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Wednesday, 28 October 1970

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) (1:22 AM) Members of the Australian Labor Party have every right to speak on legislation concerning the wool industry. Thirty-three of the seats held by honourable members of this side of the House are rural or semirural seats, whereas the Australian Country Party has 22 and the Liberal Party of Australia has only 12. Many honourable members on this side of the House have had years of experience in matters concerning the wool industry, although we do not have properties. However, the fact that one has a property does not give one any particular rights or privileges to speak on this matter. This Bill is the high water mark of this Government's fumbling, hesitation and inaction. The Bill which is before the House tonight is as out of character with this free enterprise Government as spectacles are to a blind man. The decline in the wool industry has been in progress for about a decade, but it has taken this Government almost that long to bring down legislation for the establishment of a government selected and appointed wool commission to try to tackle the problem. 1 shall give some figures to prove how desperate the situation is in the wool industry. Figures have been thrown around loosely during the course of this debate. 1 propose to quote from an official document. The average wool price this week at auction has gone down to 26.19c per lb, which is equal to the 1946 level. The average price for this season according to the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers is provisionally 29.5c per lb, which is about 33-1/3 per cent lower than for the corresponding period last year. This is a fantastic fall in 12 months. Surely the Government must have known that it would happen. From all of the information available to it the Government must have known that wool prices were in a tail-spin, but it has taken this length of time to try to find some answer to the problem. Brisbane had a Ti per cent drop at the auctions. Japan bought freely in Brisbane. The United States of America also showed more interest than usual early in the series, but very little interest later on. It is only natural that Japan would buy freely at such a cheap price. Any country would.

I have details of the average prices obtained in the capital cities. In Brisbane 92.94 per cent of the bales offered were sold at an average price of 25.37c per ib. In Adelaide 83.84 per cent of the bales offered were sold at an average price of 25.34c per lb. In Hobart 95.25 per cent of the bales offered were sold at an average price of 31.01c per Jb, which is the highest price obtained in Australia. In Launceston 89 per cent of the bales offered sold at 28.61c per lb. In Fremantle the price was 26.35c with about 90 per cent of the offering sold. At those sales a total of 150,797 bales were offered for sale. These prices illustrate the present tragic picture of the wool industry.

There has been talk for many years of introducing a reserve price plan. A referendum was held 5 years ago on this very question and it was only narrowly defeated. Who defeated it? The big wool growers of New South Wales were responsible for its defeat. Tasmania supported the referendum and so did South Australia. The New South Wales Graziers Council put over a heap of propaganda and sent speakers throughout Australia to oppose the reserve price plan. That Council was responsible for the defeat of that referendum. In spite of the Opposition from that Council the referendum was almost carried.

This reserve price plan is not a new thing. It has been talked about for many years. The Liberal Party of Australia has resisted it strenuously. The Australian Country Party has nervously asked for it to be introduced but there has been conflict and indecision within Government ranks over what to do with the wool industry. There have been very serious differences of opinion between Liberals and members of the Country Party. The Liberals have been responsible principally for the long delay in getting a reserve price plan before this Parliament. At long last with a rush like a gale coming through a door which has been opened suddenly the Government has in a spirit of panic, brought down this Australian Woo] Commission Bill. The bill was introduced yesterday and it is being debated today. How long is it since that has happened? The Government, of course, wants to get this Bill passed before the Senate election. This legislation will be one of the fastest pieces of legislation we have had in the time that I have been in this place.

In spite of all the fanfare, this legislation is still only a skeleton of what we on this side of the House believe is necessary to overcome the unprecedented collapse of the wool market. The proposed scheme is only a voluntary scheme in the sense that growers do not have to sell their wool under it. The growers have to ask for assistance, as do the brokers. This plan could be a failure if it is not accepted by the brokers or the growers. We believe that the Opposition's plan, which is a total reserve price plan with acquisition, has teeth, depth and strength and is the only type of plan that could solve the vicious and catastrophic problems which face the industry at the present time. There has been collusion at auctions for years. We have studied the pie system and we have proved that to be so. It has kept the price of wool down, even back in the early 1960s.

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