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Thursday, 18 February 1971


Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) - I think the speech of the Minister for Air (Senator Drake-Brockman) illustrates the Government's arrogant. . cynicism towards the Parliament, to which Senator Milliner referred. The Minister ..took the attitude that he has adopted on previous occasions.

However. 1 am sure that Mr Crawford, the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture, would be shivering in his shoes in his wool growing electorate of Barwon if the Labor Party were to distribute there copies of Senator Drake-Brockman's speech. The proposition put forward by the Minister for Air that the Australian Wool Industry Conference is superior to the Senate would not be accepted by 5 per cent of the Australian people-, yet the Minister made that a defence of his policy. The argument that the decision was taken by the Senate, which resolved- by -a majority that the ban on merino exports should not be lifted without a referendum of wool growers, and not by the Parliament, is specious. What is the function of the Senate if it. is not to act as a House of review of govern-: ment legislation and Executive action?

If the view is taken that a resolution of the Senate can be' held in contempt and ignored, those who' express that view strike a serious blow at the value of the Senate and the bicameral system. The Government has refused to conduct a referendum of wool growers. The Minister has said that if the industry wishes to change its previous decision on March 16th the matter will be reconsidered by the Government. That is exactly what we have been asking for. but the Minister has said that he wants the industry to express its' view. We and the Australian Council of Trade Unions say that if the Parliament expresses its view and if the industry expresses its view through a referendum everyone will be satisfied and this matter will be resolved. Wc are now considering a motion which states that the Government has shown a contemptuous disregard for Parliament by partially lifting the ban on the export of merino rams.

This matter has been debated on a number of occasions. We consider that the former Minister for Primary Industry, who is now the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony), over that period has taken a most undemocratic attitude. Although he is aware of the feelings of the Senate, having been reminded of them, and although there have been' deputations and petitions from various sections of the Wool growing industry, he has insisted on a partial lifting of the ban on the export of merino rams. In my belief he has acted on the advice of a very small section- a rump - of the Aus tralian Wool Industry Conference which traditionally has been known as a lobby for the bigger wool growers and particularly for the stud breeders. In doing this the Minister has contemptuously ignored the resolution of the Senate. Action to lift the ban on the export of merino rams should not be permitted until there has been a referendum of the producers of merino wool within the industry.

Surely the debates that have taken place over the last 2 years have had some impact on honourable senators opposite who must be aware that many predictions that we made in those debates have come true. Why is there such a strong desire among Government supporters to avoid the true voice of the Parliament when it endorses our view or rejects Government policy? in the past we have heard from honourable senators opposite professions of their belief in the Senate as a Bouse of review and they have said that they uphold the arms of the Parliament. The Senate is an important arm of the Parliament and its voice should not bc ignored. It is a matter of wonderment to me that Government supporters continue to maintain face in their electorates when they have made such a complete turn about in their attitude to the Senate and the export of merino rams. I cannot understand how members of the Australian Country Party have the temerity to face their electors when every one of our primary industries, right across the board, has little or no prospect of improvement of its economic position in the foreseeable future. This is true particularly of the. wool industry. How can these members justify themselves to their electors?


Senator Webster - We listen to the farming groups. Tell us what the Tasmanian farmers say, or do you not know?


Senator O'BYRNE - I know that the Tasmanian farmers have a very strong influence on stud breeders of merino rams and I know that a lobby has been going on in Tasmania for a long time. Nevertheless, I do not intend to get away from the point that we are asking for a referendum of the people concerned - the wool growers - so that they may decide their destiny. I should- like to present my argument in my own way without the cockies crying from the fence. As an illustration of what has happened since this matter was last debated in the Senate, at the ram sales held recently in Sydney the worst prices experienced for decades were received. That is an indication of the parlous state of the stud industry in Australia.


Senator Greenwood - Why not let some of them get some money that otherwise they would not get?


Senator O'BYRNE - Now we have it. They want quick cash at the expense of other Australian wool growers. Therein lies the whole secret behind the Government's action. This is a pay-off to a certain section of the wool industry to allow it to sell merino rams, in the same way as our great natural resources are being sold at a rock bottom price. 1 admit that the sale of the Australian strain of merino rams is not quite the same; there is a vast difference, as a matter of fact, lt illustrates that there are people who are prepared to cash in at the expense of the future of the industry.


Senator Sim - Who owns the sheep?


Senator O'BYRNE - The honourable senator asked the same question last time and I told him that the Australian people and particularly the Australian wool growers have a very deep and abiding interest in their industry. We are trying to protect their interests.


Senator Sim - Who owns the sheep?


Senator O'BYRNE - I propose to develop my own argument to show that what has happened' is what we predicted would happen to the wool industry when this matter was last debated. At wool sales held recently the price of 60s quality wool was 19c per lb lower than it was a year ago, 64s quality was down 25c and 70s was 34- cheaper. The average price of greasy wool last week was 30.33c compared with 39.58c a year ago. Those prices illustrate that the whole of the Australian wool industry is in a critical situation.


Senator Webster - That is about the only true statement you have made.


Senator O'BYRNE - 1 can verify the statements that 1 made 12 months ago and 2 years ago by events that are happening at present. I should like to make the point that the Australian Wool Commission found it necessary over this period to buy in nearly all the medium and fine descrip tions - about 20 per cent of the total offering. Yet it is in this very area that the stud breeders of Australia want to supply our competitors with our unique Australian merino strain. We find that by hook or by crook the Government wants to export our medium to fine merino rams to breeders in other parts of the world who last year were prepared to pay $120,000 for 47 merino rams to enable them to breed this type of wool rather than buy it on the Australian market. There is no doubt that countries purchasing the rams have much to gain by introducing the Australian merino strain into their flocks. Just in the sheer weight factor alone, the cut per head of the Australian merino would exceed any other breed in the world. This genetic feature is predominant in the Australian merino ram and is desired by merino sheep breeders in other parts of the world. Then there is the quality of the wool - the length of the' fibre and the elasticity of the product.


Senator Sim - Who wrote that for you?


Senator O'BYRNE - I wrote it myself. The brightness and the. relatively high clean scoured yield are. also features that are highly desirable in combing wools. On the other hand, our selected stud breeders who would be given a quota of rams to. sell would most certainly .like - to supply this avid world demand. -.As I have said already, the price of , rams slumped disastrously at the last sales. Do Government supporters expect overseas buyers to continue to pay the high prices paid last year and which were an incentive to stud breeders to supply this world market? Are they hopeful that these high prices will continue? With the depression that is now existing in ram sales we will find that overseas people will want to cash in on the state of the market. The action of the Government in this matter' is just as reprehensible as are its actions' in so many areas of rural industry. It has failed the primary producer in every way, right across the board.

The realisation that the rural crisis is real is evidenced by the report of the Bureau of Agricultural. Economics which states that the industry is facing a long term crisis. By supplying our competitors with the wherewithal to compete with our product we will prolong that crisis.

This report "plainly states that too many producers are attempting to earn a living in the sheep industry under the present situation. It is enevitable that many of them will be unable or unwilling to remain on their properties. Many of them will leave the industry with' little capital remaining. There are strong economic as well as welfare reasons for assisting these people to new employment. To send out of this country the rams that produce some of the main features of our wool - the wool that provides the return to the wool growers, uneconomic though it is at the moment - is' not the way to assist them. L Say again: The Government is strangely' silent about equating this situation with the sale of our exclusive blood lines to the very competitors who wish to enter the market and who have the benefit of lower cost structures.

The wool growers, along with all primary producers, have to face, up to the highly significant dark cloud facing Australia - the entry of Britain into the European Economic Community. As we have found, duties are being imposed on Australian produce. They will continue to be imposed when the British arrangements are concluded, lt is estimated that $200m worth of Australian exports to" Europe and the United Kingdom are at risk following Britain's entry into the European Economic Community. .

I would like to quote 'from the report of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics which was sent to the State Premiers and State Ministers for Agriculture. Amongst many other interesting observations, according to this report, the Bureau said:

At least a third' of the sheep industry is facing significant economic and/or financial pressures' - even with a break in the drought and, the assumption of a 'reasonable recovery' in wool prices. In Queensland and Western Austrafia perhaps as many as 10 and 15 per cent of properties have nil or very limited chances of continued operation, and a further 20 lo 30 per cent have financial difficulties. In Victoria, and probably in the other remaining States, those with very little chance of continued operation could well constitute 5 per cent or even more, with a further 15 to 20 per cent having financial difficulties.-

A very detailed survey in Western Australia showed that of 14.200 sheep and wheat properties only 6,700 to 7,700 were in a reasonable financial situation.

This report goes on to say:

There is no way of determining just how long these people will hang on. It will probably be another .year or so before' .the. majority of them realise the inevitability of their failure". . .

The report continues:.

In Western Australia $120m 'is required to salvage the 'doubtfuls', leaving aside completely the question of how the 'hopeless' are to be helped to reestablish themselves outside.

I am quoting from this' report to show that the Government is dealing to the people involved in wool production a death blow at a time when sp many of them are struggling for viability and financial stability. We know very .well that the return on investment, in the land is lower than any other investment available throughout this Commonwealth, lt is a scandal that a body of responsible people will fake action such as that which is the subject of this debate for it will continue to undermine this traditionally great industry . upon which Australia has relied for so long. 1 would like to Conclude by quoting from an observation which I think is of some value. It relates to the policy recommended by the Australian Wool Industry Conference, by members of the Country Party and by the "'new Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Trade and Industry. I refer to the ' decision to establish the Australian Wool - Commission. I will quote from an article.. by Peter Samuel which appeared in 'The Bulletin' of 13th February. Amongst other things he said:

But let's have a look at what 'economy' could mean if it was accompanied by bold re-thinking.

One quick method would be to shelve the new Wool Commission, which looks a greater disaster every day it operates in the wool auctions. It is now shaping up as a ''major' political liability . . . Many analysts think that by the time Mr Gorton next goes .to the polls the Commission may have cost the taxpayers of Australia over $10Om while having done nothing whatever to help wool growers, out of their present plight. lt is stockpiling wool at a rapid rale, and for the moment it is probably true, as Sir William Gunn has claimed, that the Government has placed no limit on its funds.

Unless the price of. wool rises significantly - and no-one without an axe to grind' thinks it will - the Government is going to be : seriously embarrassed by the Wool Commission.!' J.T it simply goes on spending, lens of millions pf taxpayers' dollars to buy up wool it will be starving the world textile industry of raw wool and accelerating the shift to synthetics, while at the same time creating an unprecedentedly huge stockpile overhanging the market and keeping traders in a bearish frame of mind. On the other hand., if the Government gets the Commission to sell off its stockpiled wool it will be depressing prices and almost certainly selling at a loss.

I quoted this to illustrate how wrong are the Government's policies towards the woo] industry. There is not one section of our primary industry, right across the board-


Senator Prowse - Are you supporting the abolition of the Wool Commission and its actions?


Senator O'BYRNE - I oppose the Government's policy for rural industries, particularly that section of it which we are debating, the lifting of the embargo on the export of merino rams. I am showing how the Country Party has led the Government and the Executive up the path. The producers cannot take a trick.. The remnant of this wonderful sector of the Australian economy is in shreds. This Government ;has left the entire industry without any great confidence in any of its products. We

Gould speak of the pear growers in Victoria, or the sugar growers, the wheat growers, the wool growers or the fat lamb producers- in fact any of the others. In fact, there is very little hope for an improvement in the future for any of these industries. This is What the Country Party, advising the Government, has done.

The Country Party has brought this particular industry to its . knees. This is the worst of the grievous faults of the Country Party because the merino ram is so fundamental to this country. The Government is promoting the sale of this exclusive, strain, the merino, that is wanted in every other country. It also is wanted here in order to enable producers to keep improving the cut per head and the quality of our wool as it has done over the years.


Senator Prowse - You want to abolish the Wool Commission so that wool prices will come down.


Senator O'BYRNE - We want to retain the rams so that they can continue to improve the quality of the Australian wool flock in order that it can hold its place proudly as it has done through the years. Because of the narrow mindedness, the short sightedness, the arrogance and the contempt that the Government holds towards the Parliament and the Senate, as well as the wool growers of Australia, we of the Opposition believe that this motion, which is virtually. a censure motion, should be carried.







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