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Thursday, 4 October 1956

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (WANNON, VICTORIA) . - I wish to discuss the activities of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization because it deserves the highest praise. In particular, I propose to devote my remarks to the agricultural and pastoral work of the organization, but we must not forget that it has done very valuable work for industry, and has achieved much in scientific research. I shall refer briefly to two examples. One is the valuable work that has been done by research officers in the production of distancemeasuring equipment which, I believe, is now standard equipment for many of the world's major airlines. The second achievement, which may appear to be a small one, but which could greatly help the economy of the railways in Australia, is the method of treating sleepers to make them last a much longer time, and so avoid the need for constant replacement.

Mr Peters - There are plenty of sleepers in Canberra.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I notice that there are some on the Opposition side.

Mr James - Name one honorable member on the Opposition side who is asleep.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Apparently, they woke up to hear the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). The work of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization for the man on the land has been of inestimable value. One comparatively small but vitally important advance was connected with the battle against the blowfly. Some time ago, the Mules operation was introduced to enable pastoralists to combat the blowflies. More recently, aldrin, dieldrin and diazinon were developed from American discoveries to suit Australian conditions, and the work of fighting the blowflies was made easier. The development of these treatments has enabled the pastoralists to devote their efforts to more productive work than the control of blowflies which damage the sheep and the wool.

Results that are more easily seen flow from the development of the use of trace elements. Particularly good results can be seen in South Australia. In the Adelaide Hills, a large proportion of the development has resulted from the use of molybdenum. Production of fat lambs in that area could not have been developed successfully without trace elements. The success of the Australian Mutual Provident Society's scheme at Keith, in South Australia, which has received wide publicity, was entirely due to the use of trace elements. That district is a good rainfall area, but it was useless for production without trace elements, combined with superphosphate. The use of those elements and fertilizer has increased the carrying capacity of the land from nothing until it is now one and a half to two sheep to the acre.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization also did valuable, work in developing a branding fluid that will not harm wool, and will scour out easily although it remains in the fleece for identification purposes as long as the pastoralists require it. The faults of the old tar type of branding fluids are well known, particularly to those in the wool industry. It was difficult to scour out of the wool and, even in the final stages of manufacture of cloth, some small traces of tar could be left in the wool and could ruin certain kinds of cloth. This has been avoided by the use of the latest branding fluids, again with great saving to the people on the land. The list of what the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has done is almost endless, but at the present time it is an unhappy fact that the extension of this work into new and desirable fields is seriously threatened by financial stringency. There was a time when the equipment of the organization compared favorably with that of any similar organization in the world, but now, I understand, visitors from overseas to the laboratories, say, " Yes, your men are doing some wonderful work here, but why do you not give them modern, up-to-date equipment? " Why do our scientists not travel abroad in order to learn and see what is happening in these fields in other countries? The plain fact of the matter is that the small amount of money made available - I believe it is small for an organization that does work of such magnitude and of such value to the country - is almost wholly expended in maintaining the present level of development in certain fields, and it is very difficult to branch out into new fields of development when such action becomes necessary. The increase of £250,000 in the proposed vote over the amount allocated last year will be almost entirely absorbed by inescapable increases in wages and salaries or other costs that have unavoidably risen during the year. It is true that it has become possible to add eighteen new officers to the staff of the organization throughout Australia, but I believe that that is a very small number in a period of expansion such as that which we are going through at the present time.

I should like to give one or two examples of work that is waiting to be done, which is important and which, if done, will bring great benefit to this country in the future. We know far too little about weeds and thistles, for example, skeleton weed and noogoora burr. We know very little about how these pests spread and how to control them. An immense amount of work remains to be done in this field. I know that in my own area of Wannon many persons have become upset because the common scotch and shaw thistles have now been declared to be notifiable weeds. They multiply in three, four, or five years to plague proportions and then die, leaving the pastures with just the normal grasses on them. Very little is known about how to control these thistles, and any methods that are known at present are enormously costly and very probably beyond the capabilities of a great number of farmers.

The second matter in relation to which work is waiting to be done is pasture plant breeding, and when this work is begun and developed fully it may possibly prove to be as important as the development of trace elements has been in the past. At the present time the main grasses upon which we are dependent in the high rainfall areas are phalaris, subterranean clover, and Wimmera and perennial rye grass. These are very largely what could be called fortuitous grasses, not having been bred specifically for our conditions. They have bern adapted from conditions prevailing elsewhere to those which we have in Australia. TV:'h the development of plant breeding, it may well become possible to increase the productivity of our pastures and to lengthen the growing season by the development of new species of grasses. At present, we have one of the shortest growing periods of any pastoral or agricultural country in the world, and if a grass can be developed that will grow later into the summer months, that is, if the spring-growing period can be extended, productivity will be greatly increased. I have been led to believe that in the present circumstances there is no money available for work in the two fields that I have mentioned, and work on foot rot, dermatitis, fleece rot, and the fruit fly has proceeded at a relatively low rate because of lack of money, and not in any way because of a lack of willingness in the organization to do everything it possibly can to help in these matters.

The Melbourne " Age " published a report that too little has been, or is being, spent on wool study in Australia. Surely that is one of the most important and essential spheres of study for this country, because our prosperity and continued development depend upon our ability to make wool competitive at all times in price and quality with any substitute that may be developed in the years to come. We have had one or two nasty moments as the result of threats from synthetics, but at the present time those threats seem to be receding. However, that does not mean that we may be complacent in this matter, and we should be developing wool as a textile material, constantly improving it and making sure that the challenges of the future will be met. The work on cattle tick could, with advantage, be intensified if the necessary financial resources were available. I think that most honorable members know that in certain areas cattle have to be dipped about every six weeks and that theoretically the dip through which they pass should give them immunity for a far longer period. Why it does not is a question that certainly merits further research, lt is a very great pity indeed that in these days of economy an organization like the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is forced to restrict its activities. To my way of thinking, this is false economy. The work done by the organization will pay oil' handsomely in the future by saving pastoralists or industrialists a great deal of money in the development of cheaper techniques or the curing of some diseases which are prevalent at the present time.

I should like to say a few words about the western district of Victoria, because in that part of the world we have two problems which, although not necessarily peculiar to that area, are most important to it and possibly more important there than in other districts. The first of these is pasture deterioration. We who come from the western district of Victoria know that pastures there are improved by sowing clover, rye grass and phalaris, which produce a high yield pasture, but after about ten or twelve years native volunteer grasses come back and the clover and rye grass tend to die out. We are not quite sure why this happens, and this presents a very real problem, because when it does occur the carrying capacity of the pastures falls. It may well be a matter of pasture management, but no one at present can say dogmatically why pasture deterioration does occur in these high-productivity areas. The second problem is in relation to lamb and weaner losses. In both these fields there is scope for work by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, perhaps on a research station or, if money is not available in the future to purchase a station, it may be possible to lease a property where experiments can be conducted with a view to helping the pastoralists of that region to solve these problems. The importance of research to people on the land in this country should not be underestimated. I should like to cite one example. In a high rainfall area it can cost approximately £3,000 to keep 15.000 sheep free of footrot. So, if we could ensure that sheep would not get footrot or if we could find a complete cure for it, we could cut running costs by £3.000 for every 15,000 sheep, which would be well worth while. That is just one example of how research in the present could pay handsomely in the future.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

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