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Thursday, 14 June 1906
Page: 238


Mr BROWN (Canobolas) .- I do not altogether agree with the last speaker that this is a matter which should be left entirely to scientists. The Commonwealth Government is charged with the duty of safeguarding the lives and property of the. people, and if any action is calculated to do them an injury, undoubtedly the Ministry should intervene. In connexion with the proposed introduction of a disease for the extermination of rabbits, the Federal and States Governments, in view of the representative and responsible positions which they hold, will be doing only their duty in seeing that no undue risks to the communityare taken. I commend them for the action thev propose to take to secure supervision of the proposed experiments.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Supervision by experts.


Mr BROWN - Yes. At the same time, I ant not one of those who would throw obstacles in the way of experiments made, with the object of discovering a means for the extermination of the rabbit pest, so long as they are carried out under proper supervision. That is all that is being; asked for by the motion.


Mr Conroy - It goes a little further.


Mr Wilson - The honorable and learned member for West Sydney has agreed to an amendment to that effect, which renders the- motion acceptable.


Mr BROWN - I was not present when the honorable and learned gentleman did so, but he assured me that he intended, by his motion, to insure that the lives and best interests of the people of the Commonwealth should be properly safeguarded in connexion with the proposed experiments, and to that extent, I am wholly in sympathy with him. No one denies that the rabbit pest has been a source of very great loss to the people of the Commonwealth, or, so far as one can see, that it will be a source of immense loss in the future. We wish to discover some means of eradicating the pest if possible, and if that be impossible, of bringing it within manageable limits. A great deal of money has. been expended in experiments of different kinds with that object in view, and I have no doubt that other experiments will be undertaken. For instance, considerable expenditure had been incurred before it was discovered that wire netting, was a means of dealing with the pest. Then there was a great deal of expenditure involved in the experimental stages, in the adoption of poisons and mechanical contrivances for cheaply and expeditiously distributing them, to say nothing of the expenditure which has taken place since those methods have been generally adopted as a means of dealing with the pest. Such experiments have been carried on without restriction, but when it is a question of introducing a disease for the purpose of eradicating the pest, we should look into the proposal very carefully, and should satisfy ourselves that the disease will be confined to rabbits, and will not affect other animal life, including that of human beings, as, in such a case, the effect of the remedy would be very much more injurious than the pest. The introduction of diseases of this character calls for the strictest supervision. I confess, in common with other honorable members, that I am not an expert in these matters, and I prefer that they should be dealt with by experts; but the knowledge which we have of the ravages of diseases, especially in new forms, and the fact that many epidemic diseases to which mankind are from time to time subjected may be traced to the lower animals, . is sufficient to warrant the exercise of extreme care in dealing with this matter. Some honorable members have spoken 'as if the strong objection raised to the indiscriminate introduction of these disease germs, is due to selfish motives, and comes only from those who are interested in the continuance of the rabbit industry, and it is held that they have no concern for the welfare of their fellow citizens. I beg to differ from that statement. I have recently been requested to hand to the Prime Minister petitions bearing upon this matter from different centres of my electorate. I know the people from whom they have emanated, and who were the promoters of the meetings at which they were arranged. I have no hesitation in saying that they are actuated by no opposition to the pas toral industry, and by no desire to maintain the rabbit industry. They view the matter from the wider stand-point of the general benefit of the community, and of the danger to human life which might follow from the unwise introduction of diseases which, while they might be destructive of rabbits, might be equally destructive of human life. What they desire is merely that proper supervision shall be exercised by the Commonwealth and States Governments to prevent undue risks being taken in the introduction of such diseases. I have had to present petitions from the residents of Parkes and other important centres .in my electorate, which" were the outcome of public meetings formed for the purpose of dealing with this question, at which meetings those who favoured the exercise of some control, and also those who wish to have these experiments made without supervision, were equally at liberty to express their views. . Only a few hours ago I received a communication by post from the important centre of Orange to the following effect: -

At a public meeting, held in the Town Hall, Orange, on Friday, 1st June, convened by me, in response to a numerously signed requisition from the citizens and others, the following resolutions were passed, and in compliance therewith I have the honour to transmit them to you : - " That this meeting of residents of Orange desires to enter an emphatic protest against any person being permitted to introduce into the State any unexplained disease for the purpose of rabbit destruction. Fearing the same may endanger the public health and welfare, we respectfully request the honorable the Premier of New South Wales and the honorable the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth to take immediate steps to prohibit the proposed experiments being carried out in New South Wales territory or m Australia." " That the foregoing resolution be forwarded to the Honorable J. H. Carruthers and the - Honorable A. Deakin through the State and Federal representatives of Orange respectively."

Kindly forward to the Prime Minister as soon as possible.

Yours Faithfully,

R.   Plowman, Mayor and Chairman of the Meeting.

I have not press reports of the meeting to hand, but the mayor of Orange presided at it, and the communication which I have just read is the outcome of the discussion which took place. I undertake to say that those who promoted that meeting and attended it were not actuated by any of the petty motives attributed in this House to the opponents of unrestricted experiment in this connexion. They were guided by a desire to see that the experiment shall be so conducted that no danger will be likely to ensue to the lives or property r.f any inhabitants of the Commonwealth from the spread of an unknown disease. There is great reason for this action, as we shall see if we look at the conditions which obtain here. Originally the Commonwealth of Australia was very highly endowed by nature in many respects. There was a remarkable immunity, under the old aboriginal conditions, from many of the diseases and pests from which we suffer at the present time. They have been introduced here from other places, and, although in those places they may not have assumed dangerous proportions, the climatic conditions of Australia have been so favorable to their spread that they have become very dangerous in this country. That is true of the rabbit pest, because so carefully were rabbits preserved as game in the old country that some of our population have been drawn from those who were sent here because they killed the landlord's rabbits. In this country the rabbits are having their revenge, and land holders who found that, under normal conditions, and before the introduction of this pest, they could hold their land profitably by the employment of a few boundary riders, are now faced with a life-and-death struggle with the pest. The owners of small holdings are also suffering from it,- but chiefly because the large ' areas of private and Crown lands by which they are surrounded are breeding-grounds for the rabbits, which overrun their properties. This is an instance of the introduction of a pest for the gratification of some individuals who desired in Australia to ape the landlords of the old country in having game preserves. Another pest that has overrun New South Wales is the fox pest. Foxes were introduced into Victoria, as were rabbits by some landlords, for the purpose of hunting, and so forth. Not very long ago the fox was welcomed as an addition to the animal life of Australia, because it was claimed that foxes would destroy the rabbits, and would not prove to be nearly so great a pest. Recently, in travelling through a portion of my electorate, I found that the fox was considered as great an evil to the stock-owner as was the rabbit - that, instead of killing off the rabbits, he is killing off the lambs, and even the sheep, and is therefore another addition to our long list of pests. The reason why we have suffered from these pests is that, in the past, no proper supervision has been exercised in regard to the introduction of animals and birds. No doubt if, in the old days, objection had been taken to the proposed introduction. of foxes, rabbits, or sparrows, it would have been pointed out that these animals and bird's do no great injury in the old land, and that it would be ah undue interference with the liberty of the individual to prohibit their introduction here. But we are now asked to permit something much more serious to take place, namely, the introduction of a disease. It is true that if this disease does all that those who advocate its introduction claim for it, it will kill off the rabbits, and thus put an end to the enormous expense now entailed by the means adopted to that end. But the experience of the past, as well as other considerations, justify us in looking upon the proposal with a considerable amount of suspicion. While it is contended that the disease which it is desired to' introduce will affect rabbits only, competent scientific authorities, and even Dr. Danysz himself, say that that has yet to be demonstrated. Dr. Danysz does not claim that the disease which he has brought with him will realize the expectations of those who advocate its introduction. He says that there are germ (diseases which are very harmful to rabbits, but he admits that it is a matter for experiment whether the disease which he has brought with him is as destructive of rabbits as he supposes it to be, and whether its effects can be restricted to rabbits. Is it too much, then, to ask that the proposed experiments shall be so safeguarded that, if what is hoped for from them is not realized!, the disease will not be disseminated throughout the Commonwealth? In my opinion, those connected with the pastoral industry have made a mistake in their antagonism to all attempts to convert the rabbits into a commercial commodity. In the early nineties, the present Premier of New South Wales, who was at the time Secretary for Lands, convened a conference of those interested in securing the destruction of the rabbits, with a view to devising some effective means, by legislation, or in other ways, to cope with the pest.. The conference met in Sydney, and as the State electorate which I represented was within the affected area, I was a member of it, and1 took part in its proceedings. While it was sitting I had a conversation with the late Mr. Stevenson, then at the head of the Government Board of Exports, who brought under my notice the possibility of converting rabbits into a commercial commodity. He considered that if this were done it would help to deal with the pest more effectively than the methods then in vogue, and he had the experience of Victoria and New South Wales to justify him. I suggested that he should place his views before the conference, and he did so in an address which was listened to attentively ; but, afterwards, the representatives of the pastoral interest expressed themselves strongly against anything being clone in the way of making rabbits a commercial commodity, and it was even stated that any man who seriously brought forward a proposal with that object in view deserved to be sent to gaol for six months without the option of a fine. That attitude towards the rabbit industry has characterized the pastoral industry from the very beginning, and what has been done in the way of making the rabbits a commercial commodity has been done largely in ^ opposition to the pastoralists. Nevertheless, the rabbit industry has forged ahead, until now it has reached considerable proportions. Last year the export of frozen rabbits was so large that on some of the railway lines special trains had to be employed to cope with the traffic, and this year it is still larger. Of course, the traffic in rabbit carcases can be carried on only in districts within easy reach of the railways, and during the cooler months of the year; but during the last six or eight months rabbits have been largely trapped and killed for their skins and furs. Owing to the high prices now obtained for rabbit skins, the trapping of rabbits is taking place right through the central division of New South Wales, and, to show the extent of this business, I wish to read an extract from the last issue of the Peak Hill Express. Peak Hill is a farming and mining town in my electorate, which, though .not large, is fairly prosperous -

As furnishing some idea of the ready money put into circulation in Peak Hill and district by means of the rabbit industry, it might be mentioned that during the past month Mr. W. Roach purchased 16,441 lbs., representing about 128,197 rabbit skins, for which he paid £638 is. 10d. Messrs. F. and J. McAtamney, on an average, paid away ^100 a week during the past seven weeks. There are, also, several other big buyers in town, so that it is practically safe to say fully £2,000 was paid to rabbit trappers about Peak

Hill during May. There are few other industries at present showing a better turnover, but, will it last?

Peak Hill is in the same belt of country as Narromine, Parkes, Forbes, Grenfell, and other towns, where the same traffic is taking place. The men engaged in the industry are not, as the honorable member for Robertson would have us believe, ne'erdowells, who are a nuisance to the settlers because of their thievish proclivities, but respectable working men ; while persons of means are also going into it. I was told the other day, by a fairly representative settler in my electorate, that, during the past six months, he had been trapping rabbits on his land to save his crops, and received more for the skins than he had obtained for his wheat the previous year. Therefore, it is a mistake to suppose that the rabbits cannot be dealt with commercially, or that to deal with them commercially means the perpetuation of the pest. Every rabbit killed means a reduction of the pest, and there should be no antagonism between those engaged in the rabbit industry and the pastoralists who wish for the destruction of the rabbits. I unhesitatingly say that the rabbit pest has assumed such serious proportions that, if ;.t could be wiped out bv any reasonable means, the Commonwealth would benefit more greatly than it can benefit bv the presence of the rabbits in Australia. I protest against) the suggestion that those who are endeavouring to turn the rabbits to commercial advantage are disregardful of the best interests of the Commonwealth, and that they are actuated by unworthy motives in objecting to the introduction of disease. I think 'that this discussion will result in imparting a great deal of useful information to the public, and that it will have a beneficial influence generally. If the rabbits are to be kept within reasonable bounds, wire netting must be largely employed, and strychnine, phosphorus, and arsenic must also be used. Where land is held in comparatively small areas, the pest can be kept under, but great difficulty must be experienced by large land-holders, and by those whose properties are contiguous to unoccupied Crown lands which have become overgrown with scrub, and practically useless, except as a breeding ground for pests. The large holdings should be subdivided, and the smaller land-holders should use wire netting to enclose their properties. I do not think it possible to introduce any disease that will entirely sweep away the rabbits. The most effective way of coping with the difficulty will be to assist the land-holders by giving them wire netting on easy terms. The settlers do not want the State Government to provide the netting for nothing, but, as has been pointed out, the erection of wire netting fences is very costly, and many landholders are unable to provide the ready money necessary to enable them to purchase the material. If the Government of New South Wales followed the example of the Governments of South Australia and Queensland in the direction of assisting settlers, much good work could be done. In the meantime, it is our duty to safeguard the community against1 the introduction of a disease which might prove a greater curse than the rabbit pest.







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