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Thursday, 1 December 1983
Page: 3228

Mr HAWKER(10.00) —Three weeks ago I asked a question of the Treasurer ( Mr Keating). Just to remind the House, I will read that question again:

Is the Government concerned that, because the effects of the March devaluation have been totally eroded, there has been an alarming rundown in reserves of the Australian Wool Corporation, to the extent that the Corporation in the last month has had to intervene in the market to the tune of $90m? As the Government supported the Corporation lifting the wool floor price by 7.5 per cent following the March devaluation, what does it now intend doing, given that the continued appreciation of the dollar is placing the wool industry at risk?

The Treasurer, in his answer, rambled on about exchange rates and said something about capital inflow, but he virtually ignored the question. I find that very disturbing, as I think a lot of people on this side do. It seems to me that the Treasurer just does not understand or, worse still, is not interested in the wool industry.

To give honourable members a bit of background, I will outline why the question was asked. In the last month the Australian Wool Corporation has had to intervene in the wool market to the tune of $90m. In one week it had to buy $30m worth of wool. As honourable members will probably remember, in March the Government devalued the Australian dollar by 10 per cent. The Government also approved the raising of the floor price for wool by 7 1/2 per cent. Since the March devaluation successive revaluations have completely wiped out that devaluation. The true picture is worse than that, however, because when we look at the wool basket of currencies the Australian dollar has revalued by nearly 15 per cent. The wool industry-the one that the Treasurer does not seem to care about or is not interested in-is still one of the biggest export industries we have. Wool still amounts to 10 per cent of our exports, and this year these exports will be worth approximately $2,000m. Wool is still a very important export and it, probably more than any other export, has contributed to the growth of this country over the last 200 years. The reserve price scheme was started in 1974 at the request of wool growers.

Mr Steedman —By a Labor government.

Mr HAWKER —That is right. The money that was used initially was lent at commercial rates of interest. I emphasise that point because a lot of people were under some misapprehension at the time; but the money was lent at commercial rates. Five per cent was levied on all wool growers' proceeds to pay for this floor price scheme and continued to be levied every year until sufficient funds were built up to allow the fund to revolve. Last year the first contributions-those made in 1974-75-were returned to wool growers. This year those contributions made in 1975-76 have been returned. So it is an example of an industry that has helped itself. It has paid for everything itself, and that is something about which I think it can feel justifiably proud. While the reserves are strong, I think we should be rather concerned to see an industry having to fork out $30m in a week to support something because the Government has, by its revaluation of Australian dollar, forced it into a very difficult position. As I have said, this industry represents 10 per cent of our export income. I think we should all be very concerned when the Treasurer, in his reply to that question, showed that he not only is not interested in the industry but also probably does not even care.