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Breaking the Sheep
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Breaking the Sheep's Back

Author: Charles Massy



From the author of the influential The Australian Merino comes the shocking true story of the decline and fall of the Australian wool empire – a tale that features a brace of Australian characters, political skulduggery and betrayal on a massive scale.

Breaking the Sheep’s Back is the untold story of Australia’s biggest business disaster. It innvolves government complicity, and it is a political scandal that reaches into the offices of Cabinet ministers and prime ministers across six federal governments.

In only twenty years, from 1989 to the present, the Australian wool industry – once the nation-building iconic representation of the country – has been cut to only a third of its size, due in large part to this disaster. When the Australian Wool Corporation’s Reserve Price Scheme collapsed in January 1991, there was a 4.8-million-bale stockpile of unwanted wool, and its bankers were left owing $3 billion in government-guaranteed debt. During the years leading up to the crash, the Wool Corporation and its affiliates recklessly spent a further $5 billion of woolgrower and government funds. With the crash, the international wool trade lost billions of dollars – all due to Australian government-sanctioned statutory intervention. The combined losses of at least $10 billion constitute Australia’s largest business disaster by far, and the social costs are ongoing.

By comparison, the AWB scandal involved funds one-thirty-thousandth the size. Yet, despite this politically sanctioned wool disaster, including the close involvement of successive federal governments and its agencies throughout, there has never been a royal commission.

Breaking the Sheep’s Back is a private royal commission – over eight years in the writing, and involving a colourful and intriguing cast of characters. Charles Massey was intimately involved in the industry at many levels; who was appointed by a federal minister to statutory boards after the disaster; who has spoken to most of the key players involved, and to those who were inside the Cabinet offices and Corporation and other board rooms; and who has had access to the key board papers, government papers, private correspondence. It is a must-read account of Australia’s worst business disaster.

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