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Friday, 15 June 1906

Mr McWILLIAMS (Franklin) . - It is not my intention to prolong the debate to any great length, but I should like to say that I think the honorable member for Gippsland has about sized up the position. Personally, I have the very greatest dread of any further plague being turned loose amongst the flocks and herds of Australia until not only its efficacy as a rabbit destroyer has been thoroughly proved', but it has also been proved up to the hilt that there is no risk that we shall be introducing a plague which may be much more injurious than the rabbit pest. The greatest caution should be exercised by those in authority to prevent the introduction of any disease which may possibly spread broadcast throughout Australia. No one questions the fact that the rabbit is a pest, but the rabbit pest is not a disease, and it might be infinitely more injurious to the flocks and herds of Australia to turn loose amongst them what is certainly a. disease. We know that the result of tests carried out in the old country are not always borne out by similar tests in these new lands. Some things that are shown to be perfectly harmless in the old world have proved to be pests and plagues when introduced into Australia. I am unable to follow the contention that the whole of the rabbit industry may be destroyed if the proposed disease is introduced. We know that millions of rabbits are poisoned every year in Australia, and the rabbit plague still continues.

Mr Fowler - But this is a disease which may not kill straight out.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I have been informed that phosphorous poison does not prove so suddenly fatal as some persons imagine, and, indeed, it is quite probable that rabbits that have taken the poisoned baits have been caught in the traps. I repeat that the greatest caution should be exercised to prevent the introduction of a possibly virulent disease. We know that cattle will eat the skins of rabbits, and some of them have a liking, for the bones of dead animals. We are not sure that it will be impossible for the plague which it is proposed to introduce to be transmitted from the dead carcase of a rabbit to some living animal. If that be possible, we may be introducing to Australia a plague, the effects of which will be one hundredfold worse than the rabbit pest. I should like to see the motion withdrawn, because the Minister of Trade and Customs and the State Government of New South Wales appear to have got fairly into line on this question. They are practically agreed that nothing should be done in the way of disseminating an awful plague until it is proved beyond doubt that its effects will be confined to rabbits. I think, with the honorable member for Gippsland, that the matter is one that should be left in the hands of the Minister. It is one in connexion with which the Minister should accept full responsibility, and, holding that view, I shall vote against the motion; if it is pressed to a division.

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