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Tuesday, 22 May 1973
Page: 2450

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - The Bill before the House, as was mentioned in the second reading speech, is designed to amend the Wool Industry Act to incorporate the arrangements to apply in 1973-74 for the financing of wool research and promotion, and to meet the cost of the administering and marketing functions of the Australian Wool Corporation. There have been a lot of comments tonight on the whole ambit of wool marketing and its possibilities of the future. I believe that there has been fairly general agreement about the desirability of those advancements. There is little doubt that these advancements will be made. The pioneering stage or selling by sample will lead finally to selling by description. I do not think we need waste a great deal of time in developing an argument of that kind. The point about which I am concerned is a very important one. Wool selling methods have been developed in such a way that success will be achieved.

This Bill deals with the amount of funds that are made available for the purposes I have mentioned. The part that concerns me very much is the fact that the Government has decided that it will reduce the amount of money that it makes available at a time when the industry has just come out of one of its most difficult periods. The Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) in his second reading speech said that the Government decided that the only course it could justify in the current circumstances was to adopt measures to apply for 1973-74 only. What are the current circumstances which would allow for that or make it necessary? Does it mean that the Government will go out of office and leave the new LiberalCountry Party Government to deal with the subsequent years? Why is it needed for only one year?

The Bill mentions as one of the reasons the difficulties arising from the inescapable increases in salaries and other costs which become more uncertain the further ahead programs are planned. What a weak excuse that is for not proceeding to plan along the lines that are needed if we are to have forward planning. Does this not also mean that these increased costs will have to be faced by the wool grower? It is not only a matter of the difficulties the Government will face as a result of these increased costs. There is no concern on the part of the Government for the worries of the wool grower; but, if there is any problem in relation to what the Government has to do, that is a matter of very serious concern. So we find, as we have found so many times in the short history of the present Government, that it has very little concern for the problems of primary producers.

I emphasise again that the Government takes no account at all of the position with which wool growers would be faced when making their contribution should there, unfortunately, be any serious decline in the wool market. The wool industry has demonstrated that at last it has achieved the success that many of us felt it would achieve as a competitive fibre in the world textile market. That success has come mainly as a result of government and industry financial commitments to the wool industry for research and promotion. If the finance that has been provided for research and promotion is of the value I believe it to be, it certainly should be continued. Why should it be reduced at a time when it is proving its worth in maintaining stability in the strongest export income earning industry in the Commonwealth today?

One of the major shortcomings of the Bill is that it allows for this Government and industry commitment for only one year. The Minister for Northern Development is an agricultural scientist, as are others who have spoken in this debate tonight. I ask him whether he can name one rural research project of major complexity which could be funded and completed successfully in one year without some contingency planning for natural setbacks or the need for the research program to be undertaken for a longer period than one year. I think the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Kerin) said that no other industry has received this type of support. No other industry has provided for this country the amount of export income that the wool industry has provided.

The Bill also provides for a significant increase in grower contributions without any form of regulatory mechanism to help growers out of their increased commitment should there be a sustained depression in the wool market. It is a one-sided operation, with concern only for what the Government might have to provide and with no concern for what the industry might have to face. It is a Bill designed to skim the cream off the wool market for the Government at a time when the industry is recovering from its worst recession and is making plans to put itself on a more secure footing. The Government's attitude demonstrates very clearly its lack of understanding of primary industries generally and the wool industry in particular. This industry has suffered extremely low prices over a number of years, lt has suffered drought for years on end and, in some parts of my electorate, there has been up to 10 years of drought. Yet, immediately there is a rise in the price of wool and some return to favourable seasonal conditions, the Government wants to take from the industry an increasing amount to finance this research program. The research program and the wool promotion program not only will help the people who are engaged in the industry but also will be of benefit, through the improvement in the finance obtained by the industry, to the whole of the Commonwealth. We should keep that in mind.

In his second reading speech the Minister drew attention to the fact that prices have recovered to relatively high levels and the value of wool production has risen to an estimated $ 1,329m in 1972-73 from $664m in the previous year. That simply demonstrates the value of this industry to Australia. My time is limited and 1 am trying to make the most of it by taking out those points that I feel should be stressed. Reference was made to rural reconstruction. I point out that in many areas rural reconstruction is still necessary. One of the reasons why it is necessary is that, as the prices of wool have increased and the wool industry has become more prosperous, the cost of restocking has become very high. Many people are still having the gravest difficulty in getting back on their feet, even with the assistance of rural reconstruction. I know of cases where it has been found that, because of the higher costs of stock for restocking, the growers do not have the capacity to service the debts.

The wiping off of this difficulty immediately it rains or immediately there is some increase in prices shows in clear relief the lack of understanding that is so constantly and so characteristically associated with the attitude of the Government towards the wool industry in particular and towards primary industries in general. The Government says that the Bill provides for a reasonable balance. What sort of a reasonable balance is it when viewed against the background of what I have already said? The amount of tax also has been increased, as was admitted by the Minister in his second reading speech. Currently a tax of one per cent is imposed on all shorn wool and a levy of 4 per cent is collected on all wool sold at auction. Where there is no provision for a lower amount, the tax is to be increased to 3 per cent; but where the provision has been made there will be a rise from 1.4 per cent to a total of 2.4 per cent. These continual cost increases are being loaded on to our primary industries at a time when they are really struggling to get back on their feet after one of the most severe times they have ever experienced.

I emphasise that the drain on finances that is caused by the extra contribution that is now required by the Government makes that return to reasonable prosperity ever so much harder. This demonstrates not only the lack of understanding but also the lack of sympathy of the Government towards primary industries in general and, on this occasion, the wool industry in particular. We should never forget the great contribution made over the years to the national economy by the wool industry even when it was struggling. Recovery does not happen overnight. I want to compare the attitude of this Government with that of the previous Government which was prepared to provide, instead of the $22m that this Government is providing, no less than $33.2m in 1973-74, $38m in 1974-75 and $4 1.8m in 1975-76. That is the sort of contribution that would have helped this industry and would have helped the promotion of the industry through the Australian Wool Corporation. As far as primary industry is concerned, this Bill represents the only type of treatment we can expect to receive from this Government.

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