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Thursday, 28 October 1993
Page: 2725

Senator ARCHER (12.36 p.m.) —I will be very brief because I think the issues in the bills and the main points behind them have been well covered. I wish to make a few comments in fairly general terms. I do not oppose the legislation; I am part of the organisation that has agreed to accept it. However, I am not keen on it because I do not think the legislation was framed with a view to trying to resolve the problems of the farmers. It was framed to try to get the government off the hook, and it does that satisfactorily. If it takes the government off the hook, there is no alternative than to believe that it puts the industry back on that same hook.

  When I talk about the industry I mean the whole industry, from the people who grow the wool to the people who ultimately wear it. One of the problems we have suffered in Australia for many years is that the group who publicly consider themselves to be the industry—the growing part of it—are not doing justice to the people who look for the customers, do the manufacturing, get the product out, get the best price the market can stand, and so on. Greater consideration has to be given to the fact that we are all in this together. Whether they are fine producers, coarse producers or superfine producers, whether they are in knitwear or growing, whether they are scourers or weavers or shearers or breeders makes no difference. It is one industry from top to bottom, and the success or failure of any one of those sectors impinges on every other sector.

  I believe that this has been one of the great weaknesses. Not long after I came into this place, I spoke on a wool bill and referred to the work being done by the processors. I was invited to the headquarters of the Wool Corporation for lunch. I thought it was very nice of them, as I had spoken on the wool bill only once at that stage. But I was called to the Wool Corporation to get a smack across the knuckles for having dared to give some credit to the wool manufacturers. I was told that Australia did not want or need a wool manufacturing industry; that it was our job to grow the wool and other people's jobs to manufacture it; and that I would be much more help to the industry if I ceased giving support to the processors.

  All that did was encourage me to support the wool processors even more than I had in the past. I have supported them ever since and I will continue to do so while I am here and beyond. I believe that Australia has a tremendous potential. It is commonsense that we should improve our processing sector. We should give every encouragement possible to people who are prepared to add value to this great product. Not enough has been done in the past, and I cannot see that anything in this legislation will do anything to encourage greater on-processing than we have been able to get in the past. We have had these differences between the various sectors blown up in a way that tries to pass the responsibility or the blame from one to the other. Every time we do that, the whole of the wool process from start to finish suffers, and that achieves nothing for anybody.

  I have been fortunate over the time I have been here, since 1975, to have spent a lot of time with the wool industry. It was a hot subject in 1976 and since then it has always been on the agenda. We have interviewed many people here and all over Australia. I have been fortunate to see the processing industry in different parts of the world. I have seen it in the United Kingdom, mainland Europe, North America, Taiwan, China, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. I suppose I have seen most of the wool manufacturing plants in Australia and a good few in other places.

  We do not have any God-given right to produce wool, but we do have an incentive to use it and to see that others use it. However, it has to be demand driven. There has not been nearly enough concentration on seeing that we get the marketing and processing of wool in better shape. Right now we must get more wool into use. There is no point in doing a silly thing like stacking it up in sheds and pretending that it is not there, as we have done in recent years. We have to get it out and get it in use. We have to do more research, and still more research.

  For goodness sake, let us not allow this present kerfuffle to restrict the research we are doing, or the research we have done in the past. We know what the pros and cons of wool are; we know the things the customer likes and dislikes. We are still not doing enough to remove the things that are causing difficulties with the marketing of wool. We have to do more in those directions. We have to work cooperatively with the growers, the processors and the customers.

  I have discussed with buyers for some of the major retail chains in the world why they buy or do not buy wool. I have discussed with manufacturers the proportions of wool they use in their blends. I have discussed whether the proportions go up or down, and whether that depends on price, availability or what. I am concerned that the marketers of wool in Australia are not getting their wool close enough, early enough, to where the users are. It is all very well to have wool in the shed in Australia, but if the marketer happens to be in Northern Ireland or Czechoslovakia it is not much use to that marketer if he has to pay for it two months in advance.

  We have to be more concerned about how we supply the needs of the people who want the wool. We have markets for hand knitted wool jumpers in Japan; we have markets for machine knitted jumpers in Switzerland and places like that. We have to look at every little niche that we can and encourage every producer to be more conversant with the market. We have been through a patch where for over 40 years the people who produced the wool had no idea. They had very little interest in what was happening, and that is not good enough. We must have the producer ready to take over and see that he is growing what the customer wants and marketing it in the form that he wants.

  I do not care how the customers want it. If the customers want it done up with blue string, they can have it with blue string. If they want it in plastic bags, they can have it in plastic bags—anything at all. They are the customers. For too long we have decided that we did not really need the customer, that we were producing the miracle fibre. It is no miracle fibre to anybody down the line unless we make it so and unless it is delivered the way the customer wants it.

  The Garnaut report will not fix anything in itself, but it does show the way that things can happen. All I can do is appeal to the various sections of the industry to work together, to cooperate more, and to regard the customer as the ultimate. If we do that, we still have time to make the wool industry the sort of industry that we would like to think it is.

  Debate interrupted.