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Tuesday, 22 April 1969

Senator PROWSE (Western Australia) -I am very disappointed tonight. I had hoped to hear from Senator Wilkinson some reasons for the continuation of the ban on the export of merino rams, but instead of that we have heard, for the greatest partof the honourable senator's speech, a criticism and a condemnation of the wool growers' organisations. I do not think we heard one utterance in defence of the continuation of the ban. In discussing this subject I propose to examine first the original action, look at the justification claimed for that action, look at the results of the action and then discuss the present situation. I have here a copy of the proclamation which was issued on 28th November 1.929. The relevant part states:

And whereas in the opinion of the GovernorGeneralthe export of stud sheep, unless the consent in writing of the Minister of State for Trade and Customs has first been obtained, would be harmful to the Commonwealth . . .

That is a quaint way of stating a proposition. The presumption is that without the consent of the Minister it would be harmful, but with the consent of the Minister it would not be harmful. So the assumption is that the export would be harmful to the Commonwealth. I read the report of the debate, which has been quoted in part. I read the alleged justification for the ban, but I am afraid that it would not convince anybody who looked at the subject with an unbiased mind that any case had been made out for the ban when it was originally applied. I am prepared to argue that at that time the . matter of possible harm to the Commonwealth was never examined in any scientific or reasoned way. I claim that the action was simply a panic reaction to a shipment of 5,000 sheep - presumably flock merinos - to Russia and of some 500 sheep to South Africa. At that time wool prices had fallen considerably from the relatively high levels of the 2 or 3 previous years. There was, admittedly, an almost hysterical outcry against the export of Australian merinos in the belief that these sheep in the country of their destination would continue to produce the sort of wool that they had produced in Australia and, secondly, that these sheep would produce progeny, which would continue to produce a similar kind of wool, and that the expansion of production of this type of wool would mean that the world wool price would decline to the detriment of the Australian producer.

This was the belief that was expressed in the debate. This sort of thinking was implicit in the speech of Mr Parker Maloney. I am prompted to quote a part of the speech which follows that which has already been quoted. He said:

At least nine-tenths of the persons with whom I have been in touch have expressed themselves in favour of some control over the export of stud sheep. A small section of those who have written to me have expressed the view that action in the direction of imposing an embargo - . . .

I ask honourable senators to listen particularly to this: a term that is not applicable to this action - . . .

The Minister at that time said that the action could not be called an embargo. Presumably he did not intend to apply an embargo. He. continued: . . ought to have been taken years ago, and that to take it now is tantamount to locking the stable door after the animal which the stable housed had escaped. It may be said that, whether it be due to climate, soil or any other cause, there appears to be a decided tendency in other countries towards the loss of type and weight in their wool product unless their flocks are replenished regularly by the infusion of fresh blood such as that which Australia has been supplying. It is considered highly probable that if those supplies are withdrawn Australia will revert in a few years to the position that it formerly occupied in the wool market.

This is a summary of the whole argument for the ban. We have learned a lot about scientific breeding and there has been some expansion of our knowledge of genetics in the intervening years, but even at that time the opinion was based on an unsound and fallacious belief.

It also expressed a wishful thought as to the economic consequences of the Australian wool industry following the ban because it assumed that the fall in prices was due to an improvement in the quantity and quality of the world's wool. In fact the statistics which were made available at that time indicated that we had exported annually to various countries an average of 2,251 sheep of all kinds for breeding purposes. Over a 10-year period we exported 4,503 sheep to New Zealand, over 11,000 to South Africa, 2,031 to Russia and 3,284 to Japan. The Minister was trying to justify his action by claiming that the export of those sheep had been responsible for the fall in wool prices. Well, that was the flimsiest possible basis for an action of this consequence. However incorrect his wishful thinking was in regard to prices, he was scientifically absurd in his statement that unless flocks were replenished regularly by fresh blood, such as that which Australia had been supplying, they would deteriorate.

We took the action. Australia banned the export of merinos to the rest of the world. Did the wool produced in other countries deteriorate? There is no evidence that the ban effected any deterioration in the wool produced in other countries. In fact, since that time South Africa has consistently improved the quality of her wool by sound breeding methods and sound sheep husbandry. It is the only way in which any country can improve its wool once a sound genetic base has been selected. The only way in which Australians or any other people have ever been able to improve the quality not only of sheep but also of any other animal has been by the selection of animals which responded favourably to the environment in which they have been bred. The continual infusion of new blood simply destroys the genetic structure you are trying to achieve.

We did not ban the export of rams to New Zealand. We have continued to send merinos to New Zealand. Has it done anything for the New Zealand merino breed? I have seen New Zealand merinos. Most honourable senators probably have too. There are not many of them and what there are bear no resemblance to the stock from which they originated. That proves my contention that you must have sheep suitable for their environment. There is very little country in New Zealand which can successfully produce merino sheep of any kind. It is in the drier area of the south island where there is a climate approximating some part of the Tasmanian environment. We have heard a lot about Tasmanian fine wools but the latest figures available show that only 7% of Tasmanian sheep are merinos.

Senator Maunsell - How much of that is fine wool?

Senator PROWSE - Some 5% of Tasmania's wool is superfine. Tasmania has only 315,000 of a total of 4,428,000 sheep described as merinos. Why? Because there is a limited area in Tasmania suitable for growing fine wools. The latest figures show that in Tasmania there are 795,000 Corriedales and 1,792,000 Polwarths. lt is evident to anyone who knows the business that, like horses for courses, you must fit sheep into their environment; otherwise you must choose a different breed. That is why in the very small area of the United Kingdom there is a great variety of breeds - some, thirty or more evolved in time to suit the varying climatic and soil conditions of the island. That is why the Australian merino hits been adapted to suit the varying conditions existing. That is why in Victoria only 46% of the State's sheep are merinos, in New South Wales 71%, in South Australia 81,% in Western Australia 91% and in Queensland 97%. That is why the merino breed in Australia is not a homogeneous breed, lt varies enormously from superfine to superstrong, from strengths finer than 74s, finer than 70s and ranging in some cases much finer down to 58s.

This variation within .the breed has been brought about by the fact that in the course of time sheep breeders have found that it is profitable to match the sheep to their environment. At the time of the ban 28% of Australia's sheep produced fine wool but today only 2.4% can be described as producers of superfine woo) and 8% or 9% as producers of fine wool.

Senator O'Byrne - There is more money in the bale fillers.

Senator PROWSE - Exactly. The farmer is a reasonably intelligent fellow and in time he finds out what is profitable and what is not profitable. Therefore we see in Australia a continual diminution in the production of the very fine wools. This is the basis of the argument accepted by the Australian Wool Industry Conference. After careful research, after examining all the evidence that could be obtained, and in consultation with the industry, it agreed that if the fine wool is to retain its position as an apparel fibre there will need to l>e throughout the world an increase in the amount of fine wool produced.' Apparently that argument cannot be comprehended by certain members of the Opposition. They say that obviously if you increase the supply you will reduce the price. But today it is not a simple matter of supplying a certain quantity of wool of a certain class. The apparel manufacturers today have an alternative and there is virtually a ceiling on the price. If the quantity is so reduced that the mills which operate throughout the world on this quality of fibre are not getting enough to keep their mills occupied, they will switch to other fibres and the market for fine wool will disappear altogether. I believe that this argument is valid, but I am not sure that the export of Australian merinos will be in such numbers or of such quality that it will do this. There could be an increase in the amount of fine wool in limited areas., but the fact is that there are already available to breeders throughout the world plenty of fine wool merinos which can be used if they can be matched to the right environment. All the blood lines from which the Australian merino was developed are still in existence in the world and available to any breeders of any country who want to use them. We in Australia have been able to blend bloods that we got from the rest of the world. We did not produce them. We imported into Australia the sheep that produced the Australian merino. But the Australian merino is the product of the skill of the breeder. It is the product of the skill of the husbandmen in matching these things to environment. These three things have to go together, and you do not get them in this conjunction throughout the world.

I find myself in complete agreement with Dr Euan Roberts, Senior Lecturer on Sheep Breeding at the School of Wool and Pastoral Science of the University of New South Wales, who said:

The export of Australian merinos would have practically no genetic effect on overseas flocks, or on the Australian wool industry.

Dr Robertssaid that when meat production was the most desired trait of fine wool sheep, as in the USA, a trend toward Australian merino type would be vigorously opposed.

Australian merino blood was not popular in the USA nor in Russia, where adequate opportunities existed for testing it under local conditions.

Continuing his reasoning in another letter to the Land Editor, Dr Roberts said: 'South Africa, which may be the country most likely to want Australian rams for climatic reasons, will be the least likely to benefit from importations simply because South African flocks are already of a high standard and brimming over with Australian genes imported prior to 1930.

I believe that the pre-eminence of Australian merino wool rests on environmental factors. We have a good type of sheep for our conditions, and skilled feeding and care enhance their appearance.

If this situation was not valid then the Australian merinos in South Africa and South America would have been raided by other countries, who, having been convinced of their merit, would have acquired them from these countries after 1929 when Australia closed its doors.

This is the case that has been put forward by authorities in this matter - by people who are qualified to express an opinion and who have studied the case. But there has been one aspect of the Government's action in 1929 which has been overlooked. To my knowledge, the constitutional position has never been challenged. I believe that it is established that the Commonwealth has the power to prohibit exports if it is in the interests of the Australian economy to do so. But I submit that it has a very grave responsibility in so doing to be fully assured that the action is in the interests of Australia, and in my opinion it also has a moral responsibility to see that those who are affected by the ban are not injured in the process.

This ban was imposed not by a referendum of the growers but by legislative action, and it should be lifted in the same way as it was imposed, not by any process of ballots or anything else. It was never referred to the producers in the first place and it should not now be so referred. Have the people who produce the sheep in question no rights at all? We hear a lot of people talking about the sheep belonging to the industry and we hear people who would not know the difference between a sucker and a hoggett talking about our industry.

The sheep that were affected by the ban belong to a relatively few individuals in the country. These were the people who, by their intelligence, by their perseverence and by their industry, gave to Australia her pre-eminence in the world market. What thanks did they get? In many quarters they were vilified as though they were exploiting the Austalian industry because they wanted to continue to sell their product in the world market. By the action of the Commonwealth, these people were compelled to accept a deprivation of their market. To me this is comparable to the position of a young man who obtains a patent for some process, or designs a machine which would contribute very greatly to the welfare of cur industry and to whom the Commonwealth says: 'Yes, you have done a great job for industry. You have a patent but we want to keep your invention in Australia. Therefore, you are not allowed to export your invention or to sell the right to use your patent anywhere in the rest of the world. This point is raised by me because 1 feel very strongly that we have overlooked this aspect in imposing a ban on people who undoubtedly have done a great thing for the Australian economy.

Let us now have a look at the suggested referendum. What is the question that the Opposition proposes to put? Are we going to ask the growers to agree to a complete relaxation of the ban? Or are we going to ask them to agree to a proposal for a limited ban? There is no suggestion in the motion before the Senate as to just what sort of question we are going to submit. Then, of course, there arises the question as to who is going to be given a vote. Are the wharf labourers and transport workers to be given a vote? They show great interest and want to take a part in industrial stoppages. The concern that members of the Labor Party develop for primary industries on occasions when they think there is some opportunity to gain political advantage is wonderful but they do not hesitate to injure primary industries by holding up their products until they rot on the wharves. Is the right to vote to be given to the Corriedale breeders, the Polwarth breeders and the fat lamb breeders and to the 89% of wool growers in Tasmania who do not produce Merino wool? How are we to select those who are to vote? Or are we to ask the stud breeders, the people affected by this decision? Are we to have a referendum of those people because we are dealing with their sheep?

The Labor Party has decided to support the ban on the export of merinos, lt is doing this because of political expediency and for no other ground. In so doing it has found it necessary to revive the 40- year old myths and superstitions regarding the merino breed. It is fomenting the sentimentalism and near hysteria that this question has evoked in certain quarters and has chosen to ignore any study made of this problem in recent years. It has thrown considerations of truth and justice out of the window in the interest of possible political advantage. The proposal before the Senate that we express an opinion tonight on this matter is one of the most ludicrous questions that we have considered for some time. We have heard nothing whatever to justify continuation of the export ban.

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