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Thursday, 14 June 1906

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, the method of destruction by poisoning is cruel. In some portions of the Commonwealth, nevertheless, there seems to be no hope for our agricultural and pastoral industries if the rabbits are allowed to increase and multiply without being kept in check by poisoning or disease. That being so, we have to face the situation as it stands, and, whilst exercising every care to prevent the introduction of a. disease that is communicable to other animals or to man, we have also to be cautious, lest in excluding from our midst any destructive microbes we deprive our pastoralists and agriculturists of their one hope, so far as large areas of our country are concerned. Then we must remember that the Commonwealth power is very restricted. For example, we as a Commonwealth mav possess certain power which the Minister of Trade and Customs claims, but if any scientist chooses to develop particular microbes in a State our power will be gone.

Mr Watson - Suppose the microbes to be carried over the borders of any State.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The rabbits would do that, I suppose. I repeat that in such circumstances our power would be gone. Further, it is almost impossible to keep out the virus of the disease which Dr. Danysz wishes to introduce, because any one who chose to do so could conceal a phial containing it in his pocket: Consequently, if dancer is to be prevented, there must be not only Commonwealth, but State action. The Government of New South Wales, where the proposed experiments are to be conducted, consider that they are taking sufficient precautions to avert all danger to human life or to animal life apart from rabbits. Whilst I do not object to the Minister insisting that, in the first instance, the experiments shall be confined to the laboratory, -I do not think that' this motion should be carried, because it implies that only laboratory experiments shall be undertaken. If, after due precautions have been observed, it is proved to the satisfaction of scientists - and it is only scientists who can decide this question - that the disease which Dr. Danysz desires to propogate is not likely to prove injurious to other forms of life in Australia whilst it will be efficacious in destroying the rabbits, we should allow further experiments to be made outside of a laboratory. I certainly admit that I have not too much hope of the results. ' I fear that, in view of the large area over which the pest is spread, and the nature of our 'climate, it will be very difficult to propagate a disease that will seriously reduce the number of rabbits in Australia.

Mr Watson - In his letter of a few months ago, Dr. Danysz himself was not at all hopeful on the subject.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The importance of the destruction of the pest is so great that it is desirable that we should not restrict any experiment, so long as we get the strongest assurances that no danger will accompany it. The honorable and learned member for West Sydney who has moved this motion evidently wishes to go much further than its terms indicate. He wishes to prevent any interference with what he describes as a large industry. We are agreed that a great many men are supporting themselves by the killing of rabbits. No one desires to see men thrown out of employment ; if it be such as is good and helpful for the country. That can hardly be called a satisfactory industry which is dependent upon the existence of a pest. . It -would be infinitely better for the Commonwealth, and, in the long run, even for those engaged in the rabbit-killing industry, if we could entirely exterminate the pest. The honorable and learned member for West Svdney says that laboratory experiments cannot prove that there would not be danger resulting from more extended experiments. The honorable and learned gentleman went on further to say that in any circumstances he is absolutely against experiments outside the ln.bora.torv, in the interior of a State. From these statements it is perfectly evident that he wishes no interference with this industry, as he calls it, but which I think can hardly be so described, and yet it can only exist and flourish if a large portion of New South Wales and of other States is abandoned to the rabbits. The effect of that abandonment would be that rabbits would become so plentiful, and the supply sent to foreign markets so enormous that the demand could not absorb it, and there must be a heavy drop in the prices now paid for rabbits and for rabbit skins. That is inevitable. It would then cease to pay even the rabbiters, and the industry which had been there, and (which the rabbit industry had replaced, would not remain to provide employment for those now engaged in rabbiting. I have lately been in some of the rabbitinfested districts, where men are making excellent wages from rabbit catching, though I wish those wages were derived from a more productive occupation. As a result of all the work being done in connexion with this so-called industry, there is no sign of a decrease in the number of rabbits, except on a few holdings, and for a short time. On holdings on which rabbiters are not at present operating, the rabbits go on increasing at a rate that seems equal to the rate of destruction on other holdings. Honorable members will understand that it pays rabbiters well, to destroy rabbits on holdings where they are numerous, and where they can secure very great numbers ; but when the number secured is reduced, though there may still be large numbers remaining on the holding, the rabbiters naturally pass on to other places, where the pest is more plentiful.

Mr Cameron - And those left breed up again.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Of course breeding goes on amongst those that are left, and in dry seasons the grass required for sheep is reduced so very considerably that it is a question in some places whether the sheep-growing industry can long lie continued. Those in occupation of small holdings also suffer greatly from the rabbit pest. It must be remembered that against the amount of money derived from the export of rabbits we must put the enormous outlay on wire netting by sheepgrowers, small and large, and by pastoralists generally.

Mr Wilks - And the amount of bonuses paid by the Government for rabbit destruction.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No one can reckon the total cost of the wire netting which has been erected, but it must have cost an enormous sum. This must be set against any profits derived from the rabbitkilling industry. But above that there is the reduction in the carrying capacity of the country, and the loss to settlers by the raids of the rabbits on their crops. The . evil is becoming so serious that every effort ought to be made to exterminate it, unless we are going to turn portions of the country into rabbit warrens, and go in for the export of rabbits, and their products, instead of the products of sheepgrowing. I have already pointed out that were we to do that, owing to the enormous increase in the numbers of rabbits exported, the value of rabbits and rabbit skins would be so reduced that the industry would cease to be a paying one. The Minister might be expected to, and I am sure he would, take every, precaution in connexion with these experiments, and we should leave the matter in his hands. There is, in my opinion, not nearly so much danger to be expected from that as there is from permitting Dr. Danysz or any other scientist to develop the microbe within a State. That can be done, and we are unable to interfere.

Mr Frazer - If the matter were sufficiently serious we could block him under the Immigration Restriction Act.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But he is here already, and he, and other scientists under his instructions, can carry on the development of the virus in any State. Honorable members must know that we cannot keep it out, because it could be brought into Australia in a small tube which any one might put in his pocket. Remembering that there are so many loopholes by which this virus might be introduced, I believe that it is not right to attempt to tie the hands of the Government in the matter by a motion such as this, which practically says that there shall be no result from any experiment made, since it would limit the experiments to the- laboratory, and would give no authority for carrying it beyond, the mover of the motion stating that the experiment will be useless if it is confined to the laboratory. Surely we are not going to put ourselves into so false %a position? Agreeing as I do as to the necessity for caution and care, and regretting as I do the many evil things which' have been unnecessarily introduced into Australia, and with one of which we are now trying to deal, I still think that this matter would be better left to the Minister, who will be actuated by a sufficient sense of responsibility. In any case, we should not pass a motion of this kind, which means that there shall be no experiment beyond the laboratory, 'and that the whole of the labours of the men engaged in this matter, and the expenditure in connexion with it will be rendered useless to the community. If there is to be a motion carried on the subject it should provide that the experiment should not take place beyond the laboratory until such times as scientific men appointed by the Commonwealth and States Governments are agreed that it would be harmless to extend it. The honorable and learned member for West Sydney supplies me with a proposed addendum to his motion.

Mr Hughes - I think that the amendment I suggest will meet the honorable gentleman's objections to the motion.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have just said that I think the matter can be safely left ir. he hands of the Government! They are fully alive to the danger, and I am sure are desirous of protecting the country from any liability to injury from the introduction of a serious plague. The honorable and learned gentleman suggests the addition of the words -

Until such time as Parliament is satisfied, or the Government, if Parliament is not in session, that outside experiments will be harmless.

I would prefer it to say, " Until such time as the Government are satisfied that outside experiments will be harmless." Parliament could then interfere at any time if it were thought that the Government were acting without sufficient grounds for believing that the virus would be harmless. The honorable and learned member is aware that the Minister is at one with him as to the necessity for caution. I agree, with both that the laboratory stage should precede the outside stage of the experiment, but I would? not favour any motion which, if the test had passed the laboratory stage, would prevent a further test in the larger field where the actual operations would have to be carried on if the introduction of the disease is to be successful for the purpose desired. I have pointed out that after all our power is very limited, and scientists in any of the States ma« experiment if th»y choose to do so. As a matter of fact, in the laboratories of the States at the present time, I believe, there are, if we may so describe them, uncontrolled microbes of a variety of descriptions - uncontrolled by

Governments, that is - which have been experimented with in connexion with disease in our own species.

Mr Hughes - I trust that the honorable member is misinformed.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I know that microbes have been experimented with here, and I feel certain that these microbes are still in some of the laboratories. I do not say that Dr. Danysz's microbe has been experimented with, though that is quite possible; but I believe there are in our laboratories microbes which may be as dangerous, or more dangerous. Therefore, I think that we should request only that precautions will be taken to insure experiment within the laboratory before the microbe is tested abroad, and, if properly appointed scientists approve of an open-air experiment, we should not pass a resolution prohibiting something being done to get rid of. or reduce, this terrible pest.

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