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Wednesday, 28 October 1970

Mr COHEN (Robertson) - I have listened with interest to our country cousins this evening. They may be surprised to see me rising to speak on a wool debate.

Mr Pettitt - Nothing about you would surprise us.

Mr COHEN - I thought the honourable members would come in like a pack of sheep. I am equally qualified, and probably more qualified, to talk about wool than any of them because I have been selling wool for 12 years. It has been my livelihood and I have done fairly well out of it. I thought I should express a few views on woollen garments just to break the monotony of the baas we have heard from members opposite. Members of the Australian Country Party would not know the difference between a tweed, worsted or melange if it fell on them from a great height, and that is not the only thing they would not know about it if it fell on them from a great height. They could not sell a woollen garment at half the price. Just look at how drab they are. Most of them wear the same suit every day. Most of them are not even dressed in wool. They are a disgrace to the fashion trade. Why do they not get out and promote the product - wear some smart clothes and look as though they have something to promote and not something of which to be ashamed.


Mr COHEN - I will not be any more provocative, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I think they know my views and what I think of them. It has always been a mystery to me why Australia does not market and manufacture more of the world's woollen products. Why does a country, which produces more than half the world's wool, remains such a back number in terms of production of textile goods? What attempts have been made to make Australia one of the world's fashion centres? There is no reason why most of the fashion centres should be in Europe. At the moment, France, Italy, Great Britain and the United States of America would be the top 4 fashion countries. Britain, of course, became a fashion centre during the socalled swinging 60s. At one time Britain was not regarded as a setter of fashions, but it has promoted the fashions that have come out of Britain in recent years. There is no reason why we could not do this. If we cannot get into the high price field of manufacturing, why cannot we get into the medium priced field? As Japan and China now manufacture most of the cheaper goods, there is no reason why we could not capture a large percentage of the medium and, I believe, the high priced fashion garments sales in the world's markets. Australia, I understand, uses only about 6 per cent of its own clip in domestic, secondary and tertiary fields. What attempts have been made to assist the Australian textile industries which are producing yarn and finished garments?

I looked through the Australian Wool Board's interim annual report and when I saw the names of Board members I checked with experts to ascertain how many of those members were from outside the woolgrowing area or the Public Service field. I was told that practically none of them has had any experience in the manufacturing, designing or retailing fields. It may be that they have done a fair job, but they are not getting many results. 1 should like to see at the top level of the wool industry those who have had the practical experience of having to manufacture, design and sell the goods. Despite the growth of man-made fibres I understand that almost 80 per cent of all the fibres used in the textile industry are natural fibres and that only 20 per cent are synthetic fibres. 1 heard the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) say that wool is still the best fibre, and I agree with him from the practical experience that 1 have had io selling garments day in and day out for nigh on 12 years. I have yet to see anything that is as good as wool in certain fields, but it has some limitations. Anyone who goes about saying: 'Wool is the best and 1 am going to wear wool irrespective is a fool. He should realise that wool is not satisfactory for some garments. It is not a practical exercise to produce woollen shirts, because they itch a person to death. lt is not practical to use wool in some garments for children because at present wool has not been made shrinkproof in a large number of products. Mothers will prefer to buy garments containing synthetic material because they have to be washed over and over again. Some garments are far better when made of a mixture. Socks and lightweight summer suits fit ideally into this category. But there are some woollen garments that cannot be replaced by a synthetic. Winter suits and knitwear garments are still on their own in terms of wear, quality and every other aspect at which one can look. So I support the honourable member for Gwydir on this rare occasion when he said that wool is still, in 90 per cent of cases, the best product on the market.

Why is it that the demand for wool is declining? I can only recount some of the experiences that I have had as a retailer. At the opening of every season we have a fortnight of wool promotion. I might add that in my store I will not stock any garment of synthetic origin in a field where J think that wool is superior. I believe that Australians should get behind their own product and sell it, not just give lip service to these things. Every year my manager or I communicate with the Wool Bureau and ask for what assistance it can give us. Quite frankly we have given away ringing the Bureau because of the almost useless material it forwards us. This year, because 1 knew that an opportunity would present itself for me to speak on this Bill, I asked my manager to ring the Bureau early. We received from the Bureau 5 posters. I have a menswear store. I realise that there should not be any commercials in this chamber so I will not give the address. However, the posters that I now show to honourable members were what I received. The first is a charming little piece. Mr Deputy Speaker, Can I have these posters incorporated in Hansard?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope - I doubt it.

Mr COHEN - I am not trying to be funny. I hope that honourable members will take some interest in these matters. The next poster gives details of woollen family garments. It is quite an attractive poster. The next poster is also suitable for displaying in a store that sells men's woollen garments, but the remaining 2 posters are quite useless for a men's store. These posters represent the total assistance that the Wool Bureau could give me.

Mr Robinson - Oh!

Mr COHEN - I do not know which honourable member interjected 'Oh'. I am not trying to score any cheap political points, but to tell what happens. This is the best effort we have ever had from the Bureau. In previous years we got one or two posters about 18 inches by 12 inches. The Bureau just was not interested in what we had to say. The honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) knows my store. He has shopped there to his everlasting credit. He knows it is a good store in a very high class area on Sydney's North Shore. It has a huge frontage of 37 feet. A wool promotion feature would be seen by some 20,000 people over a period of a fortnight. Yet this is the best material we have had for 10 years. I am trying to be serious and not trying to score points.

Mr Robinson - They probably saw your Thai silk tie.

Mr COHEN - I have more wool on me than has the honourable member. That is the sort of stupid statement we get from members of the Country Party. There are areas in which certain garments cannot be produced well. I have woollen ties but the tie field is one which we should not worry about. The amount of wool used in the tie field is absolutely infinitesimal. To try to score a point in that way is not worthy of him. People talk about the wearability and serviceability of wool. These features do not determine sales of woollen garments these days. What determines sales of woollens is fashion. The plain facts of the matter are that in the last couple of years allwool garments, such as knitwear garments, have not been in high demand. I could go into a long dissertation as to why it is that the knitwear garment trade is depressed at the moment. I could show the House my own figures, which have dropped. I am as interested in selling knitwear garments as anyone, probably more interested. It is at least 3 years since a garment in the knitwear trade has had fashion appeal. Since the polo neck sweater became popular about 3 years ago there has been nothing new to promote. I could detail every year for the last 12 years what the latest promotion has been. It could have been black; it could have been olive, green or red; it could have been bulky knit sweaters, Como cardigans or the ordinary cardigan. Each year we have had something new to promote and something to sell. There has been some gimmick. Over these last 3 years we have had nothing. I am hopeful that next year we will have some new garments. Although I have given away managing the business, I did the buying this year with my manager. Next year what is known as the skinny rib will be promoted. It does not have particular appeal to me because I do not fit skinny ribs very well or skinny anything these days. This is a new promotion and one hopes it will take off and create a demand.

I could give the House figures for the last 3 years to show that sales of knitwear garments have dropped by 20 per cent to 25 per cent. I have talked to my colleagues in this industry and they have all told me the same thing: It is purely and simply a fashion demand. The young people are the ones who create demand and the sort of garments being sold are not woollen garments. They are buying suede, leather and a whole range of other fabrics.

I believe that the Wool Bureau and the wool promotion section of the Wool Board should be getting to the person who makes the final sale. I have seen a lot of the promotional work on television. A lot of it is very good. I have seen some of the things that the International Wool Secretariat has done. For instance, it has had Prince Michael of Kent in the London to Mexico World Cup car rally dressed in specially designed pure wool garments and his car upholstered in wool. There is a whole list of these things and I think they have some merit. One can never tell in advertising what the answer is. People can laugh and say: This is not the way it should be done'. Quite frankly, one does not know in advertising what the answer is until one has advertised.

One thing should be done. The Wool Board should get in touch with the man who makes the sale - the young man of 20 or 21 in the shops of the big retailers such as Myers and David Jones, and in the small stores - and say to him: 'You have a vested interest in selling woollen garments'. We should be taking them to training schools and teaching them the various qualities of wool - the fact that it does not burn, that it is warm and the whole range of good qualities the garment has. Perhaps we should give awards to the man who sells the most garments. Time and again I have been in stores and seen a customer walk in and say: "Which one is the best?' The salesman says: Take the orion one, it does not shrink'. I admit some of these synthetic garments do not shrink but the salesman has not bothered to describe the virtues of the woollen garment. If I was given garments to sell I could sell any one of them. One does not tell the people the weaknesses of a garment Every fabric has a weakness. I can tell the House the weaknesses of orion or cashmilon. One does not emphasise the weaknesses, one emphasises the good points. I do not think it is being dishonest; it is part and parcel of selling. I feel the Wool Board, particularly the promotional and merchandising side of it, can do a great deal more by getting to the man who is making the final contact with the customer and educating him in the aspects of selling wool.

I saw a rather interesting letter to the editor of the 'Sydney Morning Herald' a couple of weeks ago. It was from a woman by the name of Janet M. McPhee. 1 will read it because it backs up my personal experience. The letter in part says:

For years I've worked closely with Madame Vera Fels, the governing director of Germaine Rocher (French house of haute couture in Australia) and being an Australian myself was amazed to find that only imported woollen piecegoods from France, England and Italy were used in the making up of our exclusive women's wear. It seemed we had nothing of comparable quality, nor the range of colours, available on the local Australian market.

Being 'all for Australia' I called in a representative of one of our largest manufacturers of textiles and an offshoot of an overseas textile company and asked him to bring us the full range of woolen fabrics suitable for exclusive women's wear. I spent a tot of time going through the samples submitted, but without bias was forced to admit there was not one colour in the entire range, nor a texture, which would have tempted me to buy even one length.

On asking the representative why this firm still carried a range of colours of die 1920s which lacked the subtlety of the soft colours and the excitement of the glorious sharp colours the overseas mills were able to produce, I was told 'Well, we can sell all we need in this range so why should we bother our heads to change?'! This awful apathy still appears to prevail - if the woollen materials displayed for the making of women's wear are any guide.

I agree wholeheartedly with Janet M. McPhee because this is the same sort of experience I have had. Some time ago the Wool Board each year was promoting a series of colours. In a speech one cannot describe colours but the monotony and boredom of the colours brought forward year by year by the Woo! Board were unbelievable. One would see the top 10 or 12 ranges of knitwear garments and they would all be made in the same wool. The navy would be the same; the bone would be the same; the olive would be the same. There was none of the subtlety, nuances and brilliancy we get in the variety from overseas countries. It was not that the garments from London, Japan and Hong Kong were better. They were simply different and they gave variety. I am sorry that I went longer than I said I would but I hope that what I have said will introduce a few new thoughts on what I think is a very vital question for this country.

Debate interrupted.

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