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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) (Minister for the Interior) . - We have been asked to approach this subject without heat and to view it from a variety of standpoints. Although the motion relates to Werribee beef, State rights and a lot of other problems have been introduced into the discussion. That indicates to me how easy it is to stampede even honorable senators on a very simple subject. We have been told that there is some sinister purpose behind this regulation- that- the Government wants to force the troops to eat beef that is not fit to eat. Apparently, if we assure the honorable senators who support the motion that we shall not allow the troops to eat Werribee beef, that argument will fall to the ground. Furthermore, if we guarantee that we will not interfere with State rights, that argument, also, will collapse.

Senator McBride - -The Government cannot lift the ban without interfering with State rights.

Senator COLLINGS - In these perilous days we are interfering with State rights almost daily, and nine times out of ten we do so to the benefit of the States concerned, and nobody raises a word of protest. Nobody has said anything about the fact that the Government has virtually depopulated northern Queensland and sent the people from that State to South Australia in order to carry on the war effort there. Although it definitely interfered with the rights of Queensland in that case, the people are not complaining, because they want to assist in winning the war.

Senator Gibsonhas said that this subject has nothing to do with the war effort. Let us give it a little dispassionate consideration for a few moments. The particular disease of which the honorable senator complains can be called, for all practical purposes, beef measles. I do not know' why the honorable gentleman wants to horrify people by using a lot of scientific terms which sound awful and by talking about tapeworms when the plain, every-day trouble with the meat from Werribee is beef measles. It is not the only complaint to which beef is subject. Down the years there has been intense agitation to ensure that only pure meat finds its way into the homes of the people. In this campaign, we have always met with opposition from the interests which are to-day opposed to the removal of the ban on the sale of Werribee beef. Bight from the beginning, attempts by sane people and sane governments to insist that tubercular cattle should not be slaughtered for human consumption have been obstructed by beef raisers. Senator

Gibson shakes his head at that statement, but I know that what I say is true. I have dealt with all of these matters in Queensland.

Senator Gibson - The honorable senator does not live in Victoria.

Senator COLLINGS - I shall refer to Victoria later. In Queensland, we insisted that the bulls which the breeders of cattle were using should not be allowed to remain loose any longer. We insisted that only breeding bulls guaranteed to be in perfect health should be used for stud purposes. Throughout all of our endeavours, we met with complaints that we were interfering with the rights of an individual to run his stud-farm, his dairy-farm or his beef-producing business in the way that he thought fit. We are merely meeting with a repetition of those old arguments to-day, except that apparently a more serious case is made out for the purpose of scaring the people by talking wildly about something of which there is no need to he scared. Anybody who has studied this subject knows that there is no need to be scared of beef measles. In Queensland, we have been unable to get people to deal effectively with the cattle diseases known as contagious abortion and mastitis. Whenever we endeavoured to do so, we were told that we were interfering with the rights of the individual to run his own concern as he wished. But everything worthwhile that we accomplish must interfere with the liberty of somebody who is not entitled to have liberty in that particular direction. To-day, we interfere daily with the rights of people in order to prosecute the war effort to the best advantage. In spite of what Senator Gibson has said, this regulation is directly related to the war effort.

Senator Gibson - Not at all.

Senator COLLINGS - I shall explain how it is related to the war effort. Without doubt, there will soon be a very serious shortage of food of various sorts.

Senator McBride - That is a manpower problem.

Senator COLLINGS - The honorable senator seems to suggest that this Government is the only government that has had anything to do with man-power problems. It has been in office for only six months. As a matter of fact, the Labour party does not hold the balance of power in either House of this Parliament, and in that respect it is a political miracle. When honorable senators opposite threaten us with the vengeance of the people, they apparently forget that the Government is allowed to remain in office only because the Opposition does not dare to face the people, knowing that the people approve what we are doing. If Senator Gibson knew all of the facts of this case, he would realize the futility of the stand he has taken. I know something of sewage farms. To say that cattle are eating the filth-

Senator Gibson - They are.

Senator COLLINGS - I say that they are not, and the honorable senator knows that they are not actually eating it. That statement was made in the House of Representatives. The honorable senator is merely trying to scare people, and I want to tell the people that there is nothing' to be scared about. I shall also tell honorable senators opposite of a few things about which they have never been soared, but which nevertheless are true.

When I was aboy, a particular kind of beer was manufactured at BurtononTrent, in England. I believe that it was good for those people who liked it. I do not know exactly where Burton-on-Trent is, but I know that the water from which the beer was manufactured was impounded in tanks on the Thames River. Before it could reach the brewery, it had to pass through a series of straining tanks. The first tank caught the bodies of suicide cases; the second caught the bodies of the dead dogs and cats which abound in the Thames; and, finally, the water went on to the brewery-

Senator Sampson - That is why the beer had body.

Senator COLLINGS - It was said to be good beer. That is why Werribee beef is good beef. The beer was not bad, in spite of the contaminated water, and this beef is not bad merely because honorable senators opposite try to work up a scare about it.

Senator Gibson - The honorable senator said that the water from which the beer was made came from the river Thames. It came from the river Trent.

Senator COLLINGS - My geography may be inaccurate, but the other statements were true. I learned from my father about the process through which the beer passed, and this confirmed us in our teetotal habits. My father, in the course of his duties as a nuisance inspector, visited many hovels. Sometimes he found the doors to some of these places almost blocked by stacks of stinking eel skins which were used to refine the beer. Nobody was alarmed about that disgusting process. People drank the beer and enjoyed it.

I do not know whether Senator Gibson is aware that in the Old Country there are sewage farms where the effluent passes through such processes of purification that it finally emerges as thepurest drinking water obtainable.

Senator Gibson - Why is that process not used at Werribee?

Senator COLLINGS - The honorable senator has no scientific basis for the scare which he is trying to raise about Werribee beef on the ground that the cattle feed on a sewage farm. The best vegetables that can be grown are produced on sewage farms. These remarks which I have made are incidental to showing honorable senators how easy it is to work up a scare amongst people who have not the opportunity to ferret out the truth. All that honorable senators have to do is to say " tapeworm "-

Senator Keane - And " measles ".

Senator COLLINGS - They do not say that, because nobody is afraid of measles. When I contracted measles as a child, the seven children in our family were put into the one bed so that we should all contract the malady at the one time and get it over. Honorable senators opposite do not refer to this disease by such an innocuous name as beef measles, because, if they did so, the people would not worry about Werribee beef. They use the more imposing scientific name, cysticercosis.

Senator Gibson - The honorable gentleman is making comparisons between human measles and beef measles.

Senator COLLINGS - I am not an authority on either, but I have enough knowledge of the subject to have no fear of beef measles. I exonerate Senator Gibson from blame in this matter because, although I do not like him politically, I like him as a man, and I have a full appreciation of his sterling worth and character. I do not believe that he would advocate a cause in which he did not believe. He is the innocent dupe of vested interests, which are determined that this move of the Government's shall be quashed if they can quash it.

Senatormcbride. - That is the same old story.

Senator COLLINGS - Senator McBride is the open and acknowledged champion of vested interests whenever it suits him to be so.

Senator Gibson - Did the honorable gentleman say that I was the innocent dupe of Vestey's interests?

Senator COLLINGS - No, I said vested interests; but I should not be at all surprised, if I could get far enough into the murky background, to find the hand of Vestey's in this, too.

Senator Gibson - Vestey's are buying most of this beef in Melbourne.

Senator COLLINGS - I had better not continue to say nice things about the honorable senator, because it tempts him to spoil his own case. If Vestey's are taking this beef, what becomes of the suggestion that the Government is trying to force it down the throats of the members of our fighting services? The facts of this matter were not forced into the open until quite recently, and then only because of a sordid scrap between two firms of auctioneers in Victoria, both of which wanted the right to sell Werribee beef. The firm that expected to be defeated in the struggle declared : " If we cannot have it, we shall see that it will not be of much good to the rival firm, because we shall spoil the public taste for it ". That is merely a matter of history in Victoria. The Opposition is satisfied up to a point that the Commonwealth Government should not interfere with State rights, so long as Victoria gets the rake off. The Government intends to take action in this matter, but it is not true that meat that is harmful will be supplied to soldiers. I have disposed of the argument that Werribee beef is harmful to the consumers, and all the other bogys raised by Senator Gibson have been destroyed. He has heard the case referred to by the Assistant Minister for Commerce (Senator Fraser) and mentioned in a report obtained eight years ago. The Minister's response to an interjection was that if it were suggested that any alteration had occurred in conditions on the Werribee farm during the last eight years, he would like to know about it.

Senator Gibson - The conditions have altered, and for the worse.

Senator COLLINGS - I think that they could not be worse than the terrifying picture which the honorable senator tried to paint. In the Melbourne Herald of the 23rd March last, an interesting letter dealing with this matter was published. It stated, inter alia -

In view of the serious food problems which Australia must shortly face, the time is ripe to review the ban on the sale of meat raised on the Board of Works' farm at Werribee . . 'Jhese recommendations of Dr. Penfold were almost identical with those made by Professor Woodruff and Drs. Kellaway and Dale, who, at a request of the Ministry to the British Medical Association, submitted an independent report on the subject (Hansard, June, 1034). This is surely not the time to maintain a prodigally wasteful and scientifically unsound prohibition, but to release good food which is urgently needed.

That letter was signed by Harold A. Woodruff, Professor of Bacteriology and former Professor of Veterinary Medicine, University of Melbourne; John Dale, Medical Officer of Health, City of Melbourne; F. M. Burnett, Acting Director, Walter and Eliza Hall Research Institute, Melbourne; Rupert A. Willis, Pathologist, Alfred Hospital.

Dr. Daleis one of the most highly qualified medical officers in this country. Frequently, he has condemned housing conditions in Melbourne. No word of approval has ever come from the Opposition regarding his reports, and it has remained for the present Government to draw attention to the conditions prevailing in Melbourne to the detriment of the health of children as well as the adult population.

Senator E B Johnston - Dr. Dale laid the foundations of the public health system in Perth.

Senator COLLINGS - Yes. Before this regulation was promulgated, a report was called for from the Commonwealth Department of Health, and I think that it will be agreed that the Director-General of Health, Dr. Cumpston, is a highly reliable authority on health matters. His report was as follows : -

On the subject of beef measles, and their relation to the cattle from the Metropolitan Board of Works Farm at Werribee, Victoria, I attach hereto a copy of a minute by Mr. R. N. Wardle, Director, Division of Veterinary Hygiene, with which I entirely concur. As mentioned in this minute, light cooking destroys the cysts in beef in the event of any escaping detection on inspection, therefore any canning process is effective also.

Senator Gibson - I have read that.

Senator COLLINGS - But the people generally have not done so, and the honorable senator should not attempt to frighten them by talking of enormous tapeworms in cattle. No meat can be guaranteed to be fit for human consumption unless the beast has been slaughtered under government supervision, and carefully inspected. As the Government desires to overcome the shortage of meat, provided this can be done without endangering public health, this regulation has been promulgated. Does any honorable senator suggest that a sewage farm, properly controlled and operated, is likely to be a menace to public health?

Senator Sampson - Has the Minister visited the Werribee farm on a hot summer day?

Senator COLLINGS - If the danger were as great as honorable senators opposite would have the public believe, they would probably have met their death long ago through eating Werribee beef.

It has been mentioned that the Victorian Housewives Association supports the lifting of the ban on Werribee beef. Is that association in such bad odour that no notice is to be taken of the opinion of its members? A general smile was observed when the name of the association was mentioned, as much as to say : " What do they know about this matter?" The only object of the members of the association is to protect the interests of the women and children for whom they cater. The association has no axe to grind.

Senator Gibson - It knows nothing about the matter.

Senator COLLINGS - Some time ago the word " Mesopotamia " was commonly used with great effect, but the honorable senator now attempts to scare the people with the word " tapeworm ". The Government has asked its veterinary officers for a report as to whether the scare that has been raised is justified, and they say definitely that there is no reason why the people should be alarmed. It is well known that at the cattle sales in Melbourne, the keenest competition occurs between butchers for Werribee beef. I do not want to be accused of harping about the war, and the need for getting on with the urgent business of the country. This Government may be guilty of all the faults of which the Opposition accuses it. It may be perfectly true that the Government is utterly incompetent, and has made a mess of this or that problem. Senator McBride interjected about man-power. The previous government of which he was a member is responsible for everything that has happened in connexion with the muddle in respect of man-power. This Government must now resolve that problem, and it is doing the job very well. I admit that the previous government could not foresee the seriousness of the position which now confronts us, because Japan had not then come into the fight, and the problem of man-power was not then so severe. The fact remains, however, that the previous government did nothing in that matter.

Senator McBride - That is not true.

Senator COLLINGS - I shall say that the previous government did nothing effective in that matter. The honorable senator cannot refute that statement. I say very seriously that whatever charges the Opposition may make against the Government, and however readily honorable senators opposite may be prepared to waste time in proposing and discussing motions for the disallowance of regulations, I think that they ought, at least, be decent enough not to suggest that the Government has come to this decision out of sheer villainy, or out of a sheer desire to filch State rights, to endanger the health of the people, to destroy our beef export trade, or to pass on diseased meat in any form to our fighting forces. Such suggestions are unworthy of any parliamentary opposition.

Senator Arthur - Fifth column work.

Senator COLLINGS - Any one who makes those suggestions is doing the work of a fifth columnist. The Government does not make decisions of this kind lightly. It does not out of sheer cussed - ness attempt to upset the Premier of a State.

Senator McBride - The Government does what the Australasian Council of Trade Unions tells it to do.

Senator COLLINGS - I am not sorry that the honorable senator made that interjection, because it exposes to the public gaze his utter ignorance and incompetence. He knows perfectly well that the most serious problem confronting the Government to-day is how to avoid doing things on the instructions of people who do not know all the facts or do not directly share responsibility for carrying on the war effort. He knows that we only get into trouble with the organized unions of this country whenwe refuse to take such instructions. Iask Senator Gibson, who is the mouthpiece of the Opposition in respect of this particular motion, at least to give the Government credit as a government for the fact that it did not come to this decision merely to pique the Premier of Victoria, or to foist on the people of that State meat which is unfit for human consumption. That is a myth. Werribee beef is as good as any obtainable elsewhere. If Werribee cattle were slaughtered alongside other cattle, I challenge any expert to pick out the Werribee beef. I urge the Senate not to disallow this regulation. It would not have been implemented if the Government did not deem it to be necessary. We are going to have a serious shortage of food of various classes. But we do not propose to wait until the shortage is upon us before we take remedial measures. We propose to take such measures immediately, and this is one of them. I ask Senator Gibson, in view of the facts presented to the chamber by the Minister for External Territories to consider the advisability of withdrawing his motion.

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