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Thursday, 20 October 1904


Mr SPENCE (Darling) - With the honorable member for Parramatta, I feel that the House is indebted to the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs for his able address upon this subject, and particularly because he has somewhat widened the original scope of the proposal under discussion by adopting the suggestion of the honorable and learned member for Indi. The honorable member for Parramatta has gone a step further - and I entirely agree with him - by proposing the appointment of a Select Committee, which, without taking a very great deal of evidence, might obtain a grasp of what is being done by the various States in connexion with agriculture, and subsequently make some recommendations to this Parliament. I am thoroughly in accord with that proposal, because I realize that education is the great feature which distinguishes all advance in modern times - education in a much wider sense than that in which it was formerly regarded. I need scarcely remind honorable members that at one time education was taken to cover only the three R's; but to-day it is interpreted to mean the instruction of persons who are engaged in industry in the best means of utilizing the experience of those who have been most successful. The State disseminates information, so that every beginner has the advantage of knowing what has been done by others. We find that any nation which succeeds to-day does so chiefly because it has paid attention to technical instruction - because the boys and girls in its schools may acquire a knowledge of farming and many, other industries into which they enter in after years. The States have done something in this direction, though not so much as they ought to have done. But at any rate the foundation has been laid. We need to co-operate with the States so that all information relating to this important subject may be collected by a central bureau. It may be possible by arrangement with the States for the Commonwealth to take over some of the duties of national import which they are at present discharging. One of the objects of Federation was to centralize things as far as. possible. The honorable and learned member for Darling Downs has dealt with a number of matters, including the creation of a Meteorological Department - a suggestion which I desire strongly to support. I claim that we are neglecting an important branch, which, as was pointed out by Mr. Wragge some time ago, should be controlled toy the Commonwealth. We should then have a central authority, which would be able to make the necessary arrangements for the collection of information over the widest possible sphere. In most of the capitals, at the present time, weather forecasts are daily issued. The work of these departments is thus being duplicated. Surely we ought to adopt some means for centralizing the information relating to weather conditions, if only with a view to avoiding shipwrecks. Indeed, the study of these conditions in Australia is absolutely essential to the development of our country. We possess great areas of magnificent land, but unfortunately we have not a sufficient rainfall. I believe that we shall yet see the day when we shall be able to make rain fall, just as we obtain it from underground, and if so, Australia- so far as its central areas are concerned - will become one of the richest countries in the world. The people should be supplied with the latest information in regard to the weather. In my own electorate, I can assure honorable members, that if it had not been for warnings received by telegraph, immense losses would have been sustained by reason of floods. I have known of sheep being lost from one flock whose value would more than cover the cost of weather telegrams for a whole year. I repeat that, as far as possible, it is desirable that we should centralize our work. Those who feel sufficient interest in Australia to induce them to contemplate settling here cannot gain any information from a Commonwealth Department as to where settlement is advisable. There is no Department whose duty it is to collect data of that character, and to have it on tap. Consequently, we cannot expect any very great stream of immigration. A statistical branch might reasonably be established by the Commonwealth at a very early date. Fortunately, in New South Wales we have a very able statistician, who provides information, not only in regard to the Commonwealth, but also in regard to New Zealand. The Commonwealth should have a Statistical Department under its control. At the present time we secure statistical information for Australia only because of the enthusiasm of Mr. Coghlan. The various States have now fa'irly perfect machinery for the collection of statistics in regard to agriculture, stock, &c. They also employ officers of high standing and ability - specialists in their own particular line. As a member of the Western Lands Commission, I have a very vivid recollection of the examination of a practical botanist, who is connected with one of the Government departments in SydneyHe was able to lay upon the table certain essential oils and perfumes which had been made from plants which grow in unlimited quantities in the back country. The product of these plants, he asserted, would find a ready market. He discovered their composition by analyses, which were conducted in his- laboratory. But I would point out that there is no means by which those who might desire to embark upon an enterprise of that sort could have become acquainted with the facts, as I have stated them, unless they had been published in that very excellent journal, the Agricultural Gazette. In a centralized Department at the outset we should not need to engage a large staff. The officer to whom I have referred has never been given an opportunity of exploring the country for himself, but he has found that quite a number of plants which grow very plentifully in portions of Australia, possess a commercial %'alue. From some of our woods, too/ we can obtain valuable dyes. The tree from which one particular dye is obtained - a dye for particular shades of colour - grows very abundantly in New South Wales. We have millions of them. I saw samples of that dye which had been taken from the stringy bark tree, and which were admitted to be of the very best. It is generally acknowledged that this industry could be made payable. I claim that we should have some means of circulating information of that description. It is well known that in modern times our successes are chiefly due to technical training, and the diffusion of information. I remember the time when it was generally agreed that it was impossible to grow wheat beyond Dubbo. When a certain individual came there, ploughed his land, and commenced to sow wheat, the wiseacres declared that he was a fool. But what is the position to-day ? There are miles of farms beyond Narromine. Some of the farmers have more than 1,000 acres under wheat. Under the up-to-date method which has been adopted in America, no doubt would have been entertained of the possibility of growing wheat in that locality, because an analysis of the soil would have dispelled it. If a man who is not possessed of much capital takes up land, and his first crop is a failure, he is almost ruined. But if, on the other hand, he understood from the beginning whether the land was suitable for the purpose to which he intended to put it, if he knew the kind of crop that he ought to plant, and was familiar with the prevailing weather conditions, he would have some assurance of success. Although we have no control over the lands of the Commonwealth, we should take up the duty of supplying the producers with all the information calculated to be of assistance to them. In some of our highly socialistic States, a prospector, who discovers what he believes to be stone containing gold, or some other valuable mineral, may take it to the Mines Department, and have it assayed. That course is frequently followed, and often with highly successful results. Many fields have been opened up as the result of assays first made by the Mines Departments of the States, and, in the same way, I think that we should1 be able to do a vast amount of good by the creation of a Federal Department of Agriculture. I have no desire to traverse the wide field covered so ably by other speakers ; but shall content myself with saying that I strongly approve of several of the suggestions emphasized by the honorable member for Parramatta. If a Department of this kind were established, it might enable us to ascertain from the States Departments the direction which Federal legislation should take in order to cope with such matters as diseases in stock. Great difficulties were experienced some time ago in dealing with the tick pest-


Mr Groom - That matter is entirely under the control of the States.


Mr SPENCE - But the States Departments might obtain information bearing on such questions that would be of value to us.


Mr Groom - In the United States such matters are dealt with, by agreement with the States, by means of a Federal Executive regulation.


Mr SPENCE - At all events, information in reference to these and other matters of interest to our primary producers should be centralized, so that experiments which have proved successful in certain districts, but are not generally known, mav be brought within the knowledge of the people of all the States. Reference has been made by the honorable member for Parramatta to our export trade. As honorable members. are aware, by far the greater proportion of Great Britain's food supplies are obtained from foreign countries, while only a small proportion comes from Australia. That is a remarkable state of affairs, considering that our territory is extensive enough to enable us to supply not only the requirements of Great Britain, but of half the world. A great part of the Commonwealth remains undeveloped, and we cannot expect it to be developed unless external markets are opened out. At the present time, we produce more than is sufficient to satisfy local requirements, and we must turn our attention to the work of opening up fresh markets for our primary producers, and enabling them to secure cheap and easy means of access to them. Freights are becoming lower every day, and it remains for the Commonwealth Government to look into the best means of conveying not only fruit, but other perishable products to the markets of the old world. That is one matter that should receive special attention. Produce that may be safely carried from the United States to Great Britain cannot be sent from Australia to the old land, and there is much room for improvement in this direction. Roughly speaking, the value of certain food-stuffs consumed in Great Britain is ,£18,000,000 per annum, and of that quantity at least £13,000,000 worth comes from countries outside the Empire. I have no desire to deal with the question of preferential^ trade ; but would point out that it is because Great Britain imports her food-stuffs so largely from foreign countries, that many of the people of the mother land fear that preferential trade would increase the cost of living. I merely mention this matter as showing how important it is that we should endeavour to secure this trade. We have a right to. it, and I believe that the people of Great Britain would prefer to give it to us. The question of How best to convey our produce to the markets of the world is one of great importance. It is necessary that we should obtain th

The United States Consul, with whom I had a conversation not long ago, remarked that we did not fully realize what splendid lands were at our disposal, and that if we had been accustomed to the poor country which is being cultivated in America, we should more fully appreciate the rich territory with which nature has endowed us. He mentioned also that the cultivation of this inferior land in the United States had been made possible only by the application of brains to the work. Farming is carried on there upon scientific lines. Large technical schools exist in Philadelphia foi the dissemination of information in regard to all branches of industry. The farmers are instructed in regard to the best method of manuring land, and the varieties of seed best suited for particular areas, while in other ways they are also afforded information which enables them to make a success of their industry. We have good soil and other favourable conditions in Australia, but, unfortunately, our farming operations have been carried on largely according to the rule of thumb. When it is suggested that there should be more technical schools, we often hear the answer that what is wanted is more practice, and less theory. But we require both theory and practice. Experience must always count, and experience which is based on scientific train- ing is the best of all. We might well enter upon the establishment of the Department on modest lines, and a statistical branch should be one of the first to be created. A statistician has at hand many sources of information, If we turn to Mr. Coghlan'sSeven Colonies we find that it gives statistics bearing on the conditions of the Australian people in almost every phase of industry. Mr. Coghlan has. so to speak, the machinery already in operation to at once obtain the information that it would be within the province of such a Department as is here proposed to collect. If we started by establishing a Statistical Department, we should soon get into touch with other branches of work 1 elating to agricultural and pastoral matters, lt is above all things necessary that the officer placed in charge of, the Department shall be an enthusiast - that he shall be a# man with a love of his work, and possessing a wide knowledge of what is going on in the world. Such an officer should be at pains to place himself in communication with all sources of information ; he should be aggressive in his desire for knowledge, and one who will not need to be prompted to take action in any direction necessary to make his Department successful. The Victorian Railway Department at one time had a very useful bureau of information for the convenience of travellers. I have the pleasure of knowing one of the officers in charge of this bureau, and can say that he possesses a remarkable store of information. He was always ready to reply to any inquiry, not only in regard to the railway system of Victoria, but as to the lines of steamers and railways and leading hotels in all parts of the world. He went on the lines that if he were asked for information which he could not supply he should take care to be fully informed on the subject when next he was questioned in regard to it. I am sure that this motion will be carried, and I trust that the Government will inform the House that they are ready to give effect to it. There are many matters to be considered in connexion with the proposal, but it is certainly open to the Ministry to make a modest beginning. If we start with a statistical branch, the other branches will soon follow, and the Department will be found exceedingly useful. It may be desirable to adopt the suggestion that a small Select "Committee be appointed to collect information and make recommendations. That would not involve any great cost; but if the Government are prepared to take the matter in hand, and to delegate to a Minister the task of collecting information bearing on the subject, we mav be able to avoid the appointment of a Select Committee. I believe that the establishment of such a Department would be productive of much good, and I trust that the motion will be carried.

Debate (on motion bv Mr. Hume Cook) adjourned.







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