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Friday, 23 July 1920


Mr BLAKELEY (Darling) .- The Bill will, I hope, provide the nucleus of a system of scientific education in Australia which will supply a long-felt want. The financial position of the Commonwealth is such as to cause considerable uneasiness, and, therefore, it is very essential that we take some steps to organize our industries and exploit the wealth of this country, so that we maybe in a position to meet our financial obligations. In 1914, the national debt - Federal and State- was £336,781,121; and in 1920, it had grown to £746,357,655, an increase in seven years of £409,000,000, not including about £40,000,000 owing to Great Britain in connexion with war services. The national debt of 1914 represented £68 8s. 4d. per head of population; and this year was £141 - an increase in six years of over £73 per head. In 1914, the interest on this debt, per head of population, was £2 9s. l0d. per annum; and to-day it is £6. This is indeed a staggering liability for 5,000,000 people to bear. Figures relating to out imports and exports are not encouraging, for I find that, in 1913-14, we imported goods to the value of £79,749,683, and, in 1918-19, to the amount of £102,115,122. From a productive point of view, we occupy an almost unparalleled position; and, if we adopt adequate means to develop our natural resources, our progress should be entirely satisfactory. Unfortunately, we are neglecting our opportunities. For instance, we allow billions of gallons of water to run to waste, but the Murray waters scheme now in hand is a big undertaking, and, when completed, will prove of everlasting benefit to the Commonwealth. Generally speaking, we have donelittle to conserve our water supplies or to combat the many pests that attack our primary industries. I take it, therefore, that one of the first duties of this proposed Institute of Science and Industry will be to give careful attention to these particular problems.

Throughout the Commonwealth there is a general feeling that the hours of labour are too long and the wages paid insufficient for the requirements of the working classes, with the result that our Arbitration Courts are crowded and industrial strife is with us every day. With the application of the principle of shorter hours for labour and higher wages there must be an insistent demand for the more efficient organization of all industrial enterprises, in order to meet the position by preventing the awful waste that is at present going on. This, I take it, will be the particular function of this proposed Institute. I may mention just one achievement, namely, the standardization of structural steel. If that alone stood to the credit of the Institute, it would more than justify its creation, for with the standardization of all structural steel a contractor in any part of the Commonwealth may now place an order for T-pieces, angle-irons, and collars with an assurance that everything will fit, whereas, prior to standardization, as many as three or four different standards were in general use, and consequently structural work was rendered more complicated.

Many other problems will claim the attention of this Institute, notably the prickly-pear pest and' plant life of the Commonwealth generally, in connexion with which much valuable information has been already gained, and which, no doubt, will be the basis of further research work. I may mention the waste, representing hundreds of thousands of pounds annually, in our wool-washing and fellmongering establishments. Until recently, at all events, no steps have been taken to utilize these by-products, and the same may be said of by-products resulting from the manufacture of gas. It would, I think, pay the Government to employ a number of scientists to devote their sole attention to this problem; but those who control these private establishments should subsidize investigations into the by-products of coal gas. The Institute should consider the economic production of gas power and the more economical working of industries generally.

The Rill now before us is, I believe, a better proposition than was the first Bill, but it is not as clear, nor does it go so faT, as I should like. It is reported that, owing to representations made to the Government,' an amendment will be made to enable the' formation of Advisory Councils throughout "Australia.

It has to be remembered that while men may be eminently fitted for research work, when it comes to work of a practical nature, apart from research, they are probably not so suitable as average business men. Great care will have to be exercised in the administration of this Institute. The Bill has not been received by the people of Australia with that approval which I think is necessary for the successful inauguration of the scheme. I should be sorry to see the Institute in any way hampered because of any public outcry owing to mistakes which have been made or may be made by it. Every possible avenue should be exploited in obtaining information to help in carrying the scheme to a successful issue. We in Australia have done practically nothing with regard to research. There are haphazard investigations by universities, technical .colleges and similar institutions; and private companies and firms, such as the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, retain staffs of highly qualified scientific experts. The company I have mentioned has evolved a scheme of treatment, which has reduced the expenditure on the production of sugar, and given many valuable byproducts. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company has also a staff of experts whose special duty it is to watch the manufacture of steel. When I recently visited the works at Newcastle I found that there was not a steel rail produced which was not analyzed. Immediately an error or defect in the structure of the steel is detected a remedy is found before there has been any great waste. As specimen samples of the steel are chipped off automatically from the rails as they are produced, they, are immediately tested by the analysts in order to see that they are quite up to standard. While these private firms and companies devote a certain amount of money to research, and the States, in a haphazard way, without co-ordination or cooperation, are many of them investigating the same problems, the lack of a governing or controlling head makes a good deal of the work, if not valueless, at least nroductive of much overlapping and waste. The sum total of the Australian expenditure in research work is not anything like what it should be in such a country as this; and I propose to show what other countries are doing, confining myself .to the agricultural phase of the question. The American States are not left to initiate or carry on the agricultural education of the people by means of scientific research, but are assisted by the Commonwealth Government on all occasions. The Federal Legislature of America, in 1864, alienated no less than 11,000,000 acresof land in order to endow agricultural colleges throughout the country. In that country there are practically unlimited funds available for the endowment of colleges, for scholarships, for scientific research, and so forth; and between 1862 and 1912 over 600 colleges and other institutions were founded to further the progress of agriculture, at a cost of something like £45,000,000. The Agricultural Department at Washington spends no less than £6,000,000 a year in subsidizing the agricultural colleges of the forty-eight States. As a matter of fact, in 1917 the expenditure was £10,000,000.


Mr Burchell - You must remember that the population of the United States of America is 110,000,000.


Mr BLAKELEY - I quite realize that fact ; but if we, in proportion to our population had done as much as America has in the way of research and the exploitation of our natural resources, we should be in a much better position than we are to-day. In Italy, from 1907 to 1917, there were no fewer than 1,100 colleges, schools, and other institutions brought into being for the teaching of agriculture. In Switzerland, there are 1,600 agricultural colleges, subsidized to the extent of £250,000 per annum. In the small country of Belgium, prior to the war, something like £200,000 per annum was spent in this direction. In England, there are eight colleges supported by the County Councils by means of the rates, and subsidized by the Imperial Department of Agriculture. In Canada, owing probably to its close proximity to America, there is a much better system of education and research than in any other British Dominion. In Australia, many men have done good work,' and, of these, I mention the late Mr. Farrar. The people of Australia generally have not yet realized what that gentleman did for Australia in increas ing the productive powers of the country. In New South Wales alone, by the breeding of his " Federation " wheat, he added thousands upon thousands of square miles to the wheat belt.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - It was my pride and privilege to secure the services of Mr. Farrar for the State Agricultural Department on a definite basis.


Mr BLAKELEY - Then the honorable gentleman secured a very good man. Working practically by himself, he evolved a type of wheat from which since that time other types have been obtained; and he laid down a basis of investigation which will, I hope, be followed by the Institute of Science and Industry. I urge upon the Government and those who will have the control of this scheme that, if this country is to have the benefit of the best brains, those brains will have to be paid for in competition with the older countries of the world. While some honorable members may object to derelict professors being paid large sums of money, if the Institute of Science and Industry is to succeed, we shall be compelled to immediately enter into competition with the whole of the countries of the world, with a view to obtaining the best possible brains. And it is worth our while to do so. Three years ago, I stressed the fact that the niggardly sums paid to the scientific brains of Australia are responsible for driving promising scientists from our midst to other countries where their services .are more adequately remunerated. Every year men are attracted from the Commonwealth by the better pay which is offered to them elsewhere. We frequently find the- names of men who graduated in the Sydney and Melbourne Universities, and particularly in our Schools of Mines, cropping up in Washington and London. They have practically been compelled to leave the country of their birth, and they will not return to it until we are willing to offer them an adequate recompense for their labours. Of course, if we want cheap scientists, we can get them. There are quite a number of scientific men who undertake investigations without fee or reward, and purely for love of their work. But there are others whose services are offered cheaply, and from whom nothing very much can be expected.

When I speak of scientists who, from their own private resources, have carried on investigational research, there occurs to my mind the name of McGarvie Smith, who discovered an anthrax vaccine.


Mr Jowett - He did not get much help from Government Departments.


Mr BLAKELEY - He received practically no assistance. Had the Institute of Science and Industry been established when he was carrying out his investigations, it would have afforded him all the necessary financial assistance. I believe that he was not a chemist or scientist as we understand the term, but that he possessed a natural aptitude for research work, being practically a self-taught man. Had he had the assistance of such an institution as it is proposed to create under this Bill, his researches might have proceeded much farther than they did. The formula which he handed to the Government of New South "Wales has resulted in the annual saving of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of stock in that State alone. There are "other men here who have rendered valuable service to Australia, and in this connexion' I may mention the name of Mr. "Wilkinson, the Commonwealth Analyst. He has done very important work. The questions with which the Institute of Science and Industry has already dealt are many and varied. The destruction of prickly peaT is one of them. This pest is assuming such gigantic proportions in Australia that we are compelled to take steps which will prevent it. further infesting our good lands, and also to recover the land which has been already overrun by it. There are 23,000,000 acres infested with prickly pear.


Mr Brennan - That is in the whole of Australia?


Mr BLAKELEY - Yes, but principally in New South "Wales and Queensland. In Australia we have only 17,000,000 acres of land under cultivation, but there are 23,000,000 acres infested with prickly pear. This pest is encroaching upon our lands to the extent of 1,000,000 acres annually. That is the extent to which it is growing. It is true that some time ago the Government offered a prize of £10,000 for a formula which would be effective in the destruction of prickly pear, or which would pro vide for some financial return whenever the pear was used for industrial purposes such as the production of industrial alcohol.


Mr Higgs - The Queensland Government offered a reward of £10,000 to any person who could destroy the pear at a cost of £1 per acre.


Mr BLAKELEY - I believe that that is so. So far, however, no such formula has been forthcoming.


Mr Jowett - But many scientific investigators throughout the world have been endeavouring to win the money.


Mr BLAKELEY - Yes. The Queensland Government, I repeat, offered a prize of £10,000 for the destruction of the pear, but that is altogether an inadequate sum. "We have, in Australia, the prickly pear, nodules in beef, the blowfly, and other pests, and we can scarcely expect the scientists of the world to investigate means for their destruction unless we offer them an adequate remuneration for their services.


Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - The best men do not engage in research work for personal gain.


Mr BLAKELEY - But our scientists have to live just as do other people. "We have had eminent scientists in this country. Recently we had in our midst a gentleman from England who came here to investigate means for the destruction of weevil in our wheat. He was acting on behalf of the British Government, and I am sorry that for the moment I forget his name.


Mr Jowett - The honorable member is referring to Professor Lefroy.


Mr BLAKELEY - I thank, the honorable member, for reminding me of his name. In the very brief period that he was in Australia he constructed an apparatus for the treatment of wheat that was infested with weevil, and thereby succeeded in considerably reducing the loss which would otherwise have been sustained by the British Government. But for his work, practically the whole of the wheat of New South "Wales would have been lost. Whilst Professor Lefroy was here he was approached by certain persons with a view to inducing him to inquire into means for combating the blowfly. As a matter of fact, he did a certain amount of work in that direction, and then returned to England. Everybody was under the impression that he intended coming back to Australia. But, unfortunately, some petty squabble occurred, as the result of which he did not return. He has since declined to return unless he is adequately paid for his services.


Mr Jowett - The real reason for his refusal to come back was that he was abused by a section of the press, which made very uncomplimentary remarks about him.


Mr BLAKELEY - If we wish to get the best talent to undertake scientific research work we must be prepared to pay a fair price for it. It would be worth millions of pounds to Australia if she could get rid of such pests as the p'rickly pear, the blowfly, and nodules in beef. In regard to the blowfly, I have repeatedly urged that it is not only the duty of the Commonwealth Government to offer a large reward for its destruction, but that the pastoralists themselves have a responsibility in this connexion, and that they should bear a fair share of the cost of any scientific investigation in that connexion. In co-operation with the State Governments, it would pay the Commonwealth to offer a prize of £1,000,000 for a formula the use of which would successfully combat the blow-fly. In one little district with which I am familiar - that of Walgett, in New South Wales - a loss of not less than £250,000 was sustained in 1916 through the blowfly pest. Recently I observed that in Queensland a pastoralist, or the manager of a station there, has been conducting an investigation into the destruction of the blowfly by means of an arsenical jet. By his discovery he claims to have rendered sheep immune from this pest for two months.


Mr Jowett - He forces the poison into the wool upon the skin of the sheep.


Mr BLAKELEY - That experiment might very well be taken as a basis for investigation by the proposed Institute. If we can guarantee that our flocks shall be perfectly immune from the blowfly pest for a period of two months, we shall save Australia many millions of pounds. Having been practically reared in the pastoral industry, nobody realizes more than I do the necessity for taking steps to prevent the terrible mortality which annually occurs in our flocks as the result of this pestThen there is the tick pest. It ought not to be impossible for a successful investi gation into that matter to be carried on by the Institute of Science and Industry. I believe that prizes should be offered for the destruction of all the pests which afflict this country - prizes which will attract the best brains in the world. Whilst we should offer a prize of, say, £500,000 for the discovery of some means of destroying the blow-fly, I think that any scientist who undertakes research work of that character, and who desires to carry on his investigations in Australia; should be paid for his services whilst he is here, irrespective of whether or not his efforts are successful.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.


Mr BLAKELEY - I was gratified to learn during the adjournment that the discovery of the formula which renders sheep immune from the blowfly for at least two months is the result of successful experiments carried out by the Institute of Science and Industry.

On previous occasions I have spoken of the mighty problem created by the awful ravages of venereal diseases. It was not until 1905 that the Spirochoetapallida, the organism of syphilis, was discovered, and although eminent scientists have been endeavouring since the beginning of the fifteenth century to discover some formula for the treatment of venereal diseases, it was not until 1878 that the gonococcus, the organism of gonorrhoea, the lesser form of the disease, was discovered. Every year these diseases cause the death of 7,000 people in Australia, and each year the Commonwealth pays at least £150,000 in invalid pensions to persons suffering from them. Ten per cent, of the population are_ affected by the more serious complaint, and it is estimated that 40 per cent, suffer from the effects of the minor form. Dr. J. W. Barrett, who has carried out_ some very interesting tests in connexion with an eye clinic in Melbourne, has shown that out of 500 persons who attended the institution for mere errors of refraction, 14 per cent, showed signs of syphilis. There are 500 children admitted to Sydney hospitals every year suffering from a venereal complaint. It is a big question, and I hope that a special committee of the Institute of Science and Industry will be set to work iri co-operation with the State institutions and Universities to endeavour to discover some formula which will give to the people of this country a speedier relief than is now available. No matter how good the existing form of treatment may be, those suffering from the graver form of the two diseases cannot be cured under less than twelve months. I hope, also, that when a proper formula is established, laboratories will be set up for its manufacture and distribution. Venereal disease is responsible for the condition of 25 per cent, of the blind in the institutions of Australia, and 22 per cent, of the insane. Seeing that hundreds of thousands of pounds are paid every year in the shape of invalid pensions because of it, and that 7,000 Australians die from it annually, surely it is a Federal matter more than a State matter, and I hope that if a committee of the Institute is appointed to deal with it, special grants of money will be made available to it to enable research in this direction to proceed with greater expedition.

Australia is a young country with boundless resources which we mostly waste. No check is kept upon waste. We allow our water to rush away to the ocean; we allow our fodder to dry and be carried away by the winds; we allow our stock to be killed off by pests which are controllable by science; we nave men carrying where machinery could do the work; we have men shovelling where machinery could do the work; we laboriously excavate, carry, and hew where machinery should be employed. The Institute of Science and Industry will have a vast deal of work to do to bring about the success which can be achieved by wise administration, and a wise selection of the men who will conduct the experiments, but in the end the good which will be caused to this country will be incalculable.







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