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Friday, 22 June 1906

Senator TURLEY (Queensland) - I do not know that the motion means so much, now that it has been amended, as it meant before. I could understand the arguments that are used by some honorable senators if they referred to land held in very small areas in places where an industry has been created by therabbits as a commercial commodity. But, from the point of view of other States interested, the rabbit pest is a very large and important question. We are told that there are a number of men employed in the rabbit industry in New South Wales and Victoria, but in Queensland there is no industry in this connexion except that which is carried on by men altogether employed in the destruction of rabbits as a pest. No question of food supply arises in Queensland ; while millions of rabbits are destroyed in that State, not one goes into consumption as food or as a means of supplying skins or fur.

Senator McGregor - No wonder the people are poor in Queensland !

Senator TURLEY - I do not know that they are quite as poor as are the people in the State which Senator McGregor represents. At any rate, at one time Queens land had the greatest debt per head in Australia, but that honour, I think, is now enjoyed by South Australia, which is to that extent poorer than any other State of the Union. The rabbit pest has come to Queensland, not from the coast, but from South Australia and New South Wales. Possibly the country over which the rabbits previously ran was so bad that they, like other animals, migrated to where they could obtain the best food supply. Anything that can be done to relieve our big primary industries from this plague would do a great deal of good to Australia as a whole, putting aside those employedin catching and preparing rabbits for export or consumption within the Commonwealth. Up to the present time Queensland has expended a very large amount in its efforts to cope with this pest. I have figures supplied in the annual report of the Queensland Department of Public Lands for 1904; and it appears that the estimated length of all rabbit-proof fences at the end of that year was: - Government border fences, 732 miles; Board fences, 5,250 miles; pastoral lessees' fences, estimated, 7,825 miles; grazing selectors' fences, estimated, 1,655 miles - a total of 15,462 miles. All this fencing has been erected with the object of coping with the pest, and, in addition, the keeping of the fencing in order has involved considerable expenditure. During the last few months there have been floodsin that part of the country, and, in order to repair the breakaways, a number of men, in addition to the ordinary boundary riders employed by the Rabbit Boards, and others, have had to be engaged. These breakaways are a source of considerable danger, because they may leave it open to the rabbits to invade country which may be regarded as to some extent clean. According to the same report, the total cost of the measures taken against the rabbit pest in Queensland is, approximately, as follows: - Cost of border fences, £199,424 ; loans to Boards, £49,884 ; netting supplied to Boards, £165,346 ; assessments on run -holders, £427,250; interest paid by run-holders - on netting tothe value of £98,916 3s. 4d., supplied by the Government - and paid over to the Board, £28,631 ; Central Board expenditure, £90,536 ; cost of private fences over and above the cost of ordinary fences, estimated, £335,000 - a total of £1,296,071.

Senator Millen - And that expenditure is still being added to.

Senator TURLEY - That is so, and? not a penny-piece has been realized in Queensland from rabbits as a commercial commodity. This question was raised last year, and it was pointed out that in such country as that to which I refer,where land is held in very large areas, it is almost useless to attempt to cope with the pest until their is sub-division. It may be comparatively easy to deal with the pest in settled districts, where 5,000 acres is considered a large holding; but in southern Queensland, where one run may comprise 2,500 or 3,000 miles of country, considerable expenditure must be undertaken. We have experienced great difficulty in Queensland, and the cry of the damage caused by rabbits has frequently been raised by some persons with a view of getting their land from the Crown at a reduced rental. As the result of the drought, and the invasion of the State by rabbits, the rental value of land in Queensland has been reduced, and the revenue has suffered by the re-appraisement of land so visited. The havoc wrought by the rabbit pest, as well as by seasons of drought, has caused an area more than half the size of Victoria to be thrown up. I think it is reasonable to provide1 that, as long as the introduction of these microbes might prove inimical to human and other animal life in Australia, we should keep a firm hand on the. experiments ; but I am glad that the motion has been amended by Senator O'Keefe. As it stands, it will enable steps to be taken to rid Australia of the rabbit pest, in She event of the experiments proving satisfactory, and I do not think any one who is familiar with the back country of the Commonwealth, would hesitate to say that every rabbit here should be destroyed,

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