Tuesday, 16 April 2024

International Wool Textile Organisation Congress Official Opening

It is my great pleasure to officially open the 93rd International Wool Textile Organization Congress, and particularly welcome those who are here from overseas.

Welcome to Adelaide and South Australia, the first time the conference has come down under in eight years.

I should perhaps say to our international visitors that my role as Governor is not like that, for instance, of Governors in the United States.

My office exercises all the powers of Head of State in South Australia, powers historically derived from the King but now exercised completely independently.

Fittingly, though, His Majesty has long been a champion of the quality and environmental sustainability of wool and in particular through his patronage of the Campaign for Wool.

While synthetics and blends have played a role in meeting the world’s burgeoning need to produce clothes and textiles; current and growing concerns about climate change and sustainability are reinvigorating awareness that natural fibres are, in his words, indeed “nature’s gift.”

I understand that there will be an update tomorrow on the Campaign for Wool, which remains alive and well.

In my own role as Governor and a former Australian diplomat, including serving as Australian Ambassador to China, I have long been professionally involved in the promotion of the benefits of wool, including its exceptional quality and versatility.

I visited your conference organiser’s wool scouring facility in Suzhou and Chinese textile companies importing Australian wool. I opened the Australian Wool Innovation stand at the Beijing textiles and apparel show and explored the Wool Lab.

Continuing along the supply chain, I attended the 2015 International Woolmark Prize for Womenswear, as memorable a fashion parade as I have ever seen.

More recently, alongside my local discussions with business leaders and industry visits, I have been proud to promote South Australia’s strengths in the South-East Asian and European markets in various overseas trade missions.

In that vein, at the request of the Government of South Australia, I will be making an official visit to China for a week from this Sunday.

China is our largest export market for goods and services, and the recent stabilisation of relations at the national level, and especially the lifting of tariffs on wine, make this an important time to nurture the relationship.

Everything in my professional diplomatic experience convinces me of the value of long-term engagement and dialogue.

In that light, I congratulate the International Wool Textile Organisation on bringing together at this Congress people who contribute to the supply chain alongside customers and retailers.

Whether you are a producer, broker, exporter, auctioneer, animal health representative, weaver, spinner, or retailer, by learning from each other’s perspectives you can shape a strong future that is resilient in the face of changing trends and pressures.

Similarly, the Australian Wool Industry’s Wool 2030 plan sets a framework which unites all sectors of the industry to ensure that Australian wool retains its global position as a premium, sustainable fibre.

Wool is an iconic part of Australia’s narrative as a nation, historically, culturally, and economically.

It is often said that Australia rides on the sheep’s back; it has been that way since the first Spanish Merino sheep arrived in Australia in 1797, imported by John Macarthur and the Rev Samuel Marsden.

The image of the wiry horseman grasping a wide-brimmed hat droving sheep, or the stocky shearer in the shed wiping his brow as yet another sheep comes up the race is perhaps occasionally overused, but nonetheless integral to our national identity.

Indeed one of the best-loved paintings in the Art Gallery of South Australia’s collection is “The Breakaway” by Tom Roberts, a work shown in the first major Australian art exhibition in London in 1898. I encourage you to pop in to the gallery, just up the road, if you get a spare minute later in the week.

The wool industry has through good times and bad been one of the mainstays of our farming industry, and is now a $3.5 billion export market - producing 80% of the world’s merino wool for apparel.

Merino sheep are well suited to South Australia’s hot, dry climate.

In Adelaide, the wool industry established itself so quickly that the first wool auction was held in 1840, a mere four years after the founding of the colony.

Ever since then, advances in animal husbandry practices, shearing techniques, wool processing technologies, and more recently genetics, have resulted in higher efficiency and quality in wool production.

I congratulate the industry on its long embrace of innovation and technology, and - recognising that this conference champions “an industry interwoven” – paddock to product innovation.

For example, and if I may be parochial once again, I warmly congratulate Mrs Nikki Atkinson, the recent winner of the 2024 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award.

After selling her bridal boutique in Adelaide and marrying a wool grazier in the Flinders Ranges, north of here, Nikki started the Horrocks Vale collection.

She was recognised in the awards for successful combining her extensive experience as a dress designer with using merino wool to create sustainable wedding dresses and special occasion wear.

Knowing first-hand the work it takes to develop the extra-fine Merino fibre, she aims to highlight the work of Australian wool graziers, pastoralists and families in creating a world-class premium product.


I note that the conference program includes opportunities to enjoy the best of South Australia’s lifestyle.

While we are proud of our quality wool, we are equally proud of our exceptional food and wine, both produced from our clean, green environment.

And you may already feel that you know our city, as this iconic Adelaide Oval features on many cricket broadcasts both interstate and globally.

I thank the hosts, Wool Industries Australia and the International Wood Textile Organisation for their commitment to a sustainable industry.

I trust the delegates have an enjoyable and productive conference that will forge new connections.

I have great pleasure in declaring the conference open.

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