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Wednesday, 20 June 1906

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) (Hono rary Ministser) - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time. Perhaps it will be advisable for me to make some reference to what has been done since 1901 in the direction of enabling this Par liament to exercise its powers with regard to the subject of meteorology. By paragraph viii. of section 51 of the Constitution Act it is empowered to -

To make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to-

Astronomical and meteorological observations.

When the Commonwealth came into existence there was in this matter, as in many others which are referred to in that section, provisions of varying degrees of efficiency made in each State. In some States the meteorological work was conducted jointly with the astronomical work in the same premises and to some extent by the same officers. In New South Wales both classes of work were carried out at the Observatory in Sydney. '

Senator Millen - The Minister is not quite correct in saying that both classes of work were carried out by the same officers, because two staffs were maintained.

Senator KEATING - To some extent the same officers were employed in doing much of the work there. In some States there are officers who do only astronomical work, and others who do only meteorological work. In Victoria both meteorological and astronomical work was carried out at the Observatory in Melbourne. In Queensland, on the other hand, the meteorological work was carried out under the super intendence of Mr. Wragge, who was conducting a weather bureau which, in its effects,and so far as its forecasts went, extended! beyond the limits of that State. The astronomical work was not being carried out at an Observatory. On the contrary it was, and still is, associated with the Survey Department. In South Australia the astronomical and meteorological work was being carried outby Sir Charles Todd, who for some time after the establishment of the Commonwealth was the Deputy Postmaster-General of that State. For some years in Western Australia the work in connexion with both meteorological and astronomical observations has been carried out at the Observatory in Perth by Mr. Cooke, who, I believe, is a very able and very efficient officer, and who for some time had a good deal of practical astronomical experience in South Australia under Sir Charles Todd. In Tasmania the work was being carried out at what was known as the Observatory in the Barracks Reserve in Hobart. There was really very little work of an astronomical character carried out there when compared with the work done at Sydney or Melbourne or Perth. Certain meteorological work was carried out in Hobart, as it still is, by Mr. Kingsmill in a manner which, considering all the means at his disposal, I think my fellow senators from Tasmania will agree with me, reflects great credit upon him. These institutions did not all come into being simultaneously. For some years the larger States were carrying out astronomical or meteorological work. From time to time there have been Intercolonial Conferences, having for their object the consideration of the desirableness of securing co-operative or joint action in these matters, and also the best means to be adopted for carrying out united action throughout the States. The first of these Conferences was held at Sydney in 1879. Two Conferences have since been held at Melbourne, namely, one in 1881,. and the other in 1888. More recently a Conference of meteorologists, in the light of their knowledge of recent political developments, was assembled at Adelaide. I do not propose to enter into a consideration of the work which was done at each Conference, but to- briefly sketch, the development of what I may term the Australasian method of dealing with matters of meteorology as compared with the single State method. At a Conference held in Sydney in 1879, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and New Zealand were represented, the missing Colonies being Western- Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania. It was considered by that Conference that it was desirable to secure the co-operation of New Zealand and Tasmania in a system of supplying weather telegrams then in existence as between South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland, the only Colonies that were not taking part in the system being Western Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. It was felt that New Zealand and Tasmania should supply, in conjunction with the other Colonies, the weather telegrams, on the basis on which they were being supplied as between the four eastern Colonies, and it was also recommended that a meteorological station should be established at Mount Wellington. I do not suppose it to be necessary for me to inform any honorable senator of the situation of that mountain. Two years later another Conference took place in Melbourne, and the organization outlined in 1879, vague and imperfect as it was, was then furthered.

As an outcome of that, the Governments of Tasmania, Queensland, and Western Australia appointed meteorologists to cooperate with those of the other Colonies in carrying out the bare scheme of organization that had been evolved from the two conferences of 1879 and 1881. Nothing further in the way of an intercolonial discussion of this matter took place until 1888. In that year another Conference was held in Melbourne. All the States were represented, Western Australia being represented bv Sir John Forrest, Queensland bv Mr. Wragge, and Tasmania by its then Government Meteorologist, Captain Short. Steps were taken at that Conference to perfect the then existing intercolonial system of supplying weather news in order that reliable State forecasts might be made ; but one of the principles insisted upon was that each State Meteorological Department should confine itself to the providing of forecasts for its own State. A resolution having that for its object was moved by Sir John Forrest, and if my memory of the report of the proceedings serves me correctly, was seconded by the representative of New Zealand, and carried. Notwithstanding the passing of that resolution, the representative of Queensland at that Conference, Mr. Wragge - who, I suppose, dissented from it - subsequently showed hiss practical dissent by proceeding' in the light of the information supplied to him from the other Colonies, to issue forecasts of the weather, not only in respect of the Colony of Queensland, in which he was located, but for the whole of the Australian Colonies. Another Conference took place at Adelaide, in 1905, but I shall not refer at this stage to what was done at it, since it would interrupt the ordinary course in which we should consider the development of this study in Australia, as an Australian, as opposed to a State or separate Colony matter. As I have said, Mr. Wragge, ignoring or disregarding the resolution passed at the Melbourne Conference in r888, issued forecasts, not only for his own State, but for the whole of Australia. In 1902. in view of the fact that the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill was before this Parliament, and that it made no special provision for the transmission of meteorological1 telegrams free of charge, or at a reduced rate, Mr. Wragge' s position, as one who was forecasting the weather for the whole of Australia, was considerably affected. The Queensland Government recognised at once that the additional cost that was to be imposed upon the administration of that Department bv reason of the operation of the Post and Telegraph Rates Act, would render it impossible for Mr. Wragge to continue his work as efficiently as- he had done previously, unless the Commonwealth Government assumed the responsibility of carrying on his work, or the remaining States of the Commonwealth contributed something towards the cost of the maintenance of his Chief Weather Bureau. Negotiations were entered into between the Queensland Government and the Government of the Commonwealth, but. for a variety of reasons, it was impossible for 'the Commonwealth Government to take over the Queensland Meteorological Department, and to leave the others. One very strong reason was that the assumption of the control of the Meteorological Departments of the States is not, under the Constitution, similar to the assumption by the Commonwealth of the control of either the Post and1 Telegraph, the Customs, or the Defence, Department. Under the Constitution, the Customs Department went over to the Commonwealth, immediately upon it's establishment on ist January, 1901, whilst provision was made for taking over the Defence Department, and the Post and Telegraph Department, on dates to be fixed by proclamation. But with regard to the Meterological Department, and many others in respect of which the Commonwealth has powers, the exercise of these powers must be preceded by legislation. Section 51 of the Constitution provides that the Parliament of tha Commonwealth may make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to various matters. That means legislation is a condition - unless the Constitution otherwise provides - antecedent to the acquisition or assumption of the obligations of important States Departments affecting any of these subjects. Considerable correspondence passed between the Queensland Government and that of the Commonwealth - a much greater volume than that to which I should like to invite the attention of honorable senators. I think I have waded through the whole of it;, and, although I may know a good deal about it, I dare say I have forgotten a. great deal more, notwithstanding that I read it only recently. In addition to the correspondence which passed between the Government of Queensland and that of the Commonwealth, a number qf representations were made to the latter from outside bodies'. Chambers of Commerce throughout the whole of Queensland represented in the very strongest and most emphatic terms, the desirableness of the maintenance, at all costs, of Mr. Wragge's Chief Weather Bureau. Not only did these representations come from Queensland ; New South Wales also furnished its quota. I think that the Chamber of Commerce in Sydney, and other organizations that had derived' much benefit and value from the daily forecasts published by Mr. Wragge-

Senator Guthrie - Agricultural societies.

Senator KEATING - And also agricultural and pastoral societies in New South Wales and Queensland, made strong and emphatic representations in respect of the request of the Queensland Government, that Mr. Wragge's services1 be not lost to Australia. In the case of Tasmania, where Mr. Wragge's daily forecasts were also published, no official representations were made by the State Government, nor, so far as I recollect, by any local' organization ; but there were representations from private individuals who were entitled to speak with, a certain measure of authority. I can say, from my own knowledge, that in that State much advantage was derived from these forecasts by persons following avocations connected with the soil. Perhaps still yet greater advantage was reaped by those following seafaring pursuits. As an illustration of some of the advantages that were derived by persons in that State alone, I propose to quote a very succinct letter that appeared in the Hobart Mercury, about the time that Mr. Wragge's services were likely to be lost:. I quote this letter, because the writer appended his name, and because I am acquainted with his name, and know that he is very well known iin the southern part of Tasmania.

Senator Guthrie - Does the honorable and learned senator know the paper?

Senator KEATING - The writer chose the medium for the expression of his views. The gentleman iin question is Mr. Harold S. R. Wright. I think Senator Dobson knows him; he is, indeed, well known throughout Southern Tasmania, and his letter is an eloquent tribute to the value of Mr. Wragge's work. It reads as follows: -

Sit, - I noticed some days, ago that Mr.

Wragge had notified that unless and until payment was arranged for, no further forecasts of the weather would be forthcoming.

On making inquiries, I find that the sum required isĀ£200 -

I presume that that would have been Tasmania's contribution - which I trust will be at once granted, and the forecasts resumed. Apart from their undoubted value to sailors and ships, I have much pleasure intestifying to their great value to me as a tiller of the soil, as I have been able to so arrange my work, and escape the effects of the approaching tempest of wind or rain.

I trust that if others, with like experience in other localities, were also to give their testimony without delay, the hands, of the Minister would be so strengthened that he would authorize the expenditure,and so retain to us the great benefits that accrue from the publication of Wragge's forecasts.

This is the experience of a man expert in his calling, and who has occupied responsible local government positions in the south of Tasmania. The letter is short and pithy, and is a very eloquent tribute to the work that was done by Mr. Wragge, and which might be done by the Commonwealth Meteorological Department for the benefit of people connected with the soil. A few days later - on the 30th August - there appeared in the same newspaper a letter signed " W. McS." As the address "Black Brush," is. given, I think that I, andprobably Senator Dobson, can locate the writer. The letter was as follows : -

Wragge's Forecasts.

To the Editor of the Mercury.

Sir. -I read with pleasure Mr. Wragge's letter in Saturday's Mercury under the above heading, and can fully bear him out in what he says. To place the whole thing in a nutshell, I will give just one instance of my experience in reference thereto. Last season I was preparing to cut my crop of English barley, when The Mercury arrived containing a forecast that a storm was approaching, and would affect Tasmania in about four days. Through this I decided to wait, although at the time the weather was seasonable, and no sign of any break to the casual observer. A little after the time stated in the forecast the storm made its appearance, and lasted a considerable time, for in waiting for it to come and pass away it was fourteen days beforeI cut the barley; but I am pleased to say I then harvested it without a shower, consequently I was enabled to submit a bright sample, and obtain a satisfactory price. I am of opinion that these forecasts should be continued, and if it must be done by private subscriptions, I will willingly give my share.

These are only instances of individual tributes to the value of the work done in connexionwith what we may call a, national system of meteorology.

Senator Dobson - And they could be multiplied a hundred times over.

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