Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 20 June 1906

Senator KEATING - That is so. I have, in addition, ample material to indi cate tributes paid to a national system by organized investigation, if I may so term it - investigation by people who, as societies and other bodies have considered, carefully weighed, and analyzed the work done and the results obtained. Of course, one may look, in. some instances, for exaggeration in matters of this kind. But I have here an extract from an article by Mr. F. H. Bigelow, Professor of Meteorology, published in the Y ear-Book of Agriculture of the United States, for 1899. I may say the Meteorological Department is allied in the United States with the Department of Agriculture. In that article Mr. Bigelow says: - .

For some years the view prevailed that a local observer could forecast better for his immediate district than the national official at the central office, but after an extensive trial, it was found that the Washington City forecasts verified 4 or 5 per cent. better than the local forecasts, and the local system was therefore abandoned. It is difficult to obtain any very exact account of the actual saving of property to the public as 'he result of these storm warnings, but it is everywhere agreed that it amounts annually to a very large sum. The direct cost of the weather service to the people has for several years been less than $1,000,000 annually, and those in the best position to judge believe that the salvagesalone would cover the expense of the work. This is quite independent of the many advantages accruing to our civilization, from the agencies above described for serving the public in an agricultural, commercial, and educationalway The Committees of Congress, whichare charged, with inspecting the money value of the estimates, are in many instances ready to recommend the appropriation of more money than even the chief of the Bureau or the Secretary of Agri culture asks for. Another fact is that therehas been a steady natural growth in the operations, and in satisfying the legitimate needs ofthe public, so that the people see for themselves the practical advantages of this great scientific work.

That is an article from a man occupying a responsible position. Here I may pause to say that the work done in the United States is on a very huge scale, altogether out of proportion to that which we can expect to do in Australia. Professor Bigelow says thatthe work has so demonstrated its value to the public that theCommittee of Congress charged with the examination of accounts have constantly recommended that, more money be provided than was asked for by the heads of the Agricultural Department. The magazine called The Century, of January, 1905, contains an article headed " Our heralds of Storm and Flood," by Gilbert H. Grosvener. A portion of the article is headed, " A Dividend of Two

Thousand per cent.,'1 and that naturally attracts the attention of even the casual reader. On perusing the article, we find how the dividend is accounted for, as follows : -

Probably men in one hundred judge the weather bureau by the weather forecasts which they read at the breakfast table in the 'morning paper. They execrate and ridicule the .service when they are caught at .heir office ot at the theatre unprepared for an unheralded shower, and, as likely as not, unhesitatingly assume to themselves the credit when the forecast is right. Will it be fair or will it be rain? How hot or how cold has it been to-day? They believe the weather bureau was created to answer these questions correctly, and always correctly for their personal gratification. They do not know that Mie local weather forecasts are only a fraction of the work, and a very small and unimportant fraction at that.

Some time ago a sceptical insurance company determined to investigate the amount of property saved in one year by the warnings of the weather bureau. It was a company of conservative men, whose estimate would be under rather than above the truth, but it found that on an average the people of the United States saved every year $30,000,000 because of their weather service. As the people contributed $1,500,000 every year to its support, this means that they get annually a dividend of two thousand per cent, on the investment. An investment in which the original ca.pita.1 is paid back twenty times over in twelve months is extraordinarily profitable, and well worth investigation. How does the Weather Bureau do it?

The writer goes on to 'illustrate his article by giving single instances of the work done year by year. I have here one of Che reports of the United States Department of Agriculture - the report of the Chief Weather Bureau for 1902-3 - and I might give some illustrations of the general way in which, the work of that Department has been appreciated. This matter is of great importance in a -country like Australia, which is so largely dependent for its prosperity on a foreknowledge of probable seasons, and some of the greatest resources of which lie in its pastoral and agricultural possibilities.

The following comment was made by the New Orleans .Times Democrat of 28th November, 1902, on the warnings issued for the Gulf district, the only section east of the Pacific coast States in which agricultural products were endangered by frost.

This is the comment -

The warnings sent out on Wednesday morning were timely for all parts of this extensive district. Freezing weather occurred over Arkansas, Oklahoma, and northwest Texas. Heavy frosts occurred over the interior of Texas, and frost occurred generally over Southern Texas, and all of Louisiana. Frost was in evidence in New Orleans, and on the outskirts was quite heavy.

The warnings of these severe conditions were issued by the weather bureau well in advance} and all business interests were prepared for the frosts and freezing.

I have also extracted from the Galveston Herald, of 4th December, 1902, this statement in regard to a cold wave warning .: -

Last winter the weather bureau saved manythousand dollars to the farmers and truck growers of South Texas by timely warnings of heavy freezes, and yesterday morning, when the warnings were telegraphed and telephoned1 to points of interest, no time was lost in getting the tender vegetation under cover. The weather bureau's notice was practically two days in advance, because the coldest period is expected tonight and early Friday morning. When Sugarland was communicated with, the sugar mills were shut down at once, and all hands took to the " tall canefields," to use a common saying. It was reported that several hundred men were in the field cutting sugar cane and wind-rowing in an hour after the weather bulletin was received. The army of cutters was being rapidly reinforced, and it is expected that several hundred acres of cane will have been cut and stretched on the ground by to-night. A heavy freeze with the cane standing would play havoc, and would mean the loss of perhaps thousands of dollars.

There are equally complimentary references, to the work of the Weather Bureau in the Sugar Planters' Journal, of New Orleans, for 20th December, 1902, and in the Tampa Herald, of Florida, of 37th December of the same year. In the latter newspaper the following short reference appears: - . " Heaving and damaging frosts to-night," was. the .brief warning sent out over this section of the State yesterday by the local weather observer, but the warning, despite its brevity, was. effective, and doubtless saved thousands of dollars to the planters, especially those who own large " pineries," as the cold wave that struck the State was sufficient to greatly injure the " pines."

Apart from the newspapers, many extracts from which I could quote as to the value to farmers, agriculturists, and pastoralists generally, of weather forecasts, a very eloquent tribute is paid by the manager or president of the United Telephone Company, Bellefontaines, Ohio, in a letter under date of 26th December, 1902, addressed to Mr. C. L. Lane, Weather Bureau displayman at Bellefontaine : -

Our telephone company desires to express in writing its appreciation of the cold wave warning given by you to our Superintendent on Wednesday last. We have 5° stations in our system, which extends throughout this' and adjoining counties, and this news was immediately telephoned to each station, with instructions to circulate the information there. In our system are a great many .farmer subscribers, and this news was given" to each farmer. We take pleasure in telling you that it was appreciated a great deal more than can be expressed here. We shall be pleased indeed to communicate to our patrons throughout our system any like information that comes to you in your position as voluntary observer of the United States Weather Bureau in. our city, and weshall always be glad to render you any assistance at any time within our power.

At the beginning of the report of the Weather Bureau there appear quite a number of instances in which appreciation is shown of the work done. A short appreciation appears in the Boston Globe of 18th February, as follows: -

The biggest storm that Boston has seen for at least five years ceased yesterday, although its effects will be felt for several days yet. The storm was heralded by the Weather Bureau Sunday night. This gave sea captains more than eighteen hours' notice, and doubtless saved many vessels and lives.

In connexion with meteorology as a national subject in Australia - if I may use the term to distinguish Commonwealth administration from States administration - since the Queensland Government communicated with the Commonwealth Government in the manner I have just stated, there has been correspondence with the several States with the object of ascertaining their views and wishes with regard to the assumption of the Astronomical and Meteorological Departments, or either of them, by the Commonwealth. In the endeavour to ascertain the wishes and views of the States, the Commonwealth has met with some difficulty - not, I was going to say, a common, but an unusual difficulty. In the first place, we had the views expressed by the States Governments varying. The Government of -Tasmania, under Sir Elliott Lewis, approved of the proposed transfer, but, subsequently, that Government, under the present Premier; disapproved of the establishment of any Federal Meteorological Department. In other cases we have a State Government approving of a transfer, while their officers hold divergent views.

Senator Millen - Does the Minister object to state the attitude of the various States ?

Senator KEATING - I have no objection ; I think it only fair that honorable senators should have that information. In some cases the States Governments ask that both Departments should be transferred, while their officers say that that is not the correct procedure to follow. The communications, so far, have had the following results: - From the New South Wales Government a communication was received on the 7th October,1905.

Senator Guthrie - Tell us what communication was sent to the States Governments.

Senator KEATING - Does the honor- . able senator desire me toread the whole of the correspondence ? The States Governments were simply asked their views in regard to the Commonwealth assuming control of the Astronomical and Meteorological Departments. On the 22nd August that communication, which was a circular letter, was acknowledged, and a reply was pro mised. On the 7th of the following October the New South Wales Government indicated that it would convey its views as early as possible. Since then there has been no direct official communication of the views of the New South Wales Government. But subsequently to that the Premiers' Conference was held, and a resolution was passed to which I will refer directly. From Victoria replies were received on the 20th September, 1905, and on the 30th March, 1906, to the effect that the Government of Victoria did not see its way to transfer any part of its astronomical and meteorological institutions. From Queensland, on the 19th October, 1905, an intimation was received that there would be no objection on the part of that Government to the transfer of the State Meteorological Department to the Commonwealth, provided the land, buildings, &c, were also taken over by the Commonwealth. South Australia, on the 22nd March, 1906, simply indicated that its Government was opposed to the establishment of a Federal Meteorological Department. Western Australia, on the 20th March, 1905,. stated that its Government was of opinion that both the Astronomical and Meteorological Departments should be under the control of the Commonwealth. Tasmania, on the 25th August, 1905, acknowledged the letter, and on the 22nd March of this year a further reply was received intimating that the Government of that State was opposed to the establishment of a Federal Meteorological Department.

Senator Dobson - Did it give any reasons ?

Senator KEATING - No.. As I said before, these communications all have to be read in conjunction with the resolutions arrived at by the last Conference of meteorologists in 1905, and with the attitude displayed at other times, eitherby the Premiers, the officers of the departments, or by previous Governments of the States. So far as Tasmania is concerned, when Sir

Elliott Lewis was Premier, his Government approved of the transfer of the department to the Commonwealth. Not only did it approve, but the correspondence indicates that it thought that in connexion with the Tasmanian portion, the expenditure should be annually about?707 10s., instead of something like?200 odd, as at present. The existing Tasmanian Government, as 1 have said, on the 22nd March, 1906, expressed its opposition to the establishment of a Federal Meteorological Department. Since then the Premiers' Conference was held. The Premier of Tasmania attended. The Conference passed a resolution approving of the transfer of both the Meteorological and Astronomical Departments to the Commonwealth. I am not prepared to say whether that resolution was unanimously carried. We may take it, I think, that New South Wales" is content to rest upon the resolution passed by the Premier's Conference.

Senator Millen -When the Premiers' Conference passed the resolution in favour of taking over both departments, did that mean both or neither? The Bill only provides for one.

Senator KEATING - This Bill only provides for a Meteorological Department. Perhaps I may here introduce a quotation from the report of the Premiers' Conference, page 150. The President is reported -

Suggest corrections