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Monday, 24 May 1993
Page: 1131

Senator CRANE (9.40 p.m.) —I raise the question of what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has done to ease the current crisis in the wool market. I preface my remarks by saying that I raised that matter during the Estimates Committee A hearing not only under this particular program and program 8 but also during the consideration of the estimates of the Department of Primary Industries and Energy. My continuing concern has been that there does not appear to be any coordination between the activities of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Austrade, the Department of Primary Industries and Energy, the Australian Wool Corporation and the Australian Wool Realisation Commission.

  I acknowledge at the outset that, after I raised my concerns at the estimates hearings, the Minister for Trade (Senator Cook)—who is presently overseas—arranged for discussions to take place tomorrow morning between me and Austrade, and on Thursday with officers from his department. Having said that, it is worth noting that the answers I have so far received clearly confirm my concerns, and that this confirmation comes at a time when, as I have already mentioned, the wool industry is in serious crisis. The nature of that crisis has not changed during the last 2 1/2 years. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to pursue the matter I have raised when we look into the activities of Austrade and the Department of Primary Industries and Energy.

  In an answer given during the Additional Estimates hearing, Mr Delofski said:

I am not aware that we are closely involved in the issue that you have identified.

The point I wish to make to the Minister—and I emphasise this—is that this crisis has been with us for almost three years. As I said earlier today, the types of structures that will identify the opportunities that exist for alternative uses of the product or other areas of research have not been put in place. My plea in raising the matter during the debate on the appropriation Bills and again now is for the Government to address in a constructive manner the implementation of a system or mechanism—I have called it a research coordination unit—which would coordinate the different pieces of information held by the various arms of the department and other government bodies so that the existing problems can be objectively and sensibly addressed.

  We are dealing with a broad range of things when talking about this particular problem. One answer that was given to us says that, to date, Austrade has no formal relationship or communication with the Wool Realisation Commission. We can tie that back to the answer that was given to us by Mr Delofski in estimates, when he said:

I am not aware that we are closely involved in the issue that you have identified . . .

Yet in other answers that we have been given it is acknowledged that information is tied up in these various arms of government or deep in the bowels of the various departments.

  I believe that we have a crisis situation before us. It is easy to stand here and be critical of the Government; it deserves to be criticised for the time that this has been going on. I make a plea to the Minister at the table, Senator Evans, as well as to Minister Cook, with whom I will continue this line of questioning when he returns, and to Minister Crean to address this issue in a proper and fundamental way and put some coordinating process in place so that the information, the research capability and the extension that we have into various parts of the world can be put together to identify solutions to the problem we have now.

  It is well known—it has been highlighted in the press—that a number of people have different ideas about solving these problems. They have been described in terms ranging from `having prospects' to `snake oil theories'. I will continue my campaign on this problem until it is absolutely solved. Until such time as the Government gets serious about this matter and we start reducing that stockpile in a rational and sensible way, rather than have it remain as an albatross, not only to wool producers but to all those people involved in the industry—and the Australian economy, which is currently losing between $1 billion and $2 billion of export income a year—it deserves to be pursued relentlessly. I say to the Minister at the table that the time for talking is over and the time for action has arrived.