Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 20 October 1904

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable and learned member for Darling Downs is to be congratulated upon having delivered an intensely practical and able address. I am afraid that I cannot pretend to a speech of the same kind, inasmuch as I have risen on the spur of the moment to take part in the debate. One rises with the greatest diffidence to speak off-hand on a question of this kind, but there are two or three matters to which reference was made by the honorable and learned member which I' desire to elaborate, and I hope perhaps to be able to furnish one or two practical illustrations of the advantages of some of the measures that he has so earnestly advocated. The question of facilitating the process of agriculture, and of conserving our primary industries in general, is an intensely practical one. It may be fitly summed up by the expression used last night by the right honorable member for Swan, when dealing with another matter - it is indeed a question of making two blades of grass grow where only one grew before, of making two ears of corn spring up where but one appeared before. It vitally concerns the whole of the people of Australia. One has only to look at the statistics dealing with the subject, in order to realize its importance. We read in the newspapers that the wheat yield for the current year is expected to average only seven and a half bushels to the acre., and when we remember that in Canada and the mother land, for instance, the average yield is two or three times greater, we must recognise that we are called upon to face the question of intense production in a very earnest manner. We cannot afford to allow this matter to slip out of our grasp, inasmuch "as it means all that is contained in the words " prosperity 9 s 2 for Australia." We are here at the antipodes of the world, and our handicaps in the race for life are very much greater than are those of the people of other countries - in those countries which are nearer to the markets of the world. For example, we are handicapped in connexion with our wheat harvest, as compared with Canada, America, and Russia, by a freight of 6d. per bushel. As the average price of wheat in London is about 3s. per bushel, that handicap is .1 very serious one. But if Australia is to take that place among the world's producers to which her climate, the extent of her virgin lands, and her other advantages entitle her, we must try to overcome that handicap. There are many ways in which it might be overcome, and the establishment of a Federal Department of Agriculture might assist us to discover them. In the first place, a way might be found to get a greater yield of wheat to the acre than is obtained now: What is suggested is to crystallize the action which is now taken by the States individually. Only last week - the matter has been referred to already in this Chamber - there was a conference of fruit-growers from all the States. Year by year the States Ministers of Agri-culture meet to discuss their common interests, and it is sought by the motion to recognise this community of interests by the establishment of a Federal bureau. In justification of the establishment of such a bureau, I might mention our backwardness in the way of agricultural mapping. In other countries the agricultural areas are clearly defined and mapped, and I read the other day that in Canada the extent of the wheat-producing land is known very definitely. It has been surveyed, and the soils have been tested, and the information thus obtained is available to intending immigrants. If we wish to attract immigrants to our shores in a steady stream, we must place authentic information of this kind before them. It is true that the Governments of the States have a hazy idea as to the area of land available for agriculture; but there lias been no systematic compilation of information in regard to it, such as would show to any degree of completeness the character of the soil in any locality, and its extent and possibilities. AH the States have been mapped geologically. In New South Wales, for instance, we know now where to look for copper, where gold is to be found, and where coal lies ; and similar information should be obtained for the benefit of agriculturists. As the inducement of immigration is a matter which concerns Australia as a whole, this subject could be best dealt with1 by a Federal Department. Such a department might also assist our farmers by showing them which is the best seed to sow in particular climates and localities. Some years ago, in New South Wales, the cultivation of the Steinwedel wheat was recommended. That wheat is an excellent bearer, yielding in some cases 40 bushels to the acre; but it will not carry its grain, except in a mild climate. If the crop is swept by a strong wind, it is impossible to reap it afterwards. Therefore, to advise people to sow that wheat indiscriminately is. in many cases, to ask them to court absolute failure. A Federal Department i\\,ould make it its business to ascertain what wheat suits certain climates, and to acclimatize wheals which are likely to be useful here. It might also set itself to produce a wheat which would be peculiarly adapted to our climate and soil. This problem has "been successfully dealt with in other countries, and particularly in Canada; and in New South Wales excellent men are engaged upon it. By placing information of the kind to which I refer in the hands of our primary producers, a central bureau would confer benefits upon .the community which would far exceed in value its cost. Then there are questions relating to the export trade which it might consider. Our distance from the markets of the world makes these questions of peculiar importance to us. It is a"" very easy matter to send the best fruit from Italy, and to land it in London in the pink of condition ; but it is very difficult to land our best fruit there in a satisfactory condition. Such fruit is more delicate than second quality fruit, and consequently does not carry so well. When a shipment of oranges was sent to London from New South Wales at the time that the Postmaster-General was administering the State Department of Agriculture, it was found that, while the second quality fruit arrived in good condition, and realized moderate prices, the best fruit arrived in an unsatisfactory condition. Our problem is, therefore, how to send our most delicate and luscious fruits to the markets of the world in a condition in which people will buy them. When I succeeded the honorable member in the administration of the Department, a conference of fruitgrowers was held to discuss with the shipping agents .the failure of the experiment.

Knowing a little about ventilation in connexion with mining, it did not take me long to see that the whole trouble was caused by the ineffective ventilation of the chambers in which the fruit was carried. Fruit in transit gives off carbonic acid gas, which, if not carried away by proper ventilation, destroys its condition. It may happen, as it sometimes happens in this chamber, that a.i immense volume of pure air is being pumped through a ship's cool storage accommodation without completely ventilating the fruit which is packed there. I do not know that the matter has been remedied since the time I speak of ; but what is necessary is to provide, not only for the pumping of a sufficient quantity of cool air, but for the proper distribution of that air through the fruit, from top to bottom. Unless that is done, the fruit practically stews in its own juice, and becomes rotten. After that conference I had a consultation with the chemists of the Department, who are very capable men, and we agreed to try some experiments, with a view to extracting the juices and gases from the rind of the fruit by artificial drying before shipment. I therefore put £600 on the Estimates for the purpose of erecting a heating chamber, but, although the amount was voted, the money was not spent, so that the problem remains uninvestigated.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - The experiment was tried here, but with very little success.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is a matter which should be taken in hand in the interests of the fruitgrowers of the Continent, who are unable to help themselves in this respect. At very little expense, these matters could be set at rest, and the best method of treating our fruit for export could be communicated to those who are directly interested. Another matter of supreme importance to Australia has been mentioned by the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs. I refer to the diseases which afflict our stock from time to time. For instance, there is the very serious question of the spread of the tick - that fell disease which has worked such havoc amongst the stock of Queensland. The question of the best method to be adopted to check the ravages of that disease could be investigated with advantage by a Department such as that contemplated. There ought to be a very clear and definite relationship between the Health Departments and the Agricultural Departments of the various States. For instance, in connexion with the investigation of the tick disease, it would first of all be necessary to secure the services of a medical expert, with a view to conduct investigations. This could best be done by a central bureau, which would possess greater prestige and greater authority than any State Department, and which could place itself in communication with the States Health Departments, and co-ordinate their work in the treatment of stock diseases. At present there are varying and conflicting opinions amongst the officers of these Departments, and a central bureau would be able to bring these gentlemen into touch, and from the conflict of opinion, evolve some common action against our common foes, which now work such havoc in our midst. There is no reason why there should be the slightest conflict between the Commonwealth and the States Departments. We might with advantage assist some of the work now carried out in the various States. For instance, the States Agricultural Departments possess elaborate scientific apparatus, and have adopted certain scientific curricula. Something might be done in the way of bringing about uniformity in regard to the scientific instruction given to our agriculturists. There should be no obstacle in the way of a Federal oversight being exercised in this matter. A common form of examination, and common scientific standards might be adopted, and in that way very much help might be given in the direction of perfecting our system of instruction. The great aim should be to dovetail the work which the central bureau would perform in with that now carried on by the States Departments. I believe that if a proper system were adopted enough money could be saved in connexion with the States Departments to more than cover the expenditure that would be entailed in maintaining a Federal bureau. Therefore I regard the proposal as not necessarily involving additional expenditure. There is no mistaking the fact that we are piling up our new expenditure to an extent that ought soon to give us pause. I do not wish to play the part of an alarmist, but, having regard to the straitened finances of the States, and to the effect of Federation on those finances, we ought to be very chary of incurring new expenditure. Therefore, a proposal of this kind should be very seriously considered from the economical stand-point, and with a view to enabling the States to make such savings as would more than defray the cost of maintaining the new Department. Although, in the absence of the mover, I hesitate to suggest any alteration in the form of the motion, I am not sure that we might not with advantage refer this matter to a Select Committee, which could formulate suggestions in the direction I have indicated. Some proposal might be made upon the same lines as that put forward in connexion with the appointment of a High Commissioner. I feel very strongly upon this point. If I thought that the proposed Department would grow into a costly concern, and that the expenditure entailed would be an addition to the cost of maintaining existing institutions in the States, I should hesitate to support the motion at the present time; but I believe that an investigation would show that the cost of setting up the proposed bureau could be more than saved by practising economies in the States. The question as to what Australia should do to promote the interests of her primary producers is a very serious one. I have spoken of the great handicaps to which we are now subjected, owing to our geographical position. In connexion with our wheat exports, we have to pay an extra 6d. per bushel for freight, and our fruit exporters are handicapped to the extent of from 2s. to 2s. 6d. per case.

Mr Conroy - -The fruit often perishes.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes ; but even supposing that it can be carried to the homemarket in good condition, there is still the handicap of the extra expense of carriage.

Mr Conroy - The duty upon sugar has ruined any chances that our fruit-growers might have had of converting their fruit into pulp for export.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - All roads lead to Rome, and according to the honorable and learned member's idea, all roads should point in the direction of the adoption of a free-trade policy. I am not. however, now dealing with that aspect of the question, but with . the desirability of affording our producers every facility for reaching the markets of the world. That Question is one which, more than any other, affects our prosperity as a people. We can put round Australia Tariff walls as high as we like, and we shall not achieve any good results unless our producers are enabled to find a profitable outlet for their produce. The first problem we should endeavour to solve is how we can most profitably dispose of the surplus produce that must be raised in a country where there are few people. and large areas of virgin land to cultivate. No amount of specialization of our secondary industries will bring us prosperity, so long as our primary industries are neglected. la those parts of the world which are nearest to the great centres of civilization, and to the markets which they afford, it is an easy matter to specialize secondary industries. For instance, it is easy for Great Britain, .situated as she is so near to Europe, to specialize her manufacturing processes ; but here we labour under a great handicap arising from our geographical position. In this proposal we have presented to us an opportunity to preserve some sort of harmonious and proportionate relationship between the primary and the secondary industries of Australia. But if we begin to specialize one branch of industry at the expense of another, we shall depart from the true lines o"f progress marked out for us bv nature. Our primary industries are of infinitely more importance than all our secondary industries can be for years to come.

Mr Ronald - Nonsense !

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I know that it ls nonsense to the honorable member, and therefore I am addressing only sensible people. Coghlan points out the startling fact - one which should at least arrest our attention - that £7 worth of every £10 worth of our produce has to find a market abroad. ' Therefore, the question to which I have been referring is one vitally affecting our national existence, and whether we are free-traders or protectionists, the problem we have to face is how we can best reduce the natural handicaps to which our primary producers are now subjected. I hope that the Government will give their serious consideration to this proposal, and also to my suggestion that a Select Committee should be appointed. I prefer that the matter should be referred to a Select Committee rather than to a Royal Commission, because Select Committees cost nothing, whilst Royal Commissions, which seem to be multiplying exceedingly, are generally rather costly. I- believe that a Select Committee could do useful work, and make suggestions that would lead to the co-ordination of the work now done by the various States Departments. If we could take over some of the work now performed in the States, we could save more money than would be sufficient to defray the cost of maintaining a Federal bureau, and we could make the work now performed - ex cellent as some of- it is - of very much more importance, and of very much more value to those who are engaged, year in and year out, in building up what we hope will be the permanent prosperity of Australia.

Suggest corrections