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Thursday, 14 June 1906

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) .- After hearing what the Minister of Trade and Customs has said, I feel that there is a chance of the proposed experiments being carried out. I do not intend to. discuss the matter from a scientific point of view, by debating whether the use of this or that form of bacteria would or would not be inimical to the best interests of the country ; I merely wish to' point out that in New South Wales something like .^£700,000 has been spent by the Government of the State in trying - unsuccessfully - to get rid of the rabbits, while probably ten times as much has been spent during the last ten years by private individuals, and the total loss to the community entailed by the pest is almost immeasurable. Eighteen or nineteen years ago, before the rabbits became so plentiful, the New South Wales Government received over £250,000 a year in rent from the Crown lands in its possession, but, because of the damage wrought by the rabbits, it now receives only £70,000 a year, in spite of the fact that settlement has taken place which would otherwise have made the land more valuable, and should have nearly doubled its rental.

Mr Frazer - Rabbits breed more freely on the Crown lands of New South Wales than thev do on the privately held lands.

Mr CONROY - No doubt; but it is impossible to destroy them on the Crown lands. We are told that the rabbit industry brings in about ,£500,000 a year to those concerned in it; but, even if that be true, the amount so earned does not make up for the loss which the State Government of New South Wales alone has suffered, to say nothing of the expense to which private individuals have been put. . I rent a farm in one of the settled districts of New South Wales, and the farmer next to me, whom I will call C, rents another 120 acres, which, two years ago, kept him and his two sons in comfort. But, as the landlord would not wire-net the place, this man lost two crops last year, and told me he was going to give up the farm, because the rabbits were too much, for him, although three years ago they were hardly ever seen in the district. Another man there, whom I will call T, and who, like C, was engaged in dairying, finds himself unable to grow food for his cows. C's two sons have had to start rabbiting, and T tells me that he is practically in the , same position as C. Then, whereas I had five men engaged in farm work on my own holding, I have now only one man so engaged, because my landlord will not wire-net the place, and the rabbits are too numerous for me to cope with. If any one doubts my statement, my books are open for his inspection. Thus, within a mile of my house, eight men have been thrown out of employment by the rabbit pest. It may, perhaps, be fortunate that rabbit skins and carcases have some value, and that the cost of reducing the pest has been somewhat lowered for this reason.

Mr Kennedy - But, still, how great is the loss to the farmers !

Mr CONROY - The loss to the farmers is such as no one not engaged in farming can estimate. Then, at Cowra, where last year I had 200 acres under wheat, we took a crop off only forty acres, and this year I would not put on men because I felt sure that I would lose my wheat again, and the expense of wirenetting the place has hitherto been too heavy for me to undertake. But for the rabbits, three or four men would have been engaged in farming that land. In the same district, a man, whom I will call R., who holds 600 acres, put about 150 acres under crop, and harvested from only 25 acres. Then a man named H., holding 220 acres, has not put a single acre under wheat, because he thinks it useless to do so, after the experience of his neighbours, until he has wire-netted his holding, and I am joining with him in wire-netting. Thus, where there should be a number of men employed in agriculture, there are only a few rabbiters, who, instead of being en gaged in adding to the wealth of the country, are only destroying a pest, and earning money which would be better spent in reproductive, investments.. The drought of 1902 would not have been so destructive as it was if it had not been for the rabbits. Dr>' as the year was, I think that the bulk of the stock would have managed to get through if it had not been for the rabbits.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - That was not so in Queensland.

Mr CONROY - My remark may not apply to Queensland altogether, but in many districts there would have been enough grass - dry and inferior though it would (have been - to enable most of the stock to weather the drought. Some people are rejoicing because the rabbit pest has given them access to land which they could not otherwise have obtained, but the distribution of weal tin is not involved in this discussion.. It is obvious that the production of wealth is being hampered by the rabbit pest, the loss to individuals being enormous, notwithstanding that a certain value attaches to the rabbit industry. But if the value is put against the loss done to the pastoral and agricultural industries by the rabbits, the case for the rabbiters fs not arguable. If the 120 acres of land belonging to C. were wire-netted, and used solely for breeding, rabbits, he could not get a living from his farm during more than three weeks a year, or say one week every four months. The profitable occupation of land is the main source of the production of national wealth, and u Aether Parliaments like it or not, experiments will be made by land-holders for the destruction of rabbits. Men will not sit down and allow themselves to be ruined if they can prevent it, and, as experiments for the destruction of rabbits will be made in any case, it is better that they should be made under Government supervision than without proper safeguard. Do not honorable members know that various forms of disease have already been introduced among the rabbits? One or two forms of contagious disease, which are certainly communicable to mankind, are not communicable to the rabbit, and it is reasonable to assume that diseases which are communicable to raibbits may not be communicable to mankind. If it had not been for the work done by the members of tha. Pasteur Institute, we should never have been able to inoculate our cattle to protect them against the ravages of pleuro, and our losses might have been as great as those which were inflicted upon Poland and Russia before Pasteur went there.

Mr Hughes - Bud it is now proposed to introduce a new disease to destroy life, instead of saving it.

Mr CONROY - If it had not been for the experiments conducted by Pasteur at the cost of a considerable amount of animal life, he would never have enabled us to save our flocks and herds. Before Pasteur was able to produce a serum suitable for inoculation against pleuro, he had to communicate the disease to hundreds of forms of animals. These would certainly be under supervision, but it would be ridiculous to say that they were in his laboratory. The diphtheria anti-toxin would never have been produced' if disease had not been communicated by Pasteur to horses and other animals. We know of the thousands of lives that have been saved by treatment with diphtheria anti-toxin. The death rate from diphtheria has been reduced from 70 or 80 per cent, to 17 or 18 per cent. Experiments have been made by Pasteur in the course of which he has communicated disease to hundreds and thousands of animals ls.

Air. Hughes. - But he did not turn them loose.

Mr CONROY - Nor is it intended to turn them loose here.

Mr Hughes - But thev will get loose.

Mr CONROY - No more than they got loose in France, Germany, or Russia.

Mr Hughes - But the experiments were conducted in the cases referred to with a view to saving life, whereas it is now proposed to destroy life.

Mr CONROY - If the experiments are successful, will not the destruction of the rabbits result in saving the lives, of millions of sheep? The honorable and learned member says that we should not permit the introduction of any form of microbe that may be injurious to animal life. The same line of reasoning might have been pursued in opposition to many of the experiments which were carried on by Pasteur, and which have resulted in such great benefit to humanity. The honorable and learned member also said that Pasteur's experiments were conducted for a good purpose, whereas it was now proposed to introduce disease for a bad purpose.

Mr Hughes - I did not say that. I was drawing a' distinction between beneficent and injurious microbes.

Mr CONROY - But the honorable and learned member must recognise that it was only by experiments, in the course of which much animal life was destroyed, that certain microbes were rendered beneficent. We must recognise that the rabbits have cost the country an enormous sum of money, and that if we can bring about a cheaper form of destruction than that now followed, we should adopt it. It is not for us, as unscientific men, to say what is or is not dangerous, because that is a matter outside our province.

Mr Hughes - On which side is the weight of scientific authority to-day ?

Mr CONROY - At present scientific authority says notihing. Scientific men are very careful. They say, " We have no data to guide us, and therefore we are unable to pronounce an opinion with regard to a matter which has "not been the subject of experiment."

Mr Hughes - What does Professor Anderson Stuart say?

Mr CONROY - He says that very great care should be exercised in the introduction of any fresh microbes into the country. Of course, we are all fully aware of that.

Mr Kennedy - Is it certain that the microbe which is to be made the subject of experiment is not already in the rabbit in Australia ?

Mr CONROY - We are told that it already exists in Canada, and possibly here also-. It is now proposed to cultivate the microbes, and make them more virulent. Whilst we are talking about the danger of destroying rabbits by means of microbes, the people of the outside world who consume our rabbits are running a far greater risk of poisoning. The danger in the case of phosphorus is avoided by the removal of the entrails, but arsenic and strychnine, which are coming into more general use for rabbit destruction, are particularly dangerous. Moreover, the poisons which are now being used to get rid of the rabbits are very destructive of bird life, and I am afraid that serious results to our farmers will follow, because many insect pests are now flourishing to an extent that they have not hitherto done. It would be infinitely better if we could devise some means of destroying the rabbits that would not be attended with fatal results to our insect-eating birds.

Mr Hughes - Why not adopt trapping and netting?

Mr CONROY - Because those means are not sufficient. The honorable and learned member has a small farm, and the rabbits are moving down towards him. He will probably have a very painful experience within a short time, because the rabbit's are already within twenty-five miles of his property. I fear that serious results will follow the present destruction of birds by poison. Insect life may increase to such a degree that all our crops will be destroyed. Where the crop grows, various forms of insect life may destroy the whole of the results of the farmer's work. In my opinion that is one of the contingencies that we shall probably have to face within the next half dozen years. When we come to weigh the pros and cons of this question we must inevitably see that for us to pronounce judgment upon it without entering into a.r. examination of all the facts would be unworthy of any intelligent body of men. In one State alone we know that the decrease in the carrying capacity of the country, owing to the ravages of rabbits, has been estimated at from £8,000.000 to £10.000,000 per annum. From that stand-point it would pay us to give every individual engaged in the rabbit industry a bonus of £10 per week to remain idle if we could absolutely rid ourselves of the pest. In my opinion this motion goes much too far. It objects to the -proposed experiments, because they " may prove inimical to animal life.'"' I maintain that experiments, to be of any use, must be conducted outside the laboratory. I would further point out that the microbes with which Dr. Danysz wishes to experiment can easily be introduced in another form, and cultivated here, so that by taking the action suggested by the honorable and learned member for West Sydney we shall be merely depriving ourselves of the services of a skilled bacteriologist.

Mr Frazer - Does the honorable and learned member think that the pastoralists would endeavour to defeat the intentions of Parliament in that direction ?

Mr CONROY - I am sure that I would. Does the honorable member suggest for a moment that I care two perce for a resolution of this Parliament if it is in defiance of what I conceive to be right?

Mr Frazer - The honorable and learned member is an anarchist.

Mr CONROY - I am when I reflect upon some of the doings of this Parliament. I think that any well-directed explosion amongst the members of this House, ever, if it worked injury to myself, would do more good than harm. We meet so frequently that apparently we have nothing to do but to be meddlesome. If we proceed to extremes in this matter we shall arouse a large body of public opinion against us on the part of men who are now suffering so keenly from the rabbit pest that they will, if necessary, carry on the work of its destruction by means of disease, secretly. It is only seventeen or eighteen years ago that the New South Wales Government absolutely offered a reward of £25,000 for the discovery of a means for the eradication of the rabbits. The science of bacteriology has advanced so much during the past fifteen or sixteen years that its future can scarcely be calculated. It is true that all the great principles in connexion with that science have been enunciated since 1856. The work of development, however, ha,s progressed slowly, and it is only within the past fifteen years that any considerable strides have been made. I feel verv strongly upon this matter. I am extremely thankful that rabbits and rabbit skins are realizing their present high price, because that induces mien to aid in the destruction of the pest without being paid to do so. If, under proper safeguards, it is found that anything can be done to mitigate the curse of the rabbit, I shall be delighted indeed. But, after all, the public health should be our first consideration.

Mr Skene - How far is Broughton Island from the coast of New South Wales?

Mr CONROY - About a couple of miles.

Mr Skene - Complete experiments cannot be carried out in a laboratory.

Mr CONROY - Certainly not. The rabbits will require to be under close observation, and will need to be handled every three or four hours. It is idle to suggest that they might swim from Broughton Island to the mainland.

Mr Wilks - But a bird might carry the germs of the disease.

Mr CONROY - If the germs were destructive the bird would drop dead before if reached the mainland.

Mr Spence - A bird would carry a rabbit that distance.

Mr. CONROY"__It is necessary that the rabbits shall be kept under the closest observation. There must be no chance of escape for them. If honorable members are familiar with the work which has been carried on by the Pasteur Institute in France, they will know that the dreaded disease of hydrophobia can absolutely be cured in all cases in which the serum is introduced at a sufficiently early stage. But before that discovery was made, an enormous quantity of work had to be undertaken by way of experiment. If the honorable and learned member for West Sydney intends that the proposed experiments in New South Wales should be confined to the four walls of a room-

Mr Frazer - The term " laboratory " is a well-defined one. '

Mr CONROY - It was a well-defined term at one time, but it is' not so to-day. In conducting experiments upon animals, it is necessary that they shall be kept under close observation, but it is not necessary that they shall be confined to the four

Avails of a room, in which the scientist is perhaps preparing his microscopic slides and cultivating the particular form of bacteria which, he wishes to introduce into some other .animal. I altogether object to the form in which this motion has been brought forward. Had it merely expressed the advisability of Parliament appointing some officer like Dr. Tidswell, in conjunction with, others, to see that we incurred no risk of introducing some fresh disease as the result of the projected experiments, it might be worthy of serious' consideration. But we are merely asked to allow experiments to be conducted by scientific men, who are not likely to sacrifice their reputation for any pittance that they may receive from us. What to them is the approbation of the public? When I see a scientific man striving to win public applause I know that he is not imbued with that love of truth and the spirit of inquiry which alone make the scientific life worth pursuing. He does not understand that to ascertain facts is of much more importance than the consideration of whether or not the truth will please the public. To a man imbued with the proper scientific spirit no' reward can be offered which is so dear to him as is the approbation of his brother scientists when he is successful.

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