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Wednesday, 25 March 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) - I was glad to hear the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) say that the Government is taking steps to lift the ban on the sale of Werribee beef. I cannot understand the sustained opposition to this very desirable proposal by the Government. What are the facts of the agitation on this subject? Werribee beef is obtained from a farm of 36 square miles on which several thousand cattle and sheep are depastured, as other cattle and sheep have been so depastured for 40 years. In recent times a discovery was made of the allegedly dread infection of beef measles in the Werribee stock. This resulted in legislation being passed to ban the sale of Werribee cattle for slaughter for beef.

Mr McDonald - The discovery was made in consequence of inspections at the Melbourne abattoirs.

Mr CALWELL - That is so. But it has since been proven that the beef was not dangerous to human health. As a matter of fact, Werribee beef was marketed for many years without objection. The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, which is responsible for the conduct of the Werribee farm offered a £.1.0 note to any person who would come forward and prove that he had been infected by tape-worm in consequence of eating Werribee beef. Not one person came forward to accept the easy money. It has been alleged that disease due to the consumption of Werribee beef is prevalent in Melbourne. It has now been shown that this is not so. The ban has been in operation for about ten years, but people are now waking up to the folly of it, and a common-sense attitude is being adopted. The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald), who formerly represented Polwarth in the Parliament of Victoria, is well aware that the Legislative Council has, in two successive sessions, passed legislation for the lifting of the ban on Werribee beef. In that House of 34 members only seven are Labour supporters. Most of the members belong to the party with which the honorable member for Corangamite and the honorable member for Darwin (Sir George Bell) are associated. The bill passed by the Legislative Council was defeated in the Legislative Assembly on both occasions, largely by the votes of Country party members supported by some members of the United Australia party. The Labour party solidly supported the lifting of the ban.

Mr McDonald - After a count of heads !

Mr.CAL WELL.- That is not so. The attitude of the Labour party was determined by a decision of a Labour conference. It should be remembered that the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, which controls the Werribee farm, consists of 39 commissioners, only eight or nine of whom belong to the Labour party. One of the most able and distinguished members of the board is Mr. Commissioner Dennis, who, for a time, represented the Division of Batman in this House. Other commissioners have at various times contested parliamentary seats on behalf of the United Australia party. Despite their differing political allegiances the 39 commissioners are unanimous, on the evidence adduced, that the ban should be lifted. It cannot be argued., therefore, that the Labour party, or any other party, is in favour of selling beef to the public regardless of public health. The great majority of the people of Victoria favour the lifting of the ban. The former Leader of the United Australia party in Victoria., the late Sir Stanley Argyle, strongly supported the bill for the lifting of the ban when it was last before the Parliament of Victoria. The Master Butchers Association of Victoria is also favorable to the step which this Government is about to take.

Sir George Bell - Of course it is !

Mr CALWELL - Why should it be in favour of the lifting of the ban if that step would mean the selling of diseased meat to the public ? The fact is that the system of meat inspection at the Melbourne abattoirs is at least as good as that operating in any other city of Australia. Beyond the area supplied with meat from the Melbourne abattoirs diseased meat of all kinds may be purchased. Cattle suffering from tuberculosis, pleuro-pneumonia, mammitis, and other diseases are marketed from time to time, with the result that infected meat is sold for human consumption. I attended a meeting of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works yesterday in Melbourne in anticipation of some reference to this subject to-day, and I am able to inform honorable members that the board has no intention to market stock in such numbers as to depress prices, and so cause graziers generally considerable loss. I know that fears have been expressed that so many Werribee cattle will be marketed immediately the ban is lifted that prices will fall. There are no grounds for that fear. The stock which will be marketed from Werribee will consist of magnificent animals. It is well known that Werribee cattle have taken numerous prizes in the show rings throughout Australia. Probably it was unwise of the board to display its stock as it has done, for that policy has caused jealousy in many places. The pedigreed herds at Werribee are as fine as any that can be found in Australia.

Mr McDonald - Only a small proportion of the stock to be marketed will be pedigreed. Most of the cattle will be stores bought elsewhere and fattened at Werribee for the market.

Mr CALWELL - I am certain that that is not so. The pedigreed stock at Werribee are worth from £20 to £23 a head, but they have had to be sold for from £1 to £1 10s. a head to be converted into chick-feed by Carter Brothers. The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works has lost about £100,000 by reason of the ban on the sale of cattle from Werribee farm. Had that money been available to the board, it could have been expended with great advantage to the people of Melbourne. I trust that the regulations lifting the ban will be issued promptly. They may subsequently be challenged in this Parliament, but I have little doubt that they will remain in force for the duration of the war and for twelve months thereafter. At the expiration of that period, the Parliament of Victoria will hardly be so obstinate and obtuse as to refuse to repeal its legislation which has enforced the ban.

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