marketing Bill 1987 and the Wool Marketing Tax (Nos. 1 to 5) Amendment Bills 1987-replaces the Wool Industry Act 1972, which commenced on 1 January 1973 in starkly different circumstances from those currently enjoyed by the industry. In the early 1970s the industry was on its knees. It was due to the bold leadership of the wool industry at that time by men such as Bill Vines, Bill Gunn and others-this was mentioned by the previous speaker in this debate, the member for Ryan (Mr Moore)-including David Asimus, the present Chairman of the Australian Wool Corporation, and also, probably the most important contributor, Ken Wriedt, the then Labor Minister for Primary Industry who introduced initiatives with the reserve price scheme, that the decline in the wool industry was arrested and the basis for a sound reconstruction was laid.

In considering the situation that pertains today we have to look at the arrangements that were put in place, and which in no small way contributed to the improvement. As the honourable member for Ryan has said, the Australian Wool Corporation has operated effectively in its support of the market through the reserve price scheme, and wool growers have strengthened the position of wool in the world textile market by continued investment in wool promotion, research and development. Some of the latest figures clearly indicate how the rural sector is turning around the so-called doom and gloom situation about which we have heard so much. The figures in the January Bureau of Agricultural Economics quarterly review of the rural economy show that in 1985-86 the industry produced $2,678m for Australia, with the projected figure for 1986-87 being $2,980m. The latest projections are pointing to an improvement on that figure of some $4,000m for 1986-87. That represents a dramatic turn-around, another $1 billion coming into Australia from our export of wool. The BAE farm survey report of March 1987 shows that the sheep farm family income for 1985-86 was $14,840, with the big turn-around for 1986-87 projected to be $35,600-an amazing improvement in relation to the wool industry and the rural sector in Australia, and I am sure it will continue.

Thinking that the former Opposition spokesperson on rural matters in this House would be leading off this debate for the Opposition, I asked him whether I could have a graph incorporated in Hansard. It relates to an article on page 23 of the National Farmer of 29 April, which indicates what has occurred with wool prices. That is why I have not asked the speaker who led for the Opposition, as I was not aware that he would be leading off in this matter. I seek leave to have the table incorporated in Hansard. If it cannot be incorporated, I would like to table it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Rocher) —The Chair will have a look at the graph and the Deputy Leader of the National Party (Mr Hunt) might also want to have a look at it before the Chair rules.

Mr CUNNINGHAM —Notwithstanding the present buoyancy in the wool market, the industry faces enormous challenges in the future. We should not let our record wool exports detract from the fact that wool is a special fibre, occupying a small and declining share of total textile consumption. It accounts for only around 5 per cent of overall world textile use, as against a 47 per cent share for cotton and 48 per cent for synthetics. Furthermore, in those areas where wool is relatively strong its share is declining. Wool had 33 per cent of the menswear market in 1970, while only about 18 per cent today. Similarly, its share of the womenswear market has fallen from 27 per cent to 14 per cent. Knitwear has fallen from 40 per cent to 27 per cent.

On the supply side, members would be aware of the present disruption in world agricultural markets and the potential for a continued shift in resources away from other farm enterprises, in particular a shift from cropping to wool production. Sheep numbers have grown rapidly, from 133 million in 1983 to an estimated current flock of 160 million head. A continuation of this rate of growth poses a longer term challenge for the wool industry and must be monitored. We must have flexible marketing arrangements in place to meet any crisis in the supply of wool arising from an increase in sheep numbers. It is timely therefore that the process commenced in the late 1960s and early 1970s be extended to cover modern demands and to position the industry to prepare for the circumstances that it will encounter in the 1990s and into the next century. It is for this purpose that the new arrangements, developed in consultation with the wool industry, have been introduced. The previous Minister for Primary Industry is to be congratulated for his efforts in this area.

This Government has distinguished itself in comparison with the previous coalition governments in that it has introduced significant market deregulation and has opened the way for better commercial operation by Australian enterprises. It has abandoned conservative rhetoric and given the market a chance to work. The initiative of the Government is particularly evident in the approach that it has taken to the changed administration of its government statutory business enterprises and to the reform of its statutory marketing authorities. This includes the reforms which ensure that women in statutory marketing authorities get a fair go. Women employees of the authorities are now guaranteed equal opportunity by the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill. That Bill insists that women applying for jobs in those authorities be treated on merit. Over the past couple of weeks we have seen a charade on the part of the Opposition in the introduction of that very important Bill dealing with these statutory authorities, in relation to which very important clauses are contained in this Bill. The Liberal Party has been severely damaged by the revolt on Tuesday night by eight Liberal senators on this issue.

Mr Downer —That has nothing to do with the wool industry.

Mr CUNNINGHAM —It is very important to the wool industry. Seven of those senators, led by the former front bencher, Senator Peter Baume, crossed the floor to vote for the Hawke Government's Bill giving women in Commonwealth statutory authorities such as this one a fair go at work. The eighth senator, Senator Don Jessop, abstained. Those senators are the few Liberals who have had the courage to stand up for what they believe. Certainly, the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) did not have the strength to stop them or the integrity to join them.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for McMillan should return to the Bill.

Mr CUNNINGHAM —Certainly, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was of the opinion that the honourable member for Ryan had indicated that amendments would be made to the Bill.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Ryan has not yet moved any amendments. I think the honourable member is questioning the ruling, and I would ask that he get back to the Bill.

Mr CUNNINGHAM —There is no doubt that this is very important legislation in relation to statutory authorities, and I think that the Hawke Government's introduction of it will certainly have a big part to play in what will occur in future in these statutory authorities. I am sure that honourable members opposite who have been so divided on this issue will certainly have their opportunity this evening to decide which way they intend to go. Perhaps that is the reason why a member of the National Party did not lead the debate for the Opposition or why so few National Party members, other than the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), are listed to speak.

It is essential for the Corporation to operate on an effective commercial basis and that its Board comprise the best available talent. To this end the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerrin) has introduced a number of changes. The Bill will therefore provide that a chairperson be appointed on a part time or a full time basis. Where a full time chairperson is appointed that person will be the chief executive officer of the Corporation. However, where the chairperson is appointed on a part time basis a managing director will be appointed by the Board as an additional director of the Corporation and that person will be the chief executive officer. It is imperative that the Corporation be headed by the best available person and that the increased flexibility provided by the Wool Marketing Bill will enable this to be the case. Also the equal opportunity positions within the legislation will certainly play their part in the future in this area. I hope that members of the Opposition clearly support that position when it comes up for a vote this evening, if that occurs.

The present Chairman, David Asimus, has been an outstanding leader and has piloted the Corporation to its present successful position. However, he has publicly announced his intention to retire as Chairman of the Corporation when his current term expires at the end of 1988. In terms of the financial demands of the Australian Wool Corporation, it presently has in excess of $1 billion to the credit of the market support fund, sells wool internationally in various currencies and could, in the event of a severe downturn in the market, be required to spend heavily in purchasing wool to support the market. The Australian Wool Corporation can, on a financial transaction basis, be equated with larger Australian private corporations. Commercially it cannot be expected to seek frequently ministerial or government approvals for corporate financial decisions. It is also fundamentally wrong for major decisions on the finances and market operations of the Australian Wool Corporation, such as decisions on the minimum reserve price, to be taken in a political environment. If the Australian Wool Corporation is to act as an autonomous commercial body, it must perform on a commercial basis like any other business organisation.

Under the existing legislation the precise ownership of some wool stores of the Corporation has been uncertain, particularly in view of the defence provisions dating back to World War II which allows the wool stores to be reacquired in the event of threat of war. This Bill removes the defence provision which has been rendered obsolete and clarifies the ownership issue by fully vesting all wool stores in the Corporation. Simultaneously, the Bill upgrades the status and visibility of the wool stores operation by establishing a separate Wool Stores Board of Management as a sub-committee of the Corporation to administer stores to the benefit of wool growers. The Wool Stores Board of Management will be required to prepare corporate and annual operational plans and an audited annual report, with full visibility of financial accounts, to the Corporation for inclusion in the latter's annual report. In addition the stores are a significant asset of Australian wool growers. They should be managed so as to ensure the best commercial returns to wool growers, and growers should be apprised of the location and other relevant information on the stores and the results of their management. Provisions in the Bill will achieve these goals.

Mr Hawker —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: Is it in order for the honourable member to read verbatim the Minister's second reading speech on this Bill?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Rocher) — Order! There is no point of order. I call the honourable member for McMillan.

Mr CUNNINGHAM —Wool is our No. 1 rural export. Australia is the dominant world supplier of it. We must do everything possible to preserve that market dominance of Australian wool and its competitive position relative to other fibres. This includes taking whatever measures are necessary to safeguard the integrity of Australia's wool. The Bill also provides for compulsory registration of wool classers classing wool to be sold at auction, prohibition of sale at auction unless classed by a registered wool classer and deregistration of wool classers for up to two years where such classers have been found to be consistently flouting industry agreed standards for presentation of wool for auction. It is expected that deregistration action would be an infrequently used deterrent but would have a significant impact on the industry. Any deregistration action would be subject to appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

This is very important legislation, and it is important that those who are listening to the parliamentary broadcast tonight and those in the rural sector of Australia who are aware that this Bill is being debated tonight are acquainted with what is in the Bill and what is going on in relation to this important legislation. However, in the concluding couple of minutes of my speech I would like to make a few more comments in relation to that important part of the Bill which deals with the equal opportunity measures. In the last couple of days we have had a lot of debate in relation to this issue. Yesterday it was reported in the Melbourne Sun:

The Liberal Party yesterday averted another potential split by supporting a new bill which enforces equal employment opportunity programs.

A full party meeting decided to support, without amendment, a new wool marketing bill which requires the Australian Wool Corporation to develop such programs.

I will be very interested to see the amendments that have been foreshadowed by the honourable member for Ryan to see what the Opposition means in relation to this. Many people want to see exactly where the Opposition stands and where the National Party of Australia which is not part of the official Opposition-the honourable member for Gwydir will be the next speaker on this Bill-stands on it. He is speaking for a party which, as I said at the beginning of my speech, for the first time in as many years as anyone in this place can remember, has slipped into oblivion. It purports to represent rural Australia, but it represents only about half of that area now because the Australian Labor Party holds at least 50 per cent of the seats in rural Australia. This is possibly the major piece of legislation dealing with one of the major export industries in the rural sector--

Mr Hawker —The biggest.

Mr CUNNINGHAM —The biggest export sector. The honourable member for Ryan led off for the Opposition. He is to be followed by the honourable member for Gwydir, the only speaker listed on behalf of the National Party as we see it today. He is to be followed by members of the Liberal Party as they are listed. It is with some sadness, we could say, that we have seen such destructive elements within the Opposition. They have brought about a situation such as we are witnessing here tonight. It is really an historical time to see before such a small gallery of interested spectators the demise of what was once known as the Country Party and the National Party. We have seen it relegated to a position in this House tonight where, on a major piece of legislation, the lead has been taken by the honourable member for Ryan, to be followed by the honourable member for Gwydir. It is a sad day indeed for country Australians.

Mr Cowan —I rise on a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The honourable member for McMillan has said on a couple of occasions that the honourable member for Gwydir is the only speaker from the National Party. If he looks at the list of speakers he will find that we have other speakers from the National Party.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order. I call the honourable member for McMillan.

Mr CUNNINGHAM —In the last minute of my speech I say that it is sad to see such division rending the Opposition apart, as we have seen here. Perhaps the equal opportunity problems have caused this. We have had the National Party solidly opposing that to the point where, in the Senate this week, seven wets, as they were called on the front page of the Australian, or eight Liberals rebelled and crossed the floor in order to get that very important legislation through on behalf of women in Australia in dealing with statutory authorities. The Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill was the first one to come before the Parliament to encompass such legislation. I look to the debate this evening to see just what the position will be in relation to these issues-whether the Opposition supports the measures in the Wool Marketing Bill, whether the National Party which has solidly opposed it in the past continues to oppose it, or whether we will have some sort of division so the wets and the dries will have to decide whether they will support it or continue to follow the massive divisions in the Opposition.

Certainly one thing that can be put before the people of Australia is that the Australian Labor Party now is clearly the only party in this country that is in a position to continue to govern it, the only party that has the strength and the cohesion to bring forward major legislation. I commend the Minister, who is at the table, on his great efforts in relation to this Bill. I can assure the House and the small gallery that, although we have seen the demise of the National Party and history played out here tonight, a Labor government will, for many, many years, be quite capable of looking after the interests of both city and country people.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mildren) —Order! Before the honourable member for McMillan concludes, I indicated to him earlier that I would rule on the document he asked to have incorporated in Hansard. It does not fall within the guidelines laid down by Madam Speaker, and it may not be incorporated. But I give the honourable member the opportunity to seek leave to table it.

Mr CUNNINGHAM —I seek leave to table the document.

Leave granted.