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Thursday, 14 October 1971
Page: 2417

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) - First of all I would like to commend the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen). I think he made quite an important contribution to this debate because in retrospect most of us will agree that there have been 2 contributing factors to the present situation in the wool industry. One of these has been the obvious vulnerability of the present system of selling wool, the auction system with all its now quite obvious weaknesses. The second - and this is terribly important - has been the failure of the retailing aspect of the average woollen article, garment or whatever it might be. It is almost unbelievable that when one wanders into stores in our own country to buy a woollen tie, for instance, one sees only a small number of woollen ties presented in a rather unattractive manner, but literally dozens and dozens of imported ties - usually of inferior quality - made in Italy and France. Hence I do think that the honourable member for Robertson did make an important contribution to the debate.

Much has been said in this chamber about wool. Many of us on this side of the House who have spent a lifetime in sheep raising areas have in the last few years made every attempt to serve warning on this nation that the crippling conspiracy of drought and poor market conditions would bring Australians giant industry to a crisis point. Five years ago I advocated the raising of Si 00m to sustain growers, and through them inland communities, to prevent the position from deteriorating as it has now done to a situation where the economic vitality of wool areas has been dissipated to a point where the undertakings of a number of our people are quite beyond reconstruction. However that is in the past. We are concerned with the future. We are concerned with the restoration of an industry which still at this time, with all the adverse conditions, is worth probably the best part of $600m to Australia. We are very much concerned with the survival of the splendid people who live and work m the inland areas and who are standing fast in the hope that this economic nightmare will pass and that security and prosperity will return. Any possibility of this would have been out of the question if the Government had not adopted 2 critical measures - the introduction of the

Australian Wool Commission and the deficiency payments scheme, with which this Bill is concerned.

It had been hoped that a deficiency payment based on a minimum price of 40c would have been approved, because, as I shall indicate the decline in income and the rise in costs created a situation where almost without exception the wool grower was so heavily in debt that it was thought that with a guaranteed minimum price of 40c for his wool he would barely balance his budget. However the payment will give an average as near as possible to 79.37c per kilo greasy over the whole season for the full clip. This of course is the metric equivalent of 36c per lb.

As the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) pointed out in his second reading speech, gross returns from wool declined from $83 9m in 1968-69 to $547m in the season just concluded. During this latter period more than half of all wool growers were estimated to have less than $2,000 on which to live after servicing their debts. When we further consider that over one million Australians are wholly or partly dependent on the wool industry it will be appreciated just how they will be affected by an inevitably reduced standard of living. Hence the urgent and critical necessity for this deficiency payment. For a long time there was harsh criticism in editorials in the Press and in documentaries on television. There was a great upsurge of dissent even over the consideration of a subsidy to the wool industry. But then the message began to get through loud and clear, that if this industry was not restored this country would have to get round the ridges and raise another $600m to help balance its budget.

In the amendment the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) has suggested the introduction of an acquisition scheme. I do not think anyone on this side of the House would completely set aside the possibility of serious consideration of full scale acquisition in the future, but I think it would be just a little stupid at this stage to abandon the scheme which has been accepted and commended by the producer organisations. I do not think we should set it aside before it has really had a fair trial. In the future it may be necessary to consider the full scale acquisition of the wool clip, but for the moment I think the sensible and reasonable thing to do is to give the twin approach that has been adopted, that is the operation of the Australian Wool Commission and the deficiency payment scheme, at least a fair trial. 1 have said in the House quite often and I say again with complete conviction that I do not think there are any areas in the whole of the Commonwealth more seriously afflicted by the present situation in the wool industry than are the far western areas of the electorate of Maranoa and the western areas of the electorate of Kennedy. There is a special reason for this. In these areas we have had continuing drought conditions over a period of 10 to 14 years. This is no exaggeration. It is only over the last 6 or 9 months that we have been able to say that this drought has in effect been broken. The great distance we are from markets imposes a penalty on us in the form of freight charges and multitudinous handling charges. The most critical reason contributing to this more drastic action situation in these areas is the fact that the growers cannot diversify to any significant degree. They are dependent almost entirely on the production of wool. So they face an extremely serious situation.

At the moment people in these areas feel that they at last have some new hope for the future. They feel that the downward spiral in the market price of wool throughout the world must reach a point where the tide will turn and prices will come back to a reasonable level. In the meantime, for at least one year, they will have the benefit of this deficiency payment provided by the Government. One thing (hat causes concern to many people, and particularly to us who represent these people, is that if they should inevitably have to walk off their properties, what will happen to these thousands of square miles of what is normally good and productive Australian territory. One of the great fears we have is that some of those people who represent the large vested interests, whether they be of this country or from overseas, may be hovering like vultures ready to pounce when these people have reached the point of despair at which they actually have to walk off their properties. (Opposition members interjecting)--

Mr KATTER - The Government is very conscious of this situation despite the peculiar utterances that come from these King William Street squatters who constantly make peculiar noises. As I said before, this man is absolutely the personification of the didgeridoo. He makes loud hollow noises from nothing. Graham Kennedy is back in business. Why in the name of fortune does this other honourable gentleman not follow what is obviously his natural occupation, that of a clown? Getting back to the Bill-

Mr Foster - What is he up to? I want a withdrawal of that statement. Who does he think he is?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Order!

Mr Foster - I raise a point of order.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - What is the point of order?

Mr Foster - Mr Deputy Speaker, if we on this side of the House had passed the remarks that the honourable member for Kennedy has you would have pulled us with a round turn.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member must not make a reflection on the Chair, and he will apologise for that reflection.

Mr Foster - I am not.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -The honourable member for Sturt will apologise to me for that reflection on the Chair.

Mr Foster - I will apologise if you want to take it as a reflection. I made no reflection. I am taking umbrage. If you recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, I rose because of the remarks of the honourable member for Kennedy. Did you not hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, what he had been chattering on about? Had you not heard' the insults?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member is not entitled to make a speech. I did not hear what the honourable member for Kennedy said. What were the words that the honourable member for Kennedy said to which the honourable member objects?

Mr Foster - Ask him. He is still there.

Mr KATTER - I referred to the honourable member as a didgeridoo.

Mr Foster - No, you did not. Now he is telling fibs.


Mr KATTER - You came first but your associate came second. I referred to him as having the attributes of a clown.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -I suggest that the honourable member for Kennedy would get on better if he confined his remarks to the Bill.

Mr KATTER - I accept your evaluation of the situation, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was referring to the possibility of a wholesale takeover of this land which could possibly be deserted by people who are no longer able to stand fast and weather this economic nightmare that we are going through. Many other matters are associated with the necessity to restore economic stability in these areas. These are quite obvious. For instance, there has been almost a wholesale abandonment of many of the country air services. Services have been reduced gradually from, say, Fokker Friendships to Twin Otters to small 6-seater aircraft. Only yesterday I was informed that one of the mod important towns in the central west of Queensland, to town of Barcaldine, is now without any air service at all. This is intolerable. But these sorts of things follow economic instability. Many organisations - airline companies or whatever they may be - have drawn literally hundreds of millions of dollars from these - areas. Now that the crunch has come and there is what we hope is a temporary economic instability, they have used this as a reason for going to greener pastures. In many cases, they will openly admit that they want to go to the coast where there is no economic risk whatsoever. This is entirely contrary to the concept of development or, at least, of sustaining the way of life that people in the western areas of Queensland hold in great value.

A part of the scheme which is associated with this Bill is somewhat worrying. In the description of the method of sustaining the price of 36c a lb for wool it is stated that at the end of each week registered brokers will forward to the Australian Wool Commission a list showing their clients who sold wool at auction and the amount of deficiency money payable. The Commission, acting as an agent of the Commonwealth, will make a lump sum payment to the broker for disbursement to his individual clients. That is quite acceptable provided this disbursement does take place. However, there is a danger here. After all, these stock and station agents and finance houses who have financed the graziers, perhaps for some years, may feel that they are entitled to take all of the results of the sale of this wool against the accounts that are owing to them. This would be quite disastrous and I imagine that the Government would watch this closely. I would certainly hope so. I will be quite frank about this. I have asked the people whom I represent that I want to know if an occasion arises when their wool is sold and their broker submits the claim for the deficiency payment and the whole of that money is taken against the moneys owing to the broker and nothing at all is forthcoming for the producers for, say, restocking and to make them viable again. If this happens I intend to expose it in this House. I certainly hope that this does not happen but, of course, there is a danger of it happening. This is just one of the things which will need to be watched.

One of the most serious consequences of the recession which has occurred is the way it has affected local authorities throughout Australia. It is not peculiar to any particular area. It is not even peculiar to wool growing areas, although it is far more critical in those areas. When the role of local government in these areas is considered, it is immediately recognised that it is always the most important employer of labour in any small community. In fact, in many small communities local government is the only significant employer of labour. A situation now exists where numerous wool growers and those who are dependent on them cannot pay their rates. It is not a matter of their paying half of their rates: nor is it a matter of coming to some arrangement whereby they will pay them over a period of years. They just cannot see how they will pay their rates at all. Here again, the Government's contribution of this 36c a lb deficiency payment will go a long way, we hope, to assisting in this particular aspect of the serious situation that exists.

Finally, we hear a great deal of pessimism in this Parliament, The Opposition has become renowned for one particular thing- -

Its efforts to destroy the morale of this nation. Members of the Opposition are 5-star calamity howlers who seek political gain. They wander in and out of other member's electorates and this is not appreciated. Opposition members should not be worried; I am not referring to my electorate. I would welcome all Opposition members to my electorate of Kennedy. I would be delighted to have them because they would so expose themselves that they would be in an even greater mess than they are at the moment. My final comment is that I do not think that ever in the history of any Australian parliament have there been people who have so contributed to the destruction of the morale of this nation as have the present Opposition - the so-called Australian Labor Party.

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