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Thursday, 14 June 1906

Mr WILKS (Dalley) . - I have listened to the debate with interest, though it has been somewhat outside the usual course, and we have been treated to dissertations on bacteriology, and to many illustrations of the pest which rabbits are admitted to be in Australia. Self-interest is involved in the question under discussion, because I find that the pastoralists and farming classes in Australia, at their own expense, have invited Dr. Danysz, an expert of world-wide reputation, to visit Australia to deal with the pest. It appears to me to be the duty of Parliament to intervene, if there is any necessity for intervention, on behalf of those who have no personal interest in the matter. We know that the expert has been offered a very large sum of money if, by the introduction of a certain disease, he can bring about the destruction of rabbits in Australia. That is the matter with which he is chiefly concerned, and he is not concerned with the question whether or not he mav be introducing to Australia a pest equal to, or even greater' than, the rabbits. It is, therefore, the duty of Parliament to step in if it is believed that there is any reason to fear the introduction of a pest which may be injurious to persons who are not immediately interested in the pastoral industry. We have had the statement made that, as a result of the depredations of rabbits, there has been a shrinkage of capital values in the pastoral lands of New South Wales alone to the extent of from ,£8,000,000 to ,£10,000,000. That is the estimate presented only a few mont'hs ago bv the Minister for Lands in New South Wales. His Department estimates' that the loss sustained by New South Wales from the existence of the rabbit pest amounts to from ,£8,000,000 to £10,000,000, and the further statement is made that the revenue derived from rents of lands in the western division of the State has decreased from £250.000 to ,£70,000 a year. Though there are thousands of people employed in killing the rabbits, and preparing them for export, the loss which would accrue if they should cease to be employed could not be compared with the loss suffered by New South Wales alone from the depredations of this pest. It is singular to note that the rabbit seems to have played rather an important part in the early history of Australia, as well as in its later history. In the early days we owed the introduction of many of our sturdy yeomanry to the fact that in the old world they had shot rabbits which did not belong to them. In my opinion they were unfairly treated in being sent to Australia as compulsory immigrants on that account. But it is clear that the rabbit has occasioned a good deal of distress at both ends of Australian history, and today we are very much concerned with their eradication. It is certainly the duty of the Government to see that all necessaryprecautions are taken to prevent the spread in this country of any disease likely to be injurious to human beings or to stock. The doctors themselves are not satisfied that the disease which it is proposed to introduce will be harmless to human beings and stock. Dr. Tidswell, the official expert in New South Wales, will not guarantee that the introduction of the proposed disease will be without danger to the community, and Dr. Danysz is not. satisfied that it will accomplish the purpose for which he seeks to introduce it. He has come here merely to experiment, and Broughton Island has been set apart for his experiments. I agree with those who believe that it will not be sufficient to conduct experiments in an ordinary laboratory. There must be outside experiments if the efficacy of the proposed disease is to be properly tested, and I think that Broughton Island is a most suitable place for conducting such experiments. I direct the attention of honorable members to the fact, that Rodd Island, which is within half-a-mile of some densely populated districts on the shores of Sydney harbor, was for four years the scene of experiments conducted by the Pasteur Institute to obtain a somewhat similar remedy for the rabbit pest to that which it is proposed that Dr. Danysz shall introduce. The island was, however, properly netted over to prevent the transmission of the noxious germs by means of bird life. Broughton Island is a few miles north of Newcastle, though only one and a half or two miles from the shore. But if it were properly caged in as Rodd Island was, I believe that no danger would be likely to ensue from the conduct of experiments there. I take it that the honorable and learned member for West Sydney merely desires that all necessary precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of an injurious disease. The honorable and learned gentleman has quoted Professor Anderson Stuart, the highest expert authority in Australia, and one who is unbiased, and is not in the pay of the pastoralists, as stating that he questions whether experiments carried out successfully in a laboratory would be found to be equally successful in the interior of Australia, and we know that if the efficacy of the disease is to be proved it must be demonstrated in the interior. The State Government of New South. Wales has provided Broughton Island for the conduct of outside experiments, and have undertaken considerable expense to prepare the place for the operations of the celebrated doctor who is visiting Australia from the old world. I see no danger from the- carrying out of experiments at Broughton Island, if it is netted in as Rodd Island was. It has been shown that a Pasteur element in the possession of scientists in Australia to-day can be made as virulent as that which Dr. Danysz proposes to introduce, and the Commonwealth authorities are unable to control experiments made with that element. Seeing that a number of people for their own protection have subscribed some thousands of pounds to secure a visit from a distinguished European scientist, I think that we should allow him to conduct the experiments which he desires to make, under the eye of the officials of the Commonwealth and States Governments. The Commonwealth Government are apparently inclined to adopt that' course, and only to permit experiments in a laboratory until a committee of scientists are agreed that no possible danger can accrue from the use of the imported microbe. I agree with previous speakers that much of the difficulty we have experienced in connexion with rabbits has been due to neglect on the part of the people of Australia. Closer settlement would have had a great effect in reducing the ravages of the pest, and pastoralists should have been obliged to erect wire netting and employ labour to combat it. The pest is said to be increasing, and we can feel for pastoralists whose hold- ings have been destroyed. We can also recognise that the matter is one which very seriously affects the Australian export trade. There is another side to this question, because we must consider, not only the export trade, but also the number of persons in Australia who consume rabbits as an article of food'. If an experiment with the proposed disease should be carried out in the interior of Australia without any regulation, people who to-day depend a great deal on that kind of food would be afraid to partake of ft. The honorable and learned member for Werriwa, in dealing with the question, pointed out, as against this objection, that the poisoning of rabbits with phosphorus has had a serious effect on bird life in Australia, to the detriment of farmers, but in doing so the honorable and learned member has shown that injurious results might follow to bird life_ and other life in Australia from the destruction of rabbits by the dissemination of Dr. Danysz's microbe. I should like to see the people of Australia eating wholesome, healthy mutton, rather than rabbits, but there are many persons of the industrial class in my electorate who are not sheep farmers or pastoralists, and who frequently take advantage of a cheap meat supply in the form of rabbits. They are deeply concerned in this matter, and would not wish to think that they might be eating rabbits inoculated with a microbe which, in time, might have an injurious effect upon them. Some honorable members mav consider that I am not justified in urging that argument, but I think it is my duty as the representative of those people to put it forward, in addition to the others I have presented, as a reason why extra precautions should be taken in connexion with this matter. I believe that sufficient precautions will be provided for if the motion be amended in the way proposed, and that the Commonwealth Government will have the power to protect the industries of Australia. When an expert authority like Professor Anderson Stuart will not guarantee that the proposed disease will bring about the destruction of rabbits in the way represented by those who are paying for the experiments, and Dr. Danysz, as I saw by the report of an interview with him, is not able to guarantee the efficacy of his proposed treatment for years to come, it is clear that something must be done in the interval, and it is the bounden duty of pastoralists to see that wire netting and other means are adopted to decrease the numbers of the pest. The States Governments who own the land must also take the matter into consideration. I have much pleasure in supporting the amendment, because I think it provides for the necessary precautions, and because I believe that the experiment' should be conducted not only in a laboratory in Sydney, but outside.

Mr Deakin - I shall be prepared to give an hour of Government time to this motion after tea, in the hope that honorable members willi be able in that time to close the discussion.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.

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