Wool at breaking point

27 Jul, 2006 07:00 PM
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POOR wool prices are not killing the wool industry, politics are.

A baffled WoolProducers president Robert Pietsch has told Farm Weekly this week of his complete frustration at the lack of progress being made to reform the industry by those in charge of the two main wool organisations.

A stalemate continues between research and development company Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and marketing body Woolmark over a $27 million pension fund debt connected to the financially crippled body.

"We are all in this situation together and it is now time to look beyond the pension fund because if we don't, we wont have much of an industry before too long," he added.

A damaged relationship with Canberra, international duplication of services, furious major customers and a poor track record are all pointing to major changes at AWI.

And now the pressure mounting on wool industry leaders appears to be at breaking point.

Tension has been increased by AWI chairman Ian McLachlan's call for Prime Minister John Howard to step aside in recent weeks.

Mr McLachlan backed treasurer Peter Costello in his call for the Mr Howard to perform some "generational change" in the federal Liberal Party.

Unfortunately for the wool industry ‹ and maybe as a result of Mr McLachlan's call ‹ the government has now lost considerable interest in helping bail it out of a debt that continues to stand in the way of wool moving forward.

Faced with the huge debt from the UK pension fund, wool industry leaders had asked for support from Canberra.

The door has now firmly been closed on any help from Canberra, according to industry sources.

On top of this, the third biggest buyer of Australian wool was last week labelled a hypocrite by Mr McLachlan ‹ and in response, International Wool Textile Organisation president Michael Lempriere wants a serious culture change.

He said that AWI has lost its way through setting up marketing offices around the world and must act on behalf of the entire wool industry.

"The world is totally bemused and confused by the seperation of powers, benefits and activities of the two wool bodies, AWI and Australian Wool Services or Woolmark," he said.

He said for the sake of the whole wool industry, he hoped that soon the "crazy situation" could be resolved in a positive way for all concerned.

"You cant be a research and development for many years, employ a a few new people and say you are now marketing," he said.

Mr Lempriere said the industry had to get over its petty fighting and get on with battling the common enemy, which were the other fibres.

"It all has been terribly disappointing," he said.

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