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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Senator COLLINGS - Why?

Senator Gibson - Because they know nothing about it.

Senator FRASER - In spite of Senator Gibson's condemnations, people who reside in close proximity to the Werribee farm have asked that the ban be lifted. The honorable senator also contended that the disallowance of this regulation would not affect the war effort in any way whatever.

Senator Gibson - Neither it would.

Senator FRASER - It would affect the war effort to the degree that should we be short of beef, possible action by the enemy might give us the choice of eating Werribee beef or going hungry.

Senator Gibson - I would rather go hungry.

Senator FRASER - Information which I have received concerning sales of Werribee beef proves the contention that the banning of the sale of this beef would not result in a shortage on the market to be foolish.

Senator Gibson - Why not slaughter more sheep?

Senator FRASER - I understand that the American troops do not like mutton; they prefer beef. This beef, however, is not being bought entirely for our troops. It is being bought and marketed in the ordinary way.

Senator Gibson - Bought by whom?

Senator FRASER - By the people.

Senator Gibson - By the canners and exporters.

Senator FRASER - It is entirely incorrect to say that this meat is being exported. However, the less said about that aspect of the matter, the better, because any discussion along those lines might have a detrimental psychological effect upon our export trade. The agitation against the repeal of the previous restriction upon the use of Werribee beef for human consumption cannot be justified either on health grounds or on economic grounds. It is true that for a number of years Victorian regulations have prohibited the use for human consumption of beef produced on the farm of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works at Werribee. The reasons for the continuance of this prohibition are partly health and partly economic, but chiefly psychological. There have at times been differences of opinion regarding this beef, and, because of these differences of opinion, the Victorian Government has prohibited its consumption. AH of the foregoing facts, however, were related to peacetime conditions. We come now to the situation under war-time conditions. A combination of circumstances has imposed a considerable strain upon the meat resources of this country. The principal factors are adverse seasonal conditions, the increased demand of the fighting services in Australia for fresh meat, and the greatly expanded canning programme for the fighting services. In these circumstances, the Commonwealth Government is justified in making available to the people of Australia any increased quantities of meat of a wholesome character. When considering the position with respect to Werribee beef in the light of these new circumstances, the Government had regard to favorable reports which indicated that the beef was wholesome and suitable for human consumption. Accordingly, pursuant to the powers conferred upon this Government by the National Security Act, it overrode by regulations under that act the prohibition imposed by the Government of Victoria. The cattle from the Werribee farm have brought high prices in the stock markets. The first consignment of 40 head averaged £18 18s. per head, and the second lot of 60 head, offered a week later, averaged the record price for such a large consignment of £19 16s. 8d. per head. These cattle have elicited very favorable comment, and there has not been any objections by any expert to their consumption in Australia. The Chief Veterinary Officer of the Federal Health Department reported favorably on the proposal to remove the ban, and he was supported by the Director-General of Health. In Victoria, Professor Woodruff and Dr. Dale, both highly-regarded health authorities, have publicly supported the Commonwealth Government in making this beef available for human consumption. The consumers do not appear to be so dismayed as do some of the representatives of grazing interests. The Melbourne City Council, many other councils in the Melbourne suburban area, and the Housewives Association as well, asked the Government to remove the ban. The demand in Australia would be sufficient to absorb, at payable prices, larger quantities of beef than can possibly be made available including that from the Werribee farm. The problem which faced the Government was one of meat supplies and meat consumption in Australia. The question of export does not arise aud should not be cited in relation to the Government's action in making this extra quantity of beef available to the people of Australia. Senator Gibson declared that Mr. Dunstan asked for certain reports by Commonwealth officers to be investigated. I have in my hand reports of several highly-qualified authorities on this matter. I am open to correction on this point, but I understand that Mr. Dunstan asked that a report be made by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. That was done.

Senator Gibson - According to Mr. Dunstan's letter, that was not done.

Senator FRASER - One of those reports was by the late Dr. J. A. Gilruth, Chief Officer of the Division of Animal Health, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

Senator Gibson - That report is ten years old.

Senator FRASER - It was issued in 1934. Does the honorable senator suggest that the position at Werribee has altered since that report was made? It has not altered in the slightest degree. The fact remains that, when this ban was imposed, these reports were made available to Mr. Dunstan. However, the Victorian Government, yielding to the demands of the graziers, maintained the ban. I am not sufficiently experienced to say whether this meat should be made available to the public or not, but I can certainly analyse the views of those who are competent to express an opinion. I refer Senator Gibson to a memorandum to the Chief Executive Officer of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research dated the 31st May, 1934. On page 6 of the memorandum he will find the following:

It is obvious, therefore, that if the cattle were removed from the Sewage Farm and retained elsewhere for a period of four months before slaughter all danger of human infestation from that source would be obviated, though as an extra precaution six months might be advisable.

Senator Gibsonhas said that he made that suggestion, but that does not justify disallowance of the regulation. I believe that the honorable senator is honestly convinced that he is right, but he has not gone far enough in his investigations, and has not looked on the other side of the question. On page 9 these words appear - lt may be confidently asserted that provided meticulous examination, by cutting into thin slices the four sites favoured by the parasites, demonstrates them to be free, it is only in a very exceptional case a cyst may be found elsewhere. Consequently, the carcase might well be passed for human consumption. Further, it may also be taken that, provided the cysts in these situations are all dead, those that may exist elsewhere are also dead and innocuous even if consumed uncooked.

I wish to show Senator Gibson that a complete and exhaustive inquiry was made by experts in 1934.

Senator Gibson - I have read the report.

Senator FRASER - In that event I am surprised to hear that the Premier of Victoria, Mr. Dunstan, asked that a Commonwealth officer should make further investigations. The memorandum also states that -

The present instructions, as issued by the Health Commission, are more drastic than the regulations in force in other countries where beef measles are common. There tie practice is to permit the use of the carcase when the parasites, on examination of ihe areas specified, are found confined to one situation.

From the information we have gained in our examinations it is evident that if no live cysts are found in any of these situations there will be none in the body save under very exceptional circumstances, and that therefore no danger need be apprehended by the consumer. It is also evident that were live cysts present they could be rendered absolutely innocuous by freezing the carcases for a week.

Still, in view of the virtual limitation so far as is known of the parasites to one herd in Victoria and the general perturbation that has been created in the public mind, it seems reasonable that the source of the beef should be indicated.

On page 11 there is this observation -

Therefore, for all reasonable purposes by a regulation permitting the certification of carcases in which no live cysts can be demonstrated in the favoured situations and in which all cysts in any of these situations are dead or degenerated, without further treatment, the public health would be entirely safeguarded.

It has been observed that the most heavily infested animal has contained but very few cysts, even in the favoured situations. Therefore, if compulsory freezing for a week is to be continued there seems to be no valid reason why all the carcases in which a slight infestation in even more than one area is found (if free from lesions which would otherwise warrant condemnation) should not be so treated and branded. Were this course adopted, the surplus fat cattle at present on tho farm and which must be disposed of soon, could all be slaughtered, those carcasses stored in the frozen condition being gradually sold as opportunity and the market offer.

It is not necessary for me to read all the recommendations made in that memorandum. It is entirely wrong for Mr. Dunstan to suggest that no minute examination by experts has been made.

Senator Gibson - He asked that tho report be referred to tie present-day officers of the Commonwealth Government.

Senator FRASER - He asked that another examination be made of a matter that was thoroughly investigated in 1934, because the Commonwealth Government intended to issue this regulation. There is very little conflict of opinion among even State officers on this issue. The Melbourne City Health Officer, Dr. Dale, and officers of the State Government have given careful consideration to it, and they see no reason why the ban should not be lifted.

Senator Gibson - Why is the Government not willing to refer the issue to its own officers?

Senator FRASER - Because the Government is satisfied, and because there has been no change since 1934. There are other reports .substantiating that made in 1934, notably one by Dr. W. J. Penfold in 1933. I believe that Senator Gibson has been misled regarding the effect of the disallowance of this regulation, which would result in a shortage of meat.

Senator Gibson - Nonsense. It would affect only a week's supply. Does the Minister say that the ban on one farm would affect the meat supply of Australia ?

Senator FRASER -The supply from that farm augments the supply from other sources. The graziers' associations have been adamant in their opposition to the lifting of the ban. They have fought tooth and nail in their own interests. Notwithstanding the decision of the Victorian Parliament, we know that the members of the Labour party in that Parliament are opposed to the Government on this issue. It has been stated that the Senate is a States House. That is so, but I do not wish that fact to be used in the present debate. It is true that the Government has overridden a decision of a State parliament, and in future the Senate may have to discuss other proposals to override decisions of State parliaments. We are not living in normal times, and it is the Commonwealth Government, not the State governments, that is responsible for the destinies of this country in time of war.

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