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Thursday, 9 August 2001
Page: 29551

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (9:47 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

The Wool International Amendment Bill 2001 will expedite the final stage in the decade-long task of selling down the wool stockpile, winding up the company charged with its management and will maximise the surplus equity returned to its shareholders.

The legislation to privatise Wool International in 1999 provided for the final distribution to shareholders to follow the preparation of the final financial year audited accounts for WoolStock Australia Ltd.

The board of WoolStock Australia has advised the government that the last wool in the stockpile is likely be sold down in the very near future, possibly in the next few days.

This amendment will enable WoolStock Australia to bring forward its winding up and final cash distribution to shareholders, without requiring the conclusion of these processes to be after 30 June 2002. The shareholders of WoolStock are essentially those wool growers that met much of the burden of the debt associated with the stockpile in the very difficult years for the wool industry between 1993-94 and 1995-96.

The effect of this amendment is that wool growers will get their final payment flowing from their shareholding considerably earlier than would be possible under the current legislation, and, because the overhead costs of maintaining the company until after 30 June 2002 can be reduced, there will be cost savings which will maximise the surplus equity to be returned to shareholders.

The timely fashion in which the stockpile has been sold down since WoolStock Australia took over its management is a very strong reflection on the success of the Wool International privatisation. It is also a reflection of the excellent job WoolStock Australia has done over the past two years.

I thank Mr Donald McGauchie and the members of the WoolStock board for their important role in selling down the stockpile. Shareholders have already received two payments, with a third distribution expected in coming months. They will reap further benefits of this excellent work when they receive their final distribution payment after the remaining wool is sold and the necessary procedures taken to determine the surplus equity in WoolStock.

This is indeed historic legislation. It may be only a tiny bill, but it brings to an end an extraordinary chapter in Australian primary production history. It will mean that, for the first time in decades, Australian wool will be sold freely and fairly in the marketplace without having to labour under the heavy cloud of a stockpile overshadowing the market. This bill, I think, marks the beginning of a new era for the wool industry. I commend the bill to the House, and I present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Swan) adjourned.