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Wednesday, 23 September 1936

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Postmaster-General) . - Before the matter of the fisheries research vessel becomes entangled in other subjects, I should state that the vessel is to he built in Australia. The need for scientific investigations of the fisheries of this country has been apparent for a long time. Conference after conference on this subject has been held .between representatives of the Commonwealth and the State governments. In 1928 we thought that agreement had been reached and that we were about to embark on a definite policy of research. But there has been an extraordinary neglect of this great wealth in the coastal waters of Australia, and it has become essential, in the interests of human, animal and plant life, that more of it be utilized. For instance, the quality and quantity of a large percentage of the animal stock of this country could be immediately improved by the feeding of fish meal. The methods which hitherto have been employed in the Australian fishing industry have been primitive and without guidance. The fishermen themselves eke out miserable existences and have had no means of being taught how to go about their avocation. For instance, if a large catch is made, there is no market for a big portion of it and the surplus is thrown into the sea, whereas, if proper control of the industry existed, the surplus fish could be usefully employed for making meal and oil. Fish is a luxury for the rich in this country, whereas in Britain, fish is a staple item in the diet of the poorer classes. We have only to realize what Japan, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Great Britain, and Germany are doing towards tho development of the fishing industry, to realize the wealth and benefit that could be gained for the people of this country if similar .attention were given to ocean fisheries here.

I do not consider that the matter of the petrol tax paid by fishermen arises under the subject of new works. This bill does concern, however, the building of the fisheries research vessel which, as I have already intimated, will be built in Victoria. Before a contract could be let, safeguards had to be taken. I obtained from overseas plans of suitable vessels. The Government received offers of ships from Britain, but in its wisdom it decided that it would be better to build a vessel in Australia. Various engineers had to be consulted with regard to many difficulties that arose from time to .time. It is natural that difficulties would arise as the vessel is not of conventional design. It is to be a dual purpose vessel, operating both purse-seine or ring nets and Danish seine nets, and its equipment will include various aids to research as well as a refrigeration plant. Another point which caused the Government concern was the necessity to safeguard the lives of the crew and the scientists who would be on board the vessel.

Some honorable senators may remember the tragic fate of the Endeavour. The new vessel will be only 82 feet long, but I cannot say off-hand what its tonnage will be. I have been subjected to a good deal of criticism for the delay in placing an order for the construction of the vessel, but I emphasize that the delay has been in the best interests of the industry. The Government wanted the job to be well done. One honorable senator referred to the fact that certain gentlemen are coming to this country from overseas for the conduct of research operations. There is nobody in Australia who has practical knowledge of the new methods employed in the exploitation of piscatorial wealth. There are in Sydney and Melbourne firms which are doing efficient work ; one man travelled abroad to obtain the very latest ideas about refrigeration. By the use of dry ice and quick freezing, fish is being sent into the distant interior of Australia. Every hospital in 'Victoria is supplied from Melbourne with fish almost as fresh as it is when it is taken from the sea. This very desirable state of affairs is duo to the use of dry ice under modern conditions of transport. These are the problems which are being dealt with. Professor Dakin is overseas on his own business, but the Government has availed itself of his services to examine various methods that are being adopted in other countries. " Good enough " should not be the motto of any Australian industry to-day. Out secondary and primary industries must be conducted on the most approved lines. We have invited applications, which, I understand, closed to-day, from Australians having the necessary seafaring experience to take charge of the fisheries investigation vessel. We are hoping to secure the services of a young man who will be sent to British Columbia and Newfoundland to acquire first-hand information of the methods being adopted there, and, if time permits, he will go further afield in order to obtain the widest possible knowledge of all phases of the work done by these vessels in. other countries. On the research side, we have secured the services of Dr. Harold Thompson, of Newfoundland, whose ability and experience are vouched for by the highest authorities. Already we have had experience of the possibilities in connexion with the production of fish meal and artificial manures. The vessel proposed to be built will be used for educational purposes, and it is hoped that its work will give to private enterprise a more complete understanding of the habits of the fish in Australian waters, and also help fishermen and others to overcome the difficulties which they encounter in their business. In this way, we aim to develop the fishing industry until it becomes an important branch of Australian industrial activity. A statement is being prepared, at the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings), covering the whole field of operations over a somewhat lengthy period, lt will be my endeavour to make it as complete as possible in order that honorable senators may understand what is being done in this matter.

Senator AllanMacDonald has urged the establishment of a research station in the north-west of Western Australia to carry out work similar to that being done by the research station near Townsville, in Queensland, his desire being, I understand, to further the investigation of contagious pleuro-pneumonia in cattle. The honorable gentleman knows, pTo- bably, that the Townsville Research Station has been conducted in conjunction with the Queensland Government, and with the assistance of the Empire Marketing Board. I regret to state that the Marketing Board is not now functioning, owing to lack of financial support from the British Government; but we are hoping to come to an arrangement with the Queensland Government for the continuance of research at Townsville into tropical diseases, and the results will be available to the stock raisers in the northern State. The Townsville station has made investigations into pleuropneumonia, tick fever, and pegleg. The services of a Commonwealth officer well versed in animal health have been placed at the disposal of the Queensland Government, in order to carry on this useful work. Some aspects of animal health are dealt with at the McMaster Laboratory in Sydney, and we are now in cooperation with the Melbourne University, proposing the erection there of premises in which Dr. Bull, who is head of the division, will carry out investigation of diseases that are peculiar to the lower latitudes of Australia.

I agree with Senator Hardy that, for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to function properly, it should be able to formulate a long-range policy of research. This was the original intention, but lack of money during recent years has interfered with it, and but for the urgency that has arisen in regard to another matter that transcends in importance even scientific research, I should have pressed strongly for a certain amount of the surplus of the last financial year.

Senator Hardy - With a view to placing it in a trust fund ?

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes. No government can fail to recognize the value of the work done by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. Contributions of approximately £70,000 a year from people who know the value of its work are tribute to its worth. Provision is being made for the expenditure of £20,000 on buildings to be erected in the grounds of the Melbourne University, where research will be carried out in co-operation with the university authorities. The arrangement is, T think, an excellent one.

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