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Thursday, 25 May 1972
Page: 3167

Mr Grassby asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice:

(1)   Is a new strain of poplar, which is suitable for matchwood, plywood, toys, furniture and packaging and which would help obviate the $200m a year Australia spends on timber imports, available lor planting in Australia.

(2)   If so, are hopes for the utilisation of this and other strains of poplar being literally blighted by the appearance of a fungus 'Melampsora


medusae' which, since first being reported at Hawkesbury, New South Wales, has spread to Canberra, Tumut, Grafton and other areas.

(3)   Can he say whether a scientist of the New South Wales Department of Agriculture, Mr John Walker, stated that the sudden appearance of the disease indicates that it was probably an illegal importation.

(4)   If the disease appears to be an illegal importation, will he confer with the Minister for Health with a view to intitiating a thorough inquiry into quarantine procedures which have proved inadequate to stop the introduction of the disease.

(5)   Will the Government consider granting assistance to farmers who lose plantations to enable them to replant with new disease-free stock.

(6)   Will the Government also consider granting assistance to poplar nurserymen, tree farmers and timber producers who lose poplar nursery stock or established poplar plantations and by providing disease resistant stock for propogation and replanting.

Mr Swartz - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   The American black poplar or eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides Marsh., is suitable for matchwood, plywood, toys, furniture and packaging wool.

This poplar and its hybrids have been used for the above purposes for many decades in some overseas countries. The species does well in carefully chosen areas throughout eastern Australia; 2 plantations to produce wood for matches were started about 10 years ago.

Poplars are normally planted as cuttings, the cuttings belongs to each 'strain' (clone) originally being derived from a single seedling. There are, therefore, a potentially unlimited number of different strains of this poplar only some hundreds of which are available in Australia at the present time. In general, those from the southern part of the natural range of the species have performed best here, and about 5 of these have been used commercially.

(2)   The main commercially-used clones of Populus deltoides have been severely infected by the foliage rust Melampsora medusae Thum. in New South Wales this summer. It appears that heavy infection will lead to loss of growth and in some cases to the death of infected trees. The rust will not prevent the utilisation of trees which are already of merchantable size. Observations to date show that infection is more or less limited to Populus deltoides, but not all clones of that species are susceptible to infection.

(3)   It is not known whether or not Mr J. Walker, of the New South Wales Department of Agriculture, has said that 'the sudden appearance of the disease indicates that it was probably an illegal importation'. There is no evidence of which we are aware as to how the disease came to Australia. The main possibilities are -

Importation on illegally imported poplar cuttings.

Importation on legally imported popular cuttings.

Officers of the Forestry and Timber Bureau have been unable to discover any record of poplar cuttings having been introduced recently; it is improbable that the disease would have come in years ago with known legal introductions and have escaped notice until this year.

Importation of spores on the clothing of a traveller from, say, the south-east of the United States of America, where the disease is common. A very large number of spores could be carried in a single trouser cuff.

Transfer of spores to Australia by intercontinental air movement. There has been speculation that the introduction of coffee rust to Brazil a few years ago occurred in this way. The very rapid apparent spread of the disease throughout New South Wales is consistent with the effective dispersal of spores by air movement, and also with the patterns of spread of rusts of other crops.

(4)   Department of Health Plant Quarantine staff have been fully informed of the discovery and course of the disease. The difficulty of effectively preventing the introduction to Australia of microscopic, wind-borne spores which may be abundant in regions frequented by international travellers are obvious.

(5)   and (6) The Commonwealth Government, through the Forestry and Timber Bureau, is engaging on an active poplar tree breeding programme to develop rust resistant provenances of Populus deltoides and hybrids between it and other disease resistant poplar species and it is anticipated that disease resistant stock can be made available on a modest scale to nurserymen, tree farmers and timber producers within 3-5 years.

Apart from conducting research work aimed at the identification and dissemination of diseaseresistant clones as mentioned above, the Government does not propose to provide special assistance to the industry.

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