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Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 2997


Mr HALLETT (Canning) - I certainly do not underestimate the importance of the Australian wool industry to those whom it benefits, and I am sure that none of my colleagues underestimate it either. In speaking to the Labor Party's matter of public importance on the failure of the Government to give leadership on the marketing of the Australian wool clip, I remind the House that in 1951 the Government offered unlimited support to a reserve price plan. Again in 1965 it offered unreserved financial backing to a similar scheme which was not agreed to by the industry as a whole. Since that time, of course, the Government has brought in many measures, including the present reserve price plan which has the backing of the present Commission and which has meant much to the wool industry of this country, as I said only last week in this House. The Australian Labor Party has said that it has its plans which it could put into operation tomorrow. Of course it could not do so because of the Constitution of this country. This I have also explained in the House on many occasions. Let us hark back to the performance of the Labor Party in office. It is, of course, a long time since we had a Labor government. About 1956, when the Labor Party certainly occupied the treasury bench, it took control of the wheat industry.


Dr Patterson - That was 1946.


Mr HALLETT - I correct myself. It was 1946. It is so long since Labor was in office that it is a little difficult to remember. But the policy of the Labor Party at that time was to take control of certain primary industries. What did it do? It took the Australian wheat growers' wheat and sold it to New Zealand for exactly half the price it could have obtained overseas on other markets. If a Labor government has a chance to deal with the rural industries of this country again it will do the same thing again without any hesitation.

The honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) stated in his speech today that very little has been said by honourable members on this side about the wool industry. If the honourable member reads Hansard he will find that since I came into this House in 1963 I have made endless speeches on wool. On many occasions I have made speeches about wool marketing and other matters relating to primary industries. Only last week I made a speech in this House relating to the wool industry. I have made them many, many times, and everybody in Australia knows where I stand in relation to the wool industry. The wool industry will obtain an acquisition scheme which is put forward to the Government. There is no doubt about this. We have at the moment a scheme which, as the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) said, has been backed by the Government. This scheme was introduced at the end of 1970 to assist the wool industry because of the situation it faced at that time. As I said last week, it has been of tremendous benefit to the wool industry. This is a current scheme which has been approved by this House and which is being backed by the Government. In this year alone it will provide anything from $100m to $150m to the wool growers of this country and will also benefit every other section of the community. This machinery is in operation.

I say to the Government that it must bring down the legislation required by the industry itself as soon as possible. But if the Labor Party introduced legislation, as it says it would, without having regard for the Constitution, the legislation would be challenged in the High Court tomorrow and the Labor Party would lose. As I said last week, we must have agreement with the industry and the States before legislation is in fact put through this House. The machinery which we have at the moment must be preserved to assist the wool industry. It is important machinery and precisely the machinery which was sought in 1951 and 1965 by the industry with the backing of the Government. The history of the wool industry shows that if a price support plan such as the one we have at the moment can underpin the prices which wool has been bringing on the market for some time and can put confidence back into the market obviously the market will improve immediately. This is what is happening at the moment, despite everything that has been said about the competition from synthetics.

What has been said in the House today about synthetics is not correct. Anyone who cares to study the position at the moment will find out that the price of synthetics has dropped to the floor. It was only towards the end of last year that statements were being made in this country and elsewhere that the Australian Wool Commission's price was 2c or 3c a kilo too high in comparison with synthetics. The position in which we find ourselves today is that wool is so superior from the manufacturers' point of view that its price has increased and the price of synthetics has dropped to the floor. There is a place for synthetics in the world; but there is also a major place for the wool industry.

As I have said on many occasions the policy of the Government has always been to negotiate with the industry on its marketing and research proposals. That is what has been done on each and every occasion previously. The actions of the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) have been mentioned. Anyone who goes back through the record to 1957 or thereabouts when the present Prime Minister was Minister for Primary Industry will find that on every occasion when Bills concerning the wool industry were introduced in the House the right honourable gentleman announced that the Government had negotiated with the industry before bringing forward the legislation. I hope that the Prime Minister will stand by the policy which he followed when he was Minister for Primary Industry. As I see it, it is still the policy of the Government - it is certainly where I stand on the matter - to negotiate with the industry, work out its problems, come to a decision on them and bring down legislation. No doubt the Government will, as I said last week, do just that. But it must do it as soon as possible. The Government must state precisely where the wool industry will stand in relation to legislation that will be brought down in due course.

I would say that confidence is one of the most important things in the wool industry. It has been said around the world that wool is cheaper at 60c per lb on a market that the buyers regard as being a stable market than at 50c per lb on what they regard as an unstable market. The textile manufacturers do not like to see an unstable market because it means that their competitors can have an advantage over them. The textile manufacturers like to see stability. It should be remembered that the price of the raw material is very low indeed in comparison with the cost of the finished article. Anyone who has studied the facts will know precisely what I am talking about. If the honourable member for Dawson were to go back through Hansard he would see where I have quoted actual figures in this context.

The Australian Labor Party has initiated this debate in order to spell out its platform on the subject of wool, which is fair enough. I do not argue with that. But if it wants to spell out its policy it should spell out all of it. The copy I have in front of me of the Australian Labor Party's platform is, to my knowledge, the most recent one. I think honourable members should examine that part of its platform which appears under the heading of 'Rural'. Among other things it states:

Appropriate measures to adjust the levels of farm production in balance with realistic domestic and overseas market demands, in order to provide satisfactory prices to farmers and consumers, with the aim of establishing industry on an economic self supporting basis within a definable period.

I take that to mean that the Australian Labor Party would cut production if it thought that this was necessary and would leave the producers to themselves over a period of time, with no subsidies or assistance of any description. Anyone who cares to go through the speeches that were made in this House by members of the Labor Party on wool not so long ago will find included in them a reference to a cut in production. I think - I am not sure of this; the honourable member can correct me if I am wrong - that the honourable member for Dawson has mentioned that aim on occasions. There is no surplus of wool in the world. There is certainly no surplus of wool in this country. There is no need for cuts.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.







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