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Tuesday, 12 November 1974
Page: 2224


Senator MARTIN (Queensland) - I rise to speak briefly on the subject of locusts. On 2 occasions in this Senate I have asked questions of the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) on the subject of aid to the States to combat the locust plague. The answer generally has been that the Australian Agricultural Council decided, in its wisdom, that the money that was available would be used to combat one particular species of locust and that the Federal Government could do nothing about that; and furthermore that the Australian Government by providing the assistance of the Army had already contributed some aid to Queensland to combat the locust plague.

I wish to draw to the attention of the Senate the problem as it exists in Queensland, and as I believe it is extending to other States, in respect of 2 types of locusts. These are the spur-throated locust and the migratory locust. For some reason it always affords certain senators some amusement when we start to talk about the spurthroated locust and the migratory locust. I must assure the Senate most earnestly that these locusts are affording wheat farmers no amusement at all. There is at present a very pedantic distinction drawn as to which types of locusts should attract aid from the Federal coffers as well as the State coffers.

The general situation in Queensland is that the spur-throated locust has been a threat in southern Queensland and is now also a threat in New South Wales. The migratory locust has been a big threat in central Queensland. The plagues of these different species have generally occurred at different times of the year. At this time of the year the spur-throated locust is at its worst, and in the early months of the year- the summer season- the migratory locust in central Queensland goes into its pattern of destruction.

I asked a question of the Minister about this matter on 17 October pointing out to him that the spur-throated locust was not now just a major problem in Queensland alone; it had also become a major problem in New South Wales. In reply to the question he said that the Federal Government would give some consideration to extending aid to combat this kind of locust. Since then a new threat has developed in Queensland. As a result of extraordinary winds, very large swarms of the spur-throated locust have been blown into central Queensland. This type of locust is now threatening crops in central Queensland as well as crops in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. The grain farmers in central Queensland who now have this additional problem of the spurthroated locust know that they have yet to face the problems that will be upon them with the expected migratory locust plague early next year.

The decision of the Australian Agricultural Council was that only the species called the Australian Plague Locust would attract aid. I would like to read to the Senate a copy of a telegram on this subject which was sent to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) by the Premier of Queensland (Mr Bjelke-Petersen) requesting a change in this policy. This is the message which was referred to by the Minister for Agriculture on 17 October. I think that the facts in this telegram are highly important. By virtue of the fact that since then the threat has developed even further than it was expected at that time shows just how urgent the problem is for the Australian grain grower. The Premier's message reads:

The worst migratory and spur-throated locust plague in forty years continues to threaten the central and southern Queensland cropping area. The estimated value of summer crops at risk is approximately sixty-five million dollars.

I interpose to say that with the phenomenon of the spur-throated locust being distributed more recently in large numbers in central Queensland, the estimated value of crops at risk is now up to $ 1 50m. The telegram continues:

Spur-throated locust plagues are now attacking wheat crops in the St George district and moving south and east.

Plagues are also located in northern New South Wales adjacent to the Balonne shire. Swarms cover an estimated two hundred thousand acres. Infestations are now present in Murilla Bendemere, Warroo, Bungil, Tara and Waggamba shires. All summer crop plantings are threatened and new generations must be attacked as they hatch.

In addition the migratory locust threat also develops. Egg beds and hatchings are numerous in the Taroom, Bungil, Booringa and Warroo shires. Migratory locusts pose the most serious threat. It is expected that four generations will build up and move south and east.

These are the ones that have traditionally been a problem in central Queensland. The telegram continues:

The last generation population build up would coincide with late summer crops in 1974-75 season. The pest can best be tackled in the early nymphal band situation given sufficient manpower, spray facilities, chemicals and finance. In addition, migratory locusts again threaten areas of central Queensland with generation multiplication problems of at least the same magnitude as last season expected.

I cannot accept that the variety of the species should be the factor which determines the question of Commonwealth Government financial assistance. I would expect that the prime consideration should be necessity to ensure that crops are protected from pests of this nature which can result only in economic hardship to those primary producers so affected.

A locust control co-ordinating committee has been set up at Roma to attack the problem near south western region of the state. The organisation is considered adequate for central Queensland districts.

In other words, the organisation is there to attack the problem if the finance is forthcoming. The telegram goes on:

Insofar as financial assistance is concerned graingrowers are contributing to a fund and my Government is contributing with funds and staff. Local authorities are also participating.

As an indication of the magnitude of the problem it is estimated that total expenditure to control the menace could reach two million dollars or three per cent of the gross value of summer crops. Additional state funds are just not available on this scale.

To protect crops in Queensland and affected areas in New South Wales I would therefore ask your Government to give immediate tangible recognition to the problem by way of substantial financial assistance towards the campaign against the locust plague.

In statements that have been made on this matteras I have said, to date I have had the opportunity only to ask questions not actually to speak on this- there have been fairly strong implications that the Queensland State Government was not playing its role in this. In fact, in the last financial year the Queensland Government spent more than $500,000 of its own money. There was also a very substantial contribution from the growers themselves in various ways. Before the problem unexpectedly expanded enormously it was estimated that $2m would be required to combat the locusts which makes this, I think, something of national importance.

Some assistance was given last year by the Australian Army but I think the public has been misled about just what was involved. As I under.tand it, the Australian Government made available to the grain growers of central Queensland or to the State Government certain Army personnel and equipment on the condition that the State Government, or whoever, should pay the cost of relocating the Army personnel and supporting them while they were in the area. The people who were concerned about the plaguethe State Government and the local producersalso had to provide all the insecticides and all the other equipment necessary for aerial spraying. The State Government and the growers have incurred enormous expenses. While undoubtedly they are very grateful to the Army for providing the manpower which meant they did not have to seek additional men who could not be found at the time and also for providing the equipment, in a rather limited sense one must admit, nevertheless it was not an overly generous gesture.

I think the time is ripe now for us to look at this thing fairly. The fact is that the Government has no compunction at all about telling Queensland how it should attend to all sorts of things like health and roads. In Queensland we are expecting a lot of gratuitous advice from the Prime Minister over the next few weekends leading up to our State election. This Federal Government has had no compunction at all in determining these enormously important areas and in determining where the hospitals will go, where the roads will go and what the priorities are even though they may not be the priorities of Queenslanders. Given that, I suggest that it is just a little hypocritical for the Government to say that locusts are a State problem, that we have State boundaries and the State Government should therefore bear the whole burden. It is very nice to be able to decide where popular things like hospitals should go and to be able to opt out of the unpopular things like killing locusts of whatever species.

I plead with the Government to consider, in the terms the Minister has indicated he would in his answer to my latest question on this matter, very seriously and very urgently this appeal from Queensland for assistance to combat these other types of locusts. The Minister has said, I think on every occasion, that the decision to confine the aid that was made available last year to combat the Australian plague locust was a decision ofthe Australian Agricultural Council. I must say as plainly as I can to the Minister that he knows very well that the Federal Government has a very large influence on the decisions that are made by the Australian Agricultural Council. If the Federal Government wishes to give money for this purpose it can give it regardless of the decisions of the Australian Agricultural Council. It can indeed put very heavy pressure on the Australian Agricultural Council to that end, if it so chooses. State government elections and State and Federal friction apart, we must remember that a large number of primary producers who have worked hard are threatened now by a natural phenomenon and must be assisted. We cannot just sit back and let these crops, which are immensely valuable to Australia and, we hear day after day, to the world with its present food shortage, go to waste while these petty little points are argued. I appeal to the Minister as strongly as I can to hasten the decision by the Federal Government to give assistance for the eradication of locusts wherever they are a major problem to primary producers.







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