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Thursday, 13 May 1993
Page: 556

Senator BELL —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. What has the Government done to respond to the suggestions made by various people and groups about how Australia's wool stockpile could be reduced? I refer in particular to the suggestion made by Mrs Ailsa Bond of the CWA that more Australians should take up the productive, import replacing, value adding craft of knitting.

Senator COOK —Fortunately, I happen to have an answer briefed for me by the Minister who represents this portfolio, Simon Crean. The import of this question is that we should become a nation of knitters. In the wake of the collapse of the reserve price scheme, the Wool Realisation Commission was established to sell the stockpile and discharge the industry debt. In recognition of the current circumstances facing the industry, on 28 April the Government announced a package of measures to assist the wool industry. These measures included: additional structural adjustment assistance; maintaining the wool tax at its current level; relieving the Wool Realisation Commission of the need to sell wool into a weak market, thus avoiding further downward pressures on price; together with the previous removal of the fixed repayment requirements and freeing up the period of sale for non-wool assets. The Government has therefore maximised the commercial flexibility of the Wool Realisation Commission.

  Also, a variety of suggestions, one of which we have just heard now, have been made to the Government about ways to reduce the stockpile. We have to say that for this problem there is no simple or quick fix solution. Some of the more colourful suggestions for reducing the stockpile, such as burning it—that is one suggestion I have heard—are simply out of the question.

Senator Boswell —That is what Mr Goss reckons.

Senator COOK —It is out of the question as far as the Government is concerned. Mr Goss is not the only one who may have said that. I have heard voices from rural Australia suggesting a similar thing. The Government still regards the stockpile as a national asset and one on which we will eventually realise a gain.

  The initiative, like that of the CWA and others, cannot address the stockpile issue alone. Those suggestions do raise at least one pertinent issue. They have raised understanding and consciousness in the Australian community about the level of the stockpile and they have certainly sparked a degree of interest about ways in which the stockpile might be dealt with.

  The CWA in Victoria has embarked on a training program to teach young Australians to knit. I understand that last year some 18,000 school kids learnt how to knit courtesy of the CWA program. That makes the younger generation conscious of wool in respect of its superior properties as a fibre and its applications. To that extent there is considerable value in the CWA's suggestion of knitting away the stockpile.

  The other day I heard someone say that there were something like 18 billion pairs of socks in the stockpile. I think all senators would agree that we would need to trade with a nation of centipedes to reduce that significantly in the immediate future.