Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 11 June 1926


Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - In briefly welcoming the bill, I wish to offer a certain amount of friendly criticism. I was pleased to hear the Minister (Senator Pearce) acknowledge, in his opening remarks, that the prosperity of Australia depends upon the successful marketing of her surplus products overseas. Coming, as it does, on the heels of a debate on the tariff schedule, wherein the duties imposed, in my opinion, make it exceedingly difficult for that to be done, the Minister's admission appears to suggest the desire on the part of the Government to recant. Whether or not that is so, it is as well to have it on record that the Minister, as the Leader of the Government in this chamber, realizes that our prosperity depends upon the successful sale of our primary products in the markets of the world. This bill is for the purpose of making that more easily possible. Its object is to encourage the application of science to our primary 'and secondary industries. There is a very wide field for research. When we look around and see what other countries are doing, and realize the magnitude of the problems that confront us, we must be prepared for the expenditure of large sums of money if nature is to yield some of her hidden secrets to us. In the physical sense, as we all know, we have to contend against these hidden and mysterious forces that would seem to baffle man's ingenuity. But it has been said that the bane and the antidote lie close together. We see the truth of this statement in the discovery and use of vaccine as the remedy for various forms of diseases to which the human flesh is heir. In this way man's knowledge has, to a remarkable extent, triumphed over the traditional ignorance of many generations. The difficulties of mankind in a physical sense are repeated in Nature, and I am afraid that there are many troubles that will never be completely overcome. It is hazardous to forecast future developments in this direction, but I should say that it is just as well that we have no control over the seasons, for the simple reason that we have not established a particularly satisfactory record in our attempts to deal with things as they are. There are, however, problems altogether apart from those that may be attributed to the erratic nature of the seasons that might very well engage our attention - problems of the soil, as well as problems due to the ravages of pests that so frequently baffle our primary producers. The production of wool, thanks to the extraordinary diligence of those who have built up the industry in Australia, has attained to such a pitch of perfection that it is difficult to believe it is possible to produce a better article than our fine merino wool. But there is an important field for research in connexion with the troubles, such as the blow-fly pest, that beset the animal that grows the wool. Wheat is another field in which important research work may be carried out. Smut, red rust, and septoria call insistently for scientific investigation. Hitherto much of the success which has attended the efforts of civilized man has been due to scientific research on the part of individuals. Governments have not always pointed the way. Rather have they lagged behind individual effort. We have only to recall the names of such men as Watt, Faraday, and Newton, who obtained very little assistance from the governments of their day, to realize the extent to which we are indebted to the disinterested efforts and midnight labours of individual scientists. The ideal state of affairs is, of course, that which makes possible the co-operation and the co-ordination of government and private effort.

It has been said in criticism of this measure that there is no occasion for the intrusion of a seventh scientific investigating authority. I pay no attention to that objection. The several State organizations which are endeavouring to grapple with the many problems identified with our primary and secondary industries are within their limited resources, no doubt, doing good work. I believe the re-organization of this Commonwealth scientific research institution will infuse into the work that element of competition which is so essential to the success of human efforts to unfold the secrets of nature. But it is essential that there shall be also a well-balanced scheme of 60-ordination. I understand that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, as the re-organized body will be termed, will not go over the beaten track already covered by the several State organizations. If I read the proposal aright, its purpose will be to ensure the co-operation of the States in the field of scientific investigation.

History fortunately furnishes many examples of the benefits conferred on mankind for scientific research. Pasteur, a man of humble origin, by his remarkable discoveries, wrote his name on the highest pinnacle of scientific fame. He explored hitherto unknown regions of knowledge with magnificent results. His researches into the silk industry so benefited France that in that field alone he saved his country the equivalent of the German indemnity of over £200,000,000, and when the people were asked by a French periodical to declare, by vote, who was the most popular Frenchman of their day, Pasteur was easily first on the list. When he went to London he advised the brewers there that they were losing immense sums of money every year through their lack of knowledge concerning bacteria. Was it not Dickens who said of the primary producers that their first concern should be the cultivation of that area within the ring fence of their own skulls? He meant, in other words, that the development of the mental faculty would lead to the solution of other problems. This bill, it is gratifying to know, is a movement in that direction. We have many examples in this country of remarkable achievements by men who have done a considerable amount of scientific pioneering work. I mention, first of all, the achievements of Farrar, who at one time was a comparatively obscure wheatproducer in New South Wales.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2 p.m.


Senator LYNCH - I desire to impress upon the Government the necessity to see that the energies of the council are devoted to the solution of the problems inseparable from rural life. Our primary producers have to contend with handicaps and disabilities that are peculiar to Australia. While our wool is of unequalled quality, the sheep are susceptible to various diseases, and the council could lend assistance, no doubt, in combating them. Nodules in beef have materially reduced the productivity of the splendidly grassed areas of Queensland, and when the meat reaches the freezing works there is the further trouble of tainted bone. As for the dairying industry, Australian butter, good as it may be, is not yet, judging by the prices obtained on the London market, . equal in quality to the best Danish article.


Senator Pearce - It is nearly on a par with it at the present time.


Senator LYNCH - But it ought to be as good. There is a vast field for inquiry in connexion with our dairy herds. Then, in the sphere of fruit-growing, we have the woolly aphis, the black spot, scale, and many other diseases that beset our orchardists. Australia may well leave to the outside world the attainment of perfection in the production of such things as motor cars, aeroplanes, and wireless wonders. A rich and resourceful outside world is employing in those directions the brains of much better scientists than Australia can furnish. I do not suggest that Australia, in proportion to its population, has not as many brilliant minds 'as are to be found in other countries - I might refer, by way of illustration, to the invention of the Brennan torpedo and the Lewis gun - but it would be more profitable for this country to have the benefit of the research made in outside countries along those lines. We should encourage, to the best of our ability, individual effort in scientific research. In Western Australia, some time ago, a problem arose involving the treating of salt water from the mines to enable it to be used for boiler purposes. By slow degrees a small company, known as the Sons of Gwalia Mining Company, discovered, by means of its chemists, a method of rendering the water eminently suitable for boiler purposes. This prevented the frequent interruption of the operations of the mine for the purpose of cleaning the boiler. Now, after months of use, the boiler tubes are perfectly clean, and great expense has been saved. So successful has the experiment proved, that the Commonwealth railway authorities sent for details of the invention, and are now about to erect a plant on similar lines on the east-west railway.

One of the varied problems that might well tax the ingenuity of this young institute, is the acclimatization of plants, in which direction Australia has done little, if anything, up to the present time. Whatever plants we have, have come our way by accident. I understand that the grasses used extensively for pastoral purposes in New South Wales were in troduced by chance. One of the most fascinating articles I have read, when scanning the reports of the Bureau of Agriculture of the United States of America, referred to the work of a doctor who was sent out to discover a plant that could be acclimatized on the windswept prairies of Central North America. He visited Eastern Asia, and after two years during which he travelled from the island of Saghalien to South-Eastern China, discovered a clover which he planted on the rich soil of the NorthWest. It was so successfully acclimatized that the value of land rose from cents to dollars an acre. This achievement indicates the vast possibilities in the direction of plant acclimitization in Australia.

The pest known as stinkwort is a source of great worry to farmers and others in South Australia. It has appeared, also,' in Western Australia and Victoria. In one respect, it is' a blessing in disguise, because it makes farmers cultivate their land. It grows at a time when most grasses are dying off, and if its rare tenacious qualities could be allied with some useful edible plant, possibly a useful growth could be produced. It may be that herein lies a problem the solution of which will be of great benefit to stock-producers. Although there will be limitations to the operations of the council, it will respond to the unanimous desire that we should try to extract from unwilling mother nature as many of her secrets as she will surrender. She has been particularly prodigal in giving us a vast storehouse of raw material ; but she has kept from our knowledge many of her secrets, the possession of which would enable us to be more successful than hitherto. It will be the work of the council to attack the frontiers of ignorance, to enable us to discover some of those secrets, and thus increase the productivity of our country. John Stuart Mill wrote that he doubted whether . all the inventions of man had relieved the burden of human toil to the extent of a single day. Truthful as that writer has proved to be in laying down many political maxims, he was, nevertheless, wrong in that belief. The lot of the average man, and particularly the "bottom dog" - as Blatchford calls him - has been materially, if not vastly, improved, as the result of scientific discovery.

The institute, as originally formed, was of very little use. The Minister wisely advised us to close that page of - our history. That I am prepared to do; but, as I always believe in using experience as a guide for future action, I shall refer to one incident which shows the necessity for the institute being infused with greater life. With some others, I am interested in some shale-oil deposits in Tasmania. Wc made application to the Institute of Science and Industry for an officer to inspect the deposits and report on them. We desired to have the opinion of a scientific authority, but, notwithstanding continual pleadings, nothing was done by the Ministry. As our money was nearly exhausted, and we were working on an overdraft,' we' made an appeal to the Victorian Government, and without delay an officer was made available to do that which the institute failed to do. The State Government of Victoria was not interested in Tasmania; the Commonwealth Government should have been. Yet, while the latter took no action to assist us, the State Government was prompt in coming to our aid. In order to provide sufficient funds for the important work of the new institute, I should like to see a tax imposed upon the wealthy people of this country. I should not call upon the slender means of the ordinary man for this purpose, but only upon the wealth of those who have gained it in this country.


Senator McLachlan - Does the honorable senator suggest a special incometax?


Senator LYNCH - As things are at present, a tax is placed upon the general body of citizens to meet the expenses of the institute. Men who have amassed wealth in this country should be prepared to support an institution of this kind. But what does science derive from many of the world's millionaires? They leave huge bequests to all sorts of fanciful objects, while institutions such as this, which might do much for the good of humanity, are left without funds.


Senator Pearce - There have been some very notable exceptions.


Senator LYNCH - Yes, a few. I was > about to refer to one outstanding in- I stance. The late Sir Winthrop Hackett, the proprietor of the leading newspaper of Western Australia, disbursed his fortune on right lines. He applied the great bulk of it to the endowment of the. university at Perth, the finances of which were not in a strong position. As a result of his action, that university will now be in a position to do good work. I feel proud to belong to the State which produced such a man. There are many others in Australia who should follow his example.


Senator McLachlan - If the honorable senator would come farther east he would find some other notable examples. He may know of the magnificent bequest by Mr. Peter Waite, of South Australia.


Senator LYNCH - I hope that these examples will be followed by many others. I welcome this bill, which is an attempt to give effect to a desirable purpose. We are in need of greater enlightenment on many matters concerning which science alone can enlighten us. Notwithstanding certain developments that have occurred recently, I believe that, in the main, Australians will put forward the necessary efforts, and devote themselves wholeheartedly to accomplish' the things that are worth while. But their efforts, unaided by science, will not be of much avail. The establishment of an institution of this kind is, therefore, to be welcomed. I support the bill.







Suggest corrections