Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 1 August 1906

Mr McCOLL (Echuca) .- I regret that I was unable to be present when the Minister moved the second reading of this Bill, because it deals with a matter in which I have taken a little interest. I sincerely welcome this action on the part of the Government. To me the subject of meteorology is one of the most important that they could take up. I think it is a reflection upon this Parliament that hitherto no action of the kind has been taken, although we have had power to deal with the .matter ever since the establishment of the Federation. In our present complex civilization, when interests are so interinvolved and world-wide, the discovery and formulation of laws governing the weather are of first importance. To obtain an accurate meteorological system throughout Australia, the Government would be justified in incurring almost any expenditure. To all sections of the community the matter is one of great importance - to those interested in commerce, transportation, navigation, agriculture, and trade of all descriptions. In short, it concerns everybody whose living and comfort depend upon the seasons and upon the weather. It is so far-reaching that it should be dealt with upon comprehensive lines. If the service is to be a useful one it should stretch out over all this Continent, and be conducted in the most thorough manner. The Bill falls short of what I should have liked to see attempted. Its provisions are halting and hesitating, and throughout it provides that the Commonwealth " may " do this, that, and the other.

To my mind, the word " shall " should be substituted for " may," because, unless we intend to undertake meteorological work in a most thorough manner, we had better leave it alone altogether. A divided State and Federal control would be absolutely fatal to the success of a meteorological department. The States might certainly render help to us in their own way, but the actual control of the Department should be Federal from top to bottom. Probably more than any other institution that we can establish, it is the one which needs a centralized control if it is to be effective. Control must be centred in one man - in one efficient head - just as it is in other countries. He must guide the whole ramifications of the Department, he must be in direct touch with all its stations, and he must exercise control over every officer's work. There is no occasion for me to criticise the systems which we have hitherto enjoyed. They have been very poor ones. The only State which has rendered good service is that of Queensland, and the gentleman who controlled the Department there is no longer in the employ of the State Government. From the remarks which I have heard since I entered the Chamber, I gather that there is a desire on the part of honorable members to amalgamate the astronomical and meteorological services. I think that that would be a fundamental mistake.

Sir Langdon Bonython - In many States they are amalgamated now.

Mr McCOLL - Then the sooner they are separated the better. The Astronomical and Meteorological Departments work upon absolutely different lines. Meteorology is a science which treats of the atmosphere, its phenomena, and the variations of heat, moisture, wind and storms. These are matters which affect our daily lives. Upon theother hand, astronomy is a science which treats of the celestial bodies, their motions, distances, revolutions, order and various related phenomena. These considerations do not affect us as does the science of meteorology, and, therefore, I am very glad that the Government have seen fit to separate the two Departments. Astronomy is strictly a science, whereas meteorology deals with practical work, and the minds which have the control' of one should not be occupied with the other. If they are, they must be diverted from that keen observation of the various changes; which are occurring, into abstract speculations which are of no practical value. Above every thing, the question should be dealt with in a thoroughly practical way for the benefit of the community. The conference which met in Adelaide in 1905 contained 'four astronomers, one surveyor, and one meteorologist, and certainly their findings are not entitled to very much respect. To me they appear to have fallen very short of what was required of them, and seem to have been dominated by the astronomers. I believe that the objections of Mr. Baracchi to the amalgamation of these institutions are sound and well founded, and I trust that the Government will accord them due respect. In this connexion, I think thatwe may fairly copy what has been done in other countries where the science of meteorology has been a very great success. In the United States, where this science has been brought to perfection to the benefit of the whole community, matters relating to meteorology were first placed under the War Signal Department in 1870. Until 1896 they were dealt with by that Department, but the work grew to such an extent, and became so intimately connected with the great producing interests of the country, that it was deemed advisable to transfer it to the Department of Agriculture. It was only after considerable agitation, however, that that was accomplished. The work of the Department was spread out to the great lakes, sea coasts, and subsequently to the districts of the interior and to the central valleys. To make it more effective, and in order to obtain necessary data in a reasonably quick time, it was found necessary to go further afield. In a Meteorological Department, there are two essentials to success - the one is a wide range of stations spread over a large area, and the other, a prompt collection and swift conveyance of the information which has to be transmitted to head-quarters. When I was in Washington, in August last year, I visited its Weather Bureau. The work there is being done under Professor Willis L. Moore. It had been for twenty years under the military system, and during that time the whole of the officers employed in the Department had been trained to military discipline and exactness. That was of very great advantage to them. When the Department was transferred to the Department of Agriculture, it was re-organized, and its operations were extended. Its duties now consist of forecasting the weather, issuing storm warnings, displaying weather and flood signals for the benefit of those engaged in agriculture, commerce, and navigation, gauging and reporting on rivers, maintaining and operating sea coast telegraph lines, collecting and transmitting marine intelligence, reporting temperature and rainfall for the great cotton interests, displaying frost, cold wave, and other signals, distributing meteorological information in the interests of agriculture and commerce, and taking such observations as are necessary to establish and record the climatic conditions of .the United States, and' which are essential for the execution of the foregoing duties. Since 1.896, that Department has grown very much indeed - so much so that in an area which is about equal to that of Australia, thirty observatories have been es~tablished at a cost of £80,000. The bureau at Washington occupies a fine position, is well equipped, and cost £35,°°o. As evidencing the importance attached to this great question in the United States, I may mention that their annual appropriation in connexion with meteorological work is ,£300,000. The chief of the Department receives a salary of £1,000 per annum. Each year that Department has been in existence it has recouped its cost over and over again, in the saving of both life and of property which has been effected through its agency. In addition to these thirty observatories, there are 200 observing stations and 700 subsidiary stations. The operators are paid by the Government, but, in addition to these, there are 3,600 co-operators, who discharge their duties voluntarily, and are supplied at Government expense with the instruments necessary to enable them to take observations. Every one of these officials throughout the States is in direct touch with the chief of the Bureau, and can communicate with him whenever he desires, either by telegraph or telephone. In order to obtain an effective system the Bureau has a very wide range of operations. It co-operates with Canada, thus securing observations from the extreme north of the Dominion, and also with Mexico, in the south, so that it is in touch with kindred institutions from the north to the south of the continent, which supply it with information, and from whom it obtains daily observations. The authorities of the Bureau are in touch with and receive observations from Honolulu, on the west, and with Britain, Germany, France, Portugal, and the Azores, on the east. The system is so complete that every meteorological change which takes place over a fourth of the globe, together with its bearing and possible results, is recorded and charted at Washington. The reports which come in are scanned by keen, experienced men, and the results are at once conveyed to every part of the continent which the changes may be expected to affect. At 200 stations simultaneous observations are made at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. bv 75 meridian time. The stations are equipped with the most delicate instruments necessary for the recording, of changes, and there is an almost continuous record of local weather conditions and changes. Twice daily these records are sent to Washington, where they are charted and studied by trained experts, who announce the weather conditions which may be expected. So accurately is the work done that? they can send over the whole continent a warning as to the approach of a storm from thirty-six to forty-eight hours before it takes place. The paths of storms are traced, and their subsequent courses are known. Information as to precipitation is at once sent to the Bureau, and the officials are thus able to foretell floods and warn the people concerned in time to permit of their providing against them. They have also a regular transmission of observations. In less than two hours after the morning observations have been made these warnings are telegraphed from the central station to 2,000 principal distributing points. They are then sent by post, telephone, and telegraph to 200,000 addresses. This takes _place daily, most of the addresses are reached before noon, and every one of them is reached before 6 p.m. ' The whole of this work is done at the expense of the Government, and it is entirely distinct from the great work which the press also performs in this direction. The United States have also a free rural delivery and a free rural telephone service, which carry information to the farmers all over the continent. One hundred thousand farmers, in return for a small charge, receive daily weather reports from the observatory. There are also telephone subscribers and card forecast subscribers, and no less than 17,000,000 card forecasts are sent out every year. Another point is that there is also a climate and a crop service in connexion with the Weather Bureau of the United States. There is a section in each State which collects information in regard to the temperature and rainfall, and makes, observations for monthly reports. During the crop-growing season - from April to

September - weekly mail reports concerning the effect of the weather on crops, and also farming observations, are sent in from 14,000 correspondents. These are published in weekly bulletins, and distributed throughout the country. Apart from this practical work, which comes in direct touch with the people, and in which they take great interest, men of scientific ability are engaged in investigating and elaborating the fundamental principles which regulate meteorology and the kindred sciences. Snow and ice bulletins are issued from December to March, showing the depth of snow on the ground and the thickness of the ice on the various rivers and other waters, while special warnings are sent along the coast. Tropical hurricanes or storms or cold waves of unusual severity are forecasted, and reports are sent to postmasters at 6,152 points. These postmasters, in turn, post and telephone the notices to the various subscribers and other persons interested. In addi'tion, the forecasting notices are sent to 5,000 railway stations in all parts of the States, and are there posted in the waiting-rooms, so that travellers can at once ascertain the weather conditions in their own districts and advise their .friends at home of the necessary preparations to be made to secure their crops or other property. This work is highly beneficial to the people. There is no institution in the United States which has a greater hold on the people, or is deemed to be of greater benefit to them, than the Weather Bureau. Whilst we may noi be so ambitious at the outset, I trust that we shall proceed in no halting way, but that we shall establish a central bureau, where meteorology work alone will be conducted, and that we shall work on until we obtain such a system as that which I have described. It is impossible to underrate the value of this weather data to "business interests. The warnings of the approach of severe and injurious weather conditions which are issued in the United States of America are valuable beyond computation. Storm warnings are sent to 300 different points along the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Gulf coasts, and also along the shores of the great lakes, and so effective is the service that for eyars not one storm has occurred respecting which warnings have not been issued from 12 to 24 hours before its approach. Vessels have thus been detained in port, and it is estimated that the saving in this way secured represents a value of $30,000,000. Cold wave warnings axe issued from 2*4 to 36 hours in adVance, and persons having crops or other properties liable to be injured by these occurrences are able to cover them up or to take other steps to protect their interests. I read a year or two ago that in one county alone the value of the strawberry crops, which had been saved as the result of these notices, was estimated to be equal to the whole cost of the Meteorological Department during the year in question. With an accurate knowledge of the precipitation, the authorities, knowing the number of inches of rain that have fallen, are able to forecast floods, and so to warn the people in time to protect their property. By means of this great Department, thousands of lives and property of immense value have been saved from destruction. Since the Bureau was properly organized under the system I have just described, the percentage of wrecks around the coast and on the great lakes has decreased to a remarkable extent. In this Continent we have not the same wide range of climate, nor have we the extreme vicissitudes of cold and heat - of snow and ice - that are experienced in America. Still all this work would be useful here. Mere State work must necessarily be defective. What we need is to have the work centralized, placed under the control of one man, and carried out by a staff subject to proper discipline. This must be done in order that the Federal Department maybe what it ought to be. No other country offers a finer field for meteorology than does Australia. This Continent is peculiarly adapted to "such work, and, given a proper system, conducted at reasonable expense, the Department should be able to forecast weather changes all over the Continent, and so would be productive of great good. This work should be carried out for the whole Continent, and not for any one part of it. The staff of the Department should be absolutely independent of the Public Service. If the Department is to be effective, absolute discipline, prompt obedience, care, and attention are required. The Weather Bureau of the United States Has a very well-disciplined staff, and this perhaps may be partly due to the fact that it was for many years carried om under the military system. The chief can suspend an. officer at a moment's notice, and may conduct inquiries as to carelessness or breaches of discipline. Meteorology is so important to the people of Australia that I think it might well be taught in our State schools. That, of course, is a matter with which the States themselves must deal, but I hold that many subjects now being taken up bv the public schools are not nearly so important to the people of Australia as is a knowledge of weather conditions. Here we have State-owned railways, telephones, and telegraphs, so that we should be in a verv much better position than is the United States to carry out effective work. All these systems, which are under State control, could co-operate, and so bring about good results. We should also be able to secure the co-operation of the press, which would be a material factor in our success. I desire to congratulate the Government on having introduced this Bill, and I trust they will not agree to the amalgamation of the Departments of Astronomy and Meteorology. The divided attention to dutv which would follow would not be productive of such good work as would be obtained if the two branches were kept entirely distinct.

Suggest corrections