Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 21 June 1906


Senator O'KEEFE (Tasmania) . - - Before moving the motion standing in my name, I wish to thank Senator Neild for having allowed it to take precedence over that relating to another matter of which he had given notice. I desire at the outset, by leave, to amend my motion, which reads as follows: -

That; in the opinion of this Senate, as the introduction of the microbes proposed by Dr. Danysz for the destruction of rabbits in the State of New South Wales may prove inimical to human and other animal life of Australia, it should not be permitted except for laboratory experiments, by addling the words - until such time as Parliament or the Government, if Parliament is not in session, is satisfied that outside experiments will be harmless.

The motion will thus be brought into conformity with that passed by another place.

Motion, by leave, amended accordingly.


Senator O'KEEFE - I - In moving this motion, I may say that I think it advisable that it should be dealt with by the Senate as early as possible, in view of the action taken in another place with reference to the subject with which it deals. I am disposed to regret that another place should have passed the motion in this form ; but, since it has done so, I think it is as well that there should be unanimity of opinion between the two branches of the Legislature. The question ' has aroused considerable interest thoughout Australia, and thousands of people have been waiting anxiously for the decision of the Parliament with reference to it. Dr. Danysz was brought to Australia, I understand, by a number of pastoralists in New South Wales, and at their expense, with the object of inoculating the rabbits with a virus that would prove fatal to them, and so stamp out the pest. It is admitted, however, that the success of the experiment is still problematical, and Dr. Danysz himself is not at all certain that the virus he has introduced will achieve the object in view. In support of this statement I quote the following paragraph from a subleader in The Pastoralists' Review of 1 5th March, 1905 : -

Dr. Danysz,of the Pasteur Institute, has replied to the New South Wales Minister of Lands' invitation to visit Australia to inquire on the spot into the possibility of ridding the country of the rabbit pest, that he could come in April for five or six months with an assistant, and that the cost of his visit would be a fee of £600 per month, from the day of his departure until that of his return to Paris, besides all the actual expenses of conducting the inquiry. Dr. Danysz considers that the first thing is to discover diseases which would not be dangerous to other animal life, and that the search for this might be expected to occupy a year. Then he would proceed to study the conditions under which it would be necessary to propagate these diseases among rabbits so as to obtain appreciable results; in other words, he would found a bacteriological institute in Sydney, which would be a branch of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and carry on such investigations as seem advisable for discovering a disease suitable to the conditions of the problem. As we have said before, the difficulty of coping with the rabbit pest on so large a scale by disease renders it impossible to entertain much hope of any sufficiently contagious disease being discovered, but nevertheless Dr. Danysz's suggestion appears to us worth following up, in view of the magnitude of the result in case of success. We do not take it upon ourselves to assent to or dissent from his terms, and there remains a good deal of detail to be filled up by scientific consultation before the Minister can definitely accept Dr. Danysz's offer, but the idea of practically forming a branch of the best bacteriological institute in the world at Sydney to study the problem on the spot strikes us as being on the right lines. It insures the application of the best scientific knowledge under the most favorable conditions, and we hope that Mr. Ashton will be able to arrange for carrying it out on practical lines.

I have made this quotation from a journal which is specifically devoted to the interests of the pastoralists.


Senator Millen - And to the opinions of which the honorable senator does not often attach much importance.

SenatorO'KEEFE. - That is quite beside the question. This paragraph shows that, in the opinion of the writer, who, it may be, is the editor of the Revieiw, there is still some doubt in the minds of Dr. Danysz and the pastoralists of Australia as to the experiment proving effective. That being so, and since we know that other considerations are involved, we should be careful to take steps, as far as we may constitutionally do so, to obviate the dangers which might arise from the making of these experiments. I understand, from the information I have been able to glean, that a number of scientists are opposed to Dr. Danysz's views.


Senator Millen - Can the honorable senator name them ?


Senator O'KEEFE - A - As I proceed I shall do so. The question has aroused much interest, and the Premiers of Victoria and South Australia were at one time opposed, not only to the original suggestion that the experiments should be made in a laboratory in Australia, but also to the carrying out of experiments on Broughton Island. It is stated also that the health officers of some of the States other than New South Wales have entered their protest against them.


Senator Millen - The health, officer of Victoria has not clone so.


Senator O'KEEFE - Is Is it not a fact that the Pasteur Institute, of which Dr. Danysz is a member, accepts no responsibility for his opinion with respect to this matter, and does not identify itself with it? The Institute has allowed Dr. Danysz leave of absence in order that he may prosecute his own private business, but it is not identifying itself scientifically with his opinions upon this subject. In an interview which he recently accorded to representatives of some of the Sydney newspapers, Dr. Danysz said -

Microbes to scientists to-day were like what trees were to a botanist. They had them all classified. It was an ill-founded fear that in introducing disease amongst rabbits it might spread to stock.

Dr. Tidswell,the micro bacteriologist of New South Wales, is of a different opinion. He assumes, I believe, that microbes belong to one family, are not easily, if at all, distinguishable, and may introduce diseases which have different symptoms, although the bacteria are practically identical. It is said, too, that diseases of this sort, passing through various hosts, may alter their form, their virulence, and their very nature, and that, consequently, a disease which in the rabbit may assume a certain form, may in a sheep or a human being assume an entirely different form. Dr. Anderson Stuart, who is, I believe, Professor of Physiology at the Sydney University, and also Dean of the Faculty of Medicine


Senator Millen - Has the honorable senator finished quoting Dr. Tidswell ?


Senator O'KEEFE - I - I have, for the present. Dr. Anderson Stuart, who was formerly President of the New South Wales Board of Health, and is, or was, Chairman of the Prince Alfred Hospital, said, in the course of a recent interview -

This is not a matter for New South Wales to act in alone, for if the experiments should result in a spread of disease, no frontier will exist in which to confine such disease.

As to the possible results of the proposed experiments, Dr. Anderson Stuart says -

They will find no organism that will exterminate the rabbits. All they can hope for is something that will be a superior kind of poison - superior in the sense of being a living organism that will be passed on from individual to individual, till, like every other organism of the sort, it loses its virulence.

It is interesting to note Dr. Anderson Stuart's opinion as to the effect of plague upon rats. In this connexion he says -

What can be more fatal to rats than plague? But plague doe.; not exterminate the rats, neither will any organism exterminate rabbits. And whatever happens on Broughton Island there will still have to be experiments made in the interior of the continent.

Whatever may be the result of the experiments on Broughton Island, trials will have to be made on the Continent. Dr. Anderson Stuart's opinions on this question, therefore, are worth noting, because he knows the Australian climate better than does Dr. Danysz. He says that different climates may have a varying effect on the experiment, and that -

This means that if they succeed in exterminating or greatly reducing the rabbits on

Broughton Island, their methods may fail entirely when applied in the interior of the continent; but, on the other hand, if they fail at Broughton Island, upon the whole, they are more likely to fail in the interior. This is somewhat difficult to express, but putting it in other words, a negative result on the island is more likely to be associated with a negative result in the interior, than a positive result on the island is to be associated with a positive result on the mainland.

I have quoted these opinions to show that there is a hick of unanimity amongst scientists with regard to this important question. I do not- intend to detain the Senate bymaking a long speech, but it seems to me that, since scientists have doubts as to the likelihood of these experiments being successful, we should proceed very cautiously. We are entitled to consider other phases of the question. If we cannot b'e assured that the introduction of the virus or the rabbit microbe will have the desired effect of killing off the rabbits - and I, in common with every one else, acknowledge that they are a parasite on a big industry, and a great curse in many parts of Australia - we certainly ought to pause. While we acknowledge the rabbits to be a curse in some parts of Australia, we have to consider another and very important aspect of the question. The rabbit industry, which is a very large one. is, I admit, what may be called a parasitic industry - it is parasitic in relation to another industry.


Senator Fraser - The rabbit industry is quite legitimate if there is no risk elsewhere.


Senator O'KEEFE - W - We ought not to run the risk of injuring, and probably completely destroying, one industry unless we are satisfied that the experiments will be of good to the other industry. Unless -we are so satisfied, Parliament is justified in the step that has been taken elsewhere, and which I am now asking the Senate to take. The number of people employed in the rabbit industry throughout Australia is van.ously estimated at from 15,000 to 20,000, and it has been stated that the rabbits are being killed off at the rate of 4,000,000 a year. I do not know whether those figures represent facts, and I do not accept any responsibility for the statements. I do know, however, from figures coming from the New South Wales Export Department, that in 7905 the skins exported from that State represented a value of .£93,000, while the frozen rabbits exported represented a value of ,£92,000. I am given to under stand that, in addition, there is a small export trade to South Africa, Western Australia, and even to the East, which is. not recorded in the books of the Export Department, but which is approximatelyvalued at £10,000 per annum. If these figures are correct, the export trade of New South Wales in rabbits and skins was worth £1 95,000 in 1905.


Senator Walker - It is said that for all Australia the trade is now worth ;£i, 000,000.


Senator O'KEEFE - I - I am now dealingwith the only State in regard to which I have been able to obtain figures in the time at my disposal. The local sales of rabbits in New South Wales is estimated at £30,000 per annum.


Senator Millen - Where does the honorable senator get the estimate? Is it his own ? *


Senator O'KEEFE - I - It is not my own; it is an estimate supplied by persons engaged in the rabbit industry.


Senator Millen - Will the honorable senator name his authority ? We are getting such rash statements in the press, and occasionally here, that I would like to know the authorities.


Senator O'KEEFE - I h I have no objection to name my authority, which is the firm of Curtis and Curtis, of Sydney. They admit that their view may be taken to be a. biased one, seeing that they are engaged in the trade; but it is extremely unlikely that such a firm would supply figures that could be. very easily refuted if incorrect. As I say, this firm estimates the internal trade in rabbit carcasses at ,£30,000 per annum, and the value of the skins locally at a similar amount. Thev also inform me that the trade in preserved rabbits- represents about £5,000 per annum. I believe these figures to be given to me in absolute good faith, and I see no .reason why I should not accept them as correct until they are proved to be otherwise. At any rate, the figures I gave in connexion with the New South Wales Export Department cannot very well be doubted. It will be seen that, according to the figures I have given, the total trade in New South Waleslast year is represented bv about ,£250,000. The same firm assures me that during the first half of the present year the New South Wales trade in rabbits, both external' and internal, has increased bv somethingover 100 per cent. That may seem an abnormal increase; but if that be the rate, and it continues over the year, the trade for New South Wales alone may be taken iis worth about .£500,000 a year.


Senator Millen - The total export trade; from all Australia in rabbits and skins was worth £530,000 last year. '


Senator O'KEEFE - T - That generally confirms what I have said. If that were the total for all Australia, then the trade of New South Wales would, last year, approximate to £250,000, and will probably be worth £500.000 this year. There are thousands of poor people, whose children would probably never get a bit of flesh meat more than once a week, if then, but for cheap rabbits.


Senator Millen - - Does the honorable senator know that rabbits are dearer than mutton in Sydney?


Senator O'KEEFE - I - If that be so, Sydney is the only place of which that can be said. In Tasmania rabbits are not more than half the price of other kinds of fresh meat, and in that State I know there are large numbers of people who are unfortunately circumstanced, and who, but for the rabbits, would not be able to obtain flesh food more than once a week.


Senator Fraser - Rabbit is quite as good meat as mutton.


Senator O'KEEFE - Exa Exactly ; I believe the rabbits have, over and over again, been pronounced to be wholesome food, and a considerable factor in the daily life of poorer families in Australia. In addition, an enormous external and internal trade has grown up in rabbits and skins. Still, as I said before, the industry may, from one point of view, be regarded as parasitic. In some portions of Australia, especially on the extensive pastoral runs in the larger States, the carrying capacity of the land has been very much decreased owing to the presence of the rabbits. That, however, is only seen in an aggravated form where the runs are very large; at any rate, it is nothing like so serious where there is closer settlement, with small holdings, and 'where wire netting and phosphorous poisoning have been resorted to. I have heard it said, not by town citizens, but by farmers, who have been interested for many years in the suppression of the rabbits, that wire netting, coupled with closer settlement, really form the best solution of the rabbit question.


Senator Millen - Does the honorable senator propose to apply that solution to portions of New South Wales where there are four or five inches of rainfall ?


Senator Playford - That applies to good: agricultural land, and not to poor or rough country.


Senator O'KEEFE - I - I know that that opinion, which I regard as a very fair one, is held by farmers.


Senator Millen - There is no difficulty in getting rid of rabbits om a 40-acre block, but what about the large areas of poor land ?


Senator O'KEEFE - Fro From the interjections of Senator Millen, I take him to be a supporter of the proposed experiments.


Senator Millen - Certainly.


Senator O'KEEFE - I - I dare say that Senator Millen would really object to any restriction being placed ora the experiments ; at any rate, I gather that he is not quite favorable to the views I am expressing.


Senator Playford - Senator Millen would not like to see introduced the microbe which affects the rats -with bubonic plague.


Senator Millen - Senator O'Keefe, apparently, would like to see that microbe introduced, because the bubonic plague brought about a big industry in New South Wales.


Senator O'KEEFE - The There is no doubt that the rabbit plague, if it is a plague, is prevalent in New South Wales and other parts of Australia; but we must not forget that the presence of rabbits has created a considerable industry, and it is the danger to that industry, along with the other reasons I have presented, which is the justification for the action I ask the Senate to take. We may assume that, immediately a cablegram goes from Australia to those parts of the world where our frozen rabbits are consumed, to the effect that these experiments are being tried outside the laboratory


Senator Millen - Do not prophesy.


Senator O'KEEFE - I - I will prophesy. Immediately a cablegram goes to the effect that experiments are being tried outside the laboratory, whether on am island near the mainland, or on the mainland itself, it will undoubtedly have an effect on the purchase of our frozen rabbits.


Senator Pearce - Pretty much the same effect as the Chicago revelations have had on the meat trade.


Senator O'KEEFE - T - The honorable senator verv aptly says that there may be the same effect as that of the Chicago revelations on the meat trade in Great Britain. The meat trust people in America are crying out bitterly about the enormous decrease in their sales of packed meat. If it is stated in the newspapers, or the impression gets abroad in Great Britain, that Dr. Danysz, or any other scientist, is experimentally inoculating Australian rabbits with the object of killing them off, the trade in rabbits will be seriously damaged. I do not intend to occupy the time of the Senate further. I believe that a. majority of honorable senators are in favour of my motion, as amended in a form which will make us safe for at least a period of twelve months. I should have much preferred to see the motion carried in its original form in another place, and also in this Chamber. But if the motion be carried in its amended form, there will be safety from the danger I suggest for, I should say, a vear, because the Federal Parliament, or if it is not in session, the Federal Government, will have some control over Dr. Danysz and his microbes. The effect of carrying a motion in each House, I take it, will be that the microbes will not be allowed to be taken outside the laboratory, and will, therefore, only be used for laboratory experiments until such time as scientific representatives of the "Federal Government are absolutely satisfied, as well as Dr. Danysz, that there will be no danger of this disease being communicated to other animals. And. after all, that is, I suppose, the most important phase of the question. By that time we may, perhaps, be in possession of further evidence as to the exact value, of the rabbit trade, internal and external, about which Senator Millen says there is a good deal of difference of opinion. We may be in possession of further evidence to suggest how far the existence of a large number of rabbits is an injury to the squatting industry. What [ am complaining about is that this proposal, which emanated from a few people in New South Wales, was put before the people, of Australia very suddenly.


Senator Millen - Why, the honorable senator quoted from the Pastoralists1Review a statement that it was discussed fifteen months ago.


Senator O'KEEFE - The The honorable senator is only splitting straws. The knowledge of what was intended to be done did not come to the general public of Australia through the medium of the press until very recently, although, according to trie Pastoralists' Review, a little circle of pastoralists opened up correspondence with

Dr. Danyszmore than twelve months ago, an;1 asked him to come here to conduct experiments. It is a very good thing indeed that the Federal Government did step in and impound the microbes. I believe that this action was taken against the wish of the Government of New South Wales. I understand that the latter intended that the experiments should be made outside the laboratory without any further ado.


Senator Millen - The honorable senator is giving the lie direct to the statement of the Premier of New South Wales.


Senator O'KEEFE - I d I do not know what statement Mr. Carruthers has made in that connexion, but is it not a fact that it was intended to try to restrain the Premier and Parliament of -New South Wales by injunction?


Senator Millen - An effort was made to do exactly what the honorable senator is trying to do here.


Senator O'KEEFE - At At all events, the correspondence discloses the fact that the Premier of New South Wales has been in favour of making these experiments outside a laboratory and on an island.


Senator Millen - Not a single word can the honorable senator produce to justify the statement that anything would be done outside until inside work had proved the safety of the thing.


Senator O'KEEFE - U - Until who had proved the safety of the thing inside - Dr. Danysz ?


Senator Millen - No, Dr. Tidswell, and any other competent man whom the Governments of the other States might like to send along.


Senator O'KEEFE - I - I think it is well that the Federal Government have assumed control. I presume that there will be scientific men appointed to watch the experiments, who will be satisfactory to the Federal Parliament, and, therefore, to the other States, as well as Dr. Danysz and the gentleman who will be nominated by the Premier of New South Wales. Senator Millen knows that the action taken in each House of this Parliament has not been too favorably received bv at least some of those who were instrumental in opening negotiations with Dr. Danysz.


Senator Millen - How could they be?


Senator O'KEEFE - The They are quite at liberty to view that action in any way they like. My point is that it is a case of safeguarding the interests of the majority of the people of Australia as against the interests of a few persons. While I regret that the addition has been made to the motion, I hope .that in the amended form it will be acceptable even to Senator Millen, who seems not to be too favorably disposed towards it.







Suggest corrections