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Thursday, 7 July 1904

Mr KENNEDY (Moira) - The observation of the honorable and learned member for Indi, that an abstract resolution of this character usually meets with the same fate as do the reports of Royal Commissions, contains a good deal of truth. I trust, however, that we have got beyond that stage in the Commonwealth Parliament. Everybody must admit that, no matter how great individual effort may be, the collection and dissemination of information by a central authority results in great gain to the community at large. In Victoria - and I believe in some of the other States - the Department of Agriculture has undeniably accomplished something in the interests of agriculture. But an enormous amount of work still requires to be done. In Australia it is only when the different States are confronted with the difficulties appertaining to the agricultural and pastoral industries that they realize how powerless they are as units. Within the confines of my own district, for example, is to be found one of the best agricultural colleges in Victoria. Yet I know of instances in which farmers in that district have been pursuing investigations on their own account, whilst concurrently similar investigations were being undertaken in that college by the State. Through some peculiarities of management the fact was not made known. It is true that of recent years a knowledge of the experiments which are being conducted in these institutions has been disseminated amongst the farmers. If is. a singular circumstance that although some forty or fifty students are being instructed in the practical and scientific methods of agriculture at the college, verv few farmers' sons enter that institution, and fewer still devote their attention to farming pursuits after quitting it. Practically the same conditions prevail in the other States.

Mr Batchelor - All over the world similar conditions obtain. At the same time, I do not think that the knowledge acquired by students at the college is lost.

Mr KENNEDY - It would be more to the advantage of the agricultural community if these young men devoted themselves to practical farming as soon as the opportunity presented itself. It is only since the appointment of Mr. Wallace, some two years ago, that the information imparted, at these colleges has been brought within the reach of the farmer and his son. During that period agricultural classes have been established at most of the large centres of population, and the avidity with which this source of instruction has been seized upon has been positively a revelation to me. The practice adopted by the Department is to visit the larger agricultural centres and .obtain a list of 'intending students. The lecturer is afterwards sent round with specially, prepared data, which is imparted to the students. I notice also that prominent agriculturists are offering prizes to the pupils who exhibit the most proficiency in the matters which form the subject of the lectures.

Mr Batchelor - The lecturer travels from one centre to another?


Mr Knox - Dr. Cherry also visits the country districts.-

Mr KENNEDY - I would remind those honorable members who fear that the establishment of a national agricultural college will engender friction between the States and the Federation, that after all we are dealing with the same people. If the Commonwealth can perform any work" better than the States can accomplish it in their individual capacities, I am sure that no State authority will raise any objection to our undertaking it. The States authorities admit that the Commonwealth Government can deal with the export of Australian products to other parts of the world better than they can.

Mr Batchelor - There is very great jealousy over that matter.

Mr KENNEDY - Let me cite an instance to illustrate my meaning. Some seven or eight years ago, when I was a member of the Victorian Parliament, the butter exporters of this State felt that they were being charged more than was reasonable for the carriage of butter to England.


Representations were accordingly made to the Minister of Agriculture, who entered into negotiations with the authorities in New South Wales. From one cause or another, however, the Governments of the two States did not come into line, and it was impossible for the Minister to make an authoritative statement as to the quantity of produce which could be guaranteed to any company which might be prepared to make a reduction in the freight charges. Consequently, no reduction whatever was obtained from the steam-ship companies which then enjoyed a monopoly in the carriage of this product, namely, the P. and O. and the Orient Companies. But as soon as the Minister was able to submit a definite proposal to another company regarding the volume of produce that would be available, and the rate that he was . prepared to pay, what happened? He was informed that if he could offer the bulk of the butter then being exported from Victoria to one company, a reduction of a farthing per pound would be made in the freight charges. That reduction would have represented a very considerable amount during the year; but because he was unable to speak for the whole of the producers and because of the Inter-State jealousy which existed, the Victorian exporters of butter have been paying three farthings per pound for the carnage of their butter to the old wOrld, instead of a halfpenny per pound during the past seven years. The "same remark is applicable to the transport of stock from one portion of Australia to another. To me it is surprising that those who are particularly interested submit silently to these extraordinary conditions. Let me give an illustration of my meaning. I reside in a border district, and during six months in the year I am prevented from bringing any sheep, which I may purchase from an adjoining district in New South Wales, direct to my own place. If, however, I make a detour of some twelve or fourteen miles, I can bring them across the border without any restriction being imposed upon their movements. Until a few weeks ago, similar conditions obtained in connexion with the importation of pigs from New South Wales. They could be sent direct from the border stations there in trucks which are used in Victoria every day for the carriage of the same class of stock. They could also be sold in the metropolitan market, although they had to be slaughtered within a week. Victorian farmers who wanted bacon were compelled to purchase these pigs in the metropolitan market, and forward them to their destination, dead. But the most extraordinary feature in connexion with the matter is that simultaneously pigs from " clean " districts were being carried on the same trains, put through the same market, and forwarded without any restriction to all parts of Victoria. These anomalies convince me that it is absolutely necessary that a central authority should have control of such matters, so that some harmony may be introduced into the conduct of our daily business.- I am aware that there are those who object to State control, and upon whom the mention of a bonus has the same effect as has a red rag upon a bull, but it is beyond question that the Victorian butter industry was established by means of the bonus system adopted by the State Government. Had there been more State supervision the corruption that apparently exists to-day amongst some of the butter merchants in Victoria would not have had an opportunity to spring up. To those who might be influenced by the statement given in evidence before the Butter Commission, that the major portion of the bonus went to city merchants, I would say that it was due to the want of proper supervision that the whole of it did not go to the producers. I am satisfied, however, that a considerable proportion of the money that apparently went to the exporters filtered through them to the producers. Let rae give the House an illustration. My parents have given attention to dairying ever since they entered upon farming pursuits, and I have also devoted myself to it. When the butter bonus system was introduced, I was largely interested in the industry, but, unlike some of my neighbours, was not fortunate enough to participate in the benefits of co-operation. In the district in which I resided a co-operative butter factory was established, and those who supplied milk to it on the co-operative system eventually received the full' benefit of the bonus. The company manufactured its own butter, and, shipping it through the Government stores direct to England, received a bonus in respect of it. During this period I was supplying milk to one of the largest proprietary companies in Victoria. That company, whose conduct is now being investigated by the Butter Commission, had a- branch factory in my district, and eventu- ally drew the bonus in respect of the butter which' it exported ; but I received from it the same price for my milk as that which the suppliers of milk to the Co-operative Company obtained, and in both cases the milk was judged according to the same standard test. This proves that the full benefit of the bonus, which apparently went to the credit of the exporters, was received by the producers. It has been stated that products of inferior quality - butter and meat practically unfit for human consumption - have been shipped, under State supervision, from Victoria, and have damaged our reputation. A little inquiry will show that the statement is misleading. When the Perishable Products Bill was before the Victorian Legislative Assembly, what was alleged to be a Dairymen's Association, controlled by a council which spoke presumably on behalf of the dairymen of Victoria, was in existence. The Government of the day, and those who were supporting the Bill, were anxious to provide that none but the best quality of butter should be exported under State supervision ; but this council, which was supposed to represent the dairymen of Victoria, stoutly resisted the proposal to embody within the four corners of the Bill provisions calculated to restrict the operations of those who desired to ship inferior ; butter. The honorable and learned member for Indi, as well as the honorable member for Gippsland, were members of the House, and can bear witness . to the truth of this statement. The sequel was recently disclosed before the Butter Commission. The men who were then alleged to represent the dairymen of Victoria were really acting as the mouthpiece Of the agents, and unfortunately for the producers attention was paid to their counsels. The same remark will apply to the export of meat. It is undoubtedly true that inferior butter has been shipped under Government' supervision to England. It was supposed to be graded into three classes, and the third grade was certainly not of good quality. Merchants were also permitted to export butter or meat of any grade. If evidence were needed to prove the necessity of State supervision of the export of Federal products, the testimony given during the' last few weeks before the "Royal Commission now sitting in Melbourne would be amply sufficient. I feel that it is- almost a waste of time to discuss an abstract motion bearing on this subject. What Ave require is information as to the attitude which the Government propose to take up. I am not one of those who would urge the Government to at once create an expensive and elaborate Department of Agriculture. It is open to them to move by easy stages. We have been told this afternoon of the enormous sums spent in this direction by the United States Government, and also of the enormous population of the States; but we know that the Department of Agriculture there had a modest beginning. It is open to us to begin on the same modest scale, and to deal with conditions as they exist. We require a Federal Department to assist our producers in the way suggested ; but it is unnecessary for us to entertain any wildly extravagant proposals. We have several object lessons, and the nucleus of a Federal Department of Agriculture is already in existence. Some of the States Departments of Agriculture are undoubtedly doing splendid work. In the district which I represent we have an Agricultural College that is second to none.

Mr Knox - The Dookie College?

Mr KENNEDY - Yes. That college is controlled by men whose ability is beyond question. The honorable and learned member for Indi has mentioned certain names, and while I have no desire to make invidious distinctions, I say, unhesitatingly, that the record of the officials of the Dookie Agricultural College stands out prominently in the annals of the State Department, and the good work done by them will eventually be recognised throughout the length and breadth of Australia.

Mr Knox - There has been a great improvement during the last few years.

Mr KENNEDY - That is so' We at first made mistakes, but under the council now supervising the experts in charge of the college, splendid work is being done. What we need - and it is possible for the Federal Government to secure the concurrence of .the States Governments to this proposal - is a Federal Department that will be able to act in the interests of the whole of the people in matters relating to agriculture. Various Conferences have been held between representatives of the States Agricultural Departments in regard to questions relating to the export and import of produce, and the transmission of goods from one State to another, and the delays which have occurred in carrying out their proposals would have been obviated if we had had a Federal Department ready to take action whenever it was necessary to do so in the interests of the people. We require' a Federal Department to collect information relating to agriculture that may be of interest to the people, but it is unnecessary to establish it on extravagant lines. At the present time,- a man who wishes to obtain information in regard to areas available for selection in Queensland, and the terms on which it may be acquired, cannot obtain assistance from the Departments of other States. He must go to Queensland, or enlist the services of a friend there to make inquiries for him. That is a condition of affairs that should' not prevail. Although Western Australia forms part of the union, it is necessary, at present, for the State Government to send a lecturer to Victoria to inform the people of this State of the possibilities of agricultural and pastoral development there. The position is practically the same with respect to Queensland. Some twelve months ago friends of mine, who are farmers in the Northern district, were anxious to secure land for their sons, and wished me to make inquiries as to the farming districts of Queensland. I called at the Victorian Lands Department, but could obtain no information on the subject. The officers of the Victorian Department of Agriculture were courtesy personified, and said they would be delighted to make inquiries from the Queensland Government, but I recognised that that might mean a delay of some months. Through the courtesy of the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs, however, I was able to obtain the requisite information, and to send these men to Queensland, and they are now' perfectly satisfied with their lot. Had a Federal Department been in existence, the required information would have been obtainable without difficulty. There should be a Federal Department able to give information relating to agriculture in all the States.

Mr Knox - Not only here, but in London.

Mr KENNEDY - That is a phase of the question with which I do not propose to deal. It' seems to me to be useless to discuss abstract motions. A similar proposal was discussed in this House two or three years ago, and we heard no more of it until to-day. What we require is a forward movement, and I hope that the Minister in charge of the House will give some intimation of the intentions of the Government in this direction. We do not wish the Government to commit themselves to any definite proposal, but we are certainly anxious to know how they view this matter.

Personally, I should not. view the possibility of any large increase of Federal expenditure with pleasure, but if any little expenditure is involved in a work of this kind, I venture to say that no taxpayer in Australia is likely to cavil at it, seeing that it will tend so greatly to the material development of the Commonwealth. We boast about the potentialities of Australia, but what have we done up to the present time? We have settled down on a little fringe on ihe seaboard, but we know practically nothing of the conditions that prevail in our own territories. When we are confronted with a drought we are powerless. When we are confronted with some stock disease that devastates our flocks and herds we have little or no knowledge of what remedial measures the other States are adopting. To give an illustration, which is typical, we had in Victoria, six or seven years ago, an outbreak of anthrax. I knew from my own experience in New South Wales that an absolute preventive of anthrax was available. Anthrax is a disease that will make a millionaire whose capital is invested in stock a -poor man within a fortnight. I naturally made application to the Stock Department of Victoria, but in the meantime I advised a friend and neighbour, whose interests were at stake, to take all the risks involved in importing the preventive and having- his stock vaccinated. He was fortunate enough to receive attention forthwith, which is not always the case when- one has to communicate with people in another State. Just two months afterwards I received an intimation from the Stock Department over the signature of the Minister that the Department had gone so far as to permit the vaccine to be introduced through the Customs at Albury. Was not that a terrible state of affairs? The same conditions prevail to-day, though probably not in so great a degree. If we had an out-' break of anthrax in Victoria, we should still have to apply to two gentlemen in New South Wales before we could take any preventive measures except isolation ; and people cannot always quarantine all the stock that are likely to -get affected through travelling over the pastures upon which diseased stock have been feeding. These are reasons why the Federal Government should make a move forward in the direction of establishing a Department of Agriculture to deal particularly with those larger issues where the interests of the people of the Commonwealth are at stake. I trust, therefore, that the Minister will give the House some intimation that the Government intends to be up and doing something in this direction for the welfare of Australia.

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