Breaking the Sheep's Back is the untold story of Australia's biggest business disaster. It involves 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. It is written by someone who 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 documents (such as board papers, government papers, private correspondence).