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Thursday, 6 May 1993
Page: 288

Senator BELL (5.33 p.m.) —The motion moved today by Senator Panizza is quite straightforward. In Senator Panizza's language, it lists various things which it asks this chamber to recognise and note. I will not waste the time of the Senate by re-reading them but, on behalf of the Australian Democrats, I find it quite easy to agree with those things which Senator Panizza has asked us to recognise, because they are self-evident.

  We have a situation in the wool industry which is worse than any other situation since that industry's inception in Australia. It has reached the stage of a truism. It has reached the stage where words are not sufficient to redress this problem. It has reached the stage where, in agreeing to define the problem, we are not actually doing anything to resolve it. In essence, that is what I want to spend a few minutes today speaking about. While we can stand here and agree with this, and while we can pontificate about what the problem is and what the potential solutions might be, until we actually act, we have done nothing for which we should be admired.

  The motion itself is bland enough and it can be agreed with. It contains enough platitudes to be readily acceptable to all, and of course we accept it as a statement to be agreed with. But I am afraid that it does not propose any action. In some ways we can be thankful for that, because ideas to solve the problems of the wool industry abound—in almost every newspaper we pick up, in the letters to the editor, et cetera. The so-called solutions to the ills of the industry do abound. But what does not abound is action.

  I think that the Government was rightly criticised for its failure to make particular detailed, precise mention of wool in the Governor-General's speech. The Governor-General's speech would give little hope to those who are struggling to resolve the actual problems which are being faced by woolgrowers today. It was not a speech which inspired us to action. Indeed, for some of those in the chamber, it was such a somnolent sort of arrangement that it inspired quite the opposite.

Senator Sherry —You don't want to shoot the messenger.

Senator BELL —Not wanting to shoot the messenger, I would suggest that, as an inspiration for action, this speech failed. I do not know what I can say here today that can inspire this Government into action to resolve this problem.

  In listening to Senator Panizza, I was pleased to hear that he is not one of the `burn the stockpile' brigade. That is a suggested action which would have disastrously negative results, not the least of which I would have thought was patently obvious. One of the many letters to the editor about this particular subject observed that it would be interesting to watch Mr Wayne Goss of Queensland actually trying to burn the stockpile; he would need a few packs of matches to do that. Mr Merrylees of Euroa, who wrote a letter observing that, is to be congratulated because the sort of superficial, glib action that is proposed in that way is a bit harder to deliver.

  As honourable senators would know, the stockpile is not a bunch of bales of wool stuck beside the wharf in Melbourne. What we have is wool distributed throughout Australia in various places, and at one stage there was even a considerable amount of it overseas. The cost of administering, safe-guarding and storing that wool stockpile is considerable and has to be borne by those very people who have produced it. To go along with a match and set fire to it is, frankly, physically rather difficult.

Senator Sherry —It was actually a French visitor who proposed it.

Senator BELL —The day we need to be advised on our wool stockpile by the French will be a very sad day indeed, and I know Senator Sherry thinks that too. I was pleased to hear Senator Panizza speak of the quarter of a million bales of locks and bellies that actually comprise a significant part of the stockpile because it is with regard to that section that I propose some action ought to be taken. I was pleased also to hear Senator Panizza talk about aggressive marketing because I think that is precisely what ought to be done. As a matter of fact, Senator Panizza said a lot that I agree with and on which he is to be congratulated. Selling on the basis of exchanging equity in some projects in our traditional markets is also an idea on which he should be congratulated. I agree with Senator Panizza on all those remarks.

  The fact is that we need to be looking at a very large part of the stockpile to be marketed not in the traditional way that wool has been marketed—not necessarily as a textile, not necessarily recognising all the fine qualities of wool, but recognising some of the other qualities. I have already mentioned wool's innate resistance to being easily burned, its elasticity and its insulation properties. The fact is that wool that has been bought at 700c or 870c is wool that is not readily seen as being the raw material which it in fact is. It is an insulator; we should be promoting it as that. I have insulated my home with it and, as a competitor to synthetics, it is miles ahead. Those who have worked hard to establish it as an alternative insulation product should be supported.

   Wool is not only a heat insulating product but also a sound insulating product. We import a lot of synthetics to stick in cars to deaden the noise under the bonnet and to do all sorts of things in sound deadening, but wool is remarkably good in that sphere. We are still importing synthetics and we are still making wool bales out of synthetics. It has been demonstrated that some of the sorts of wool that Senator Panizza was talking about would be eminently suitable for manufacturing into wool bales themselves. It would have the side effect of reducing the contamination which is such a problem in the wool industry. This contamination is sometimes added to during core sampling when some of the synthetic fibres become mixed in with wool.

  These sorts of propositions are not easy to come up with when we do not have action by this Government—a government that has the philosophy of reducing intervention. I must say that the coalition also supports most aspects of a non-interventionist government. The Democrats want to see more direct intervention by the Government in this area and a lot of other areas. The Government should be taking the lead, whether through tax subsidies or through the Government actually going ahead and buying some of that wool and proposing to do some of it itself.

Senator Boswell —What you do think Professor Garnaut will do?

Senator BELL —I do not think Professor Garnaut will be proposing any government intervention. That would be entirely opposite to his stance on any other aspect that he has proposed. That is why criticism should be made here. I would like to see a recognition that the Government accepted responsibility for creating the problem and also now accepts the responsibility of solving it. To accept that responsibility is to act. Senator Coulter earlier today suggested that action could be taken by increasing Australia's foreign aid. A lot of people have proposed giving it away to somebody.

  Senator Coulter's suggestion is that foreign aid could be served by the Government actually buying the stuff. It could then be provided as development aid to developing countries. It would not compete with our traditional markets. It would be raw material used by developing countries. In fact, the provision of raw materials could well be a stimulus to the establishment of industries which would at some stage in the future be seeking further raw materials from Australia. If it is imaginatively dealt with, government action could recognise the responsibility as well as create a solution to the problem in the future. That is the sort of thinking that is required by Government—actual government actions and actual interventions.

  Apart from the marketing that Senator Panizza has mentioned, with which I agree, the other area which begs for direct government intervention is the area that was touched on by Senator Brownhill in much more detail than I propose to do in the time remaining. I refer to government intervention in accepting responsibility for direct financial assistance. I too was on the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs which examined the drought problems. At that stage I supported the concept of the Government providing transaction based subsidies for those who were suffering from the drought.

  We have an occasion here when we should recognise that what is required is government intervention rather than just words. It is years since Senator Lees and myself first proposed that the assets test for assistance such as Austudy should be done away with. It is years since we first asked the coalition to join us in voting for that. We hear a lot of words, but they result in not much action.