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Thursday, 14 June 1906
Page: 234

Mr HENRY WILLIS (Robertson) . - The motion appears to me to have been moved with a view to preventing the proposed experiments of Dr. Danysz, because it is feared that the experiments may be successful, and the rabbit industry destroyed. We are asked to affirm that the introduction of microbes for the destruction of rabbits may prove inimical to human and other animal life, and, therefore, should not be permitted, except for laboratory experiments ; but if we are not to go beyond such experiments, we shall gain nothing. The pastoralists who have subscribed to the fund for bringing out Dr. Danysz have acted in good faith, and any opposition tq the proposal should have been raised before he was invited to come out. He received his fee before he left France, and is now on the scene, having brought the microbe culture with him, ready to make his experiments ; but pressure has been brought to bear on the Minister of Trade and Customs, with a view to throwing obstacles in the way of these experiments. There is, however, in force in New South Wales an Act under which the authorities can take, and have taken, every precaution to prevent the reckless handling of microbes. Dr. Danysz is an eminent scientist, of wide experience, whose discoveries have effected the destruction of rodents within a hundred square miles of Marseilles, and who has written a very exhaustive report upon his work.

Mr Frazer - He ought to be given the Sydnev plague rats to experiment with.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The honorable member evidently does not take the matter seriously. It has been reported that there are 10,000 men engaged in the rabbit industry, but they are almost entirely men who have been thrown out of employment in the pastoral and agricultural industries, in consequence of the prevalence of the rabbit pest, and are making only a precarious living, many of them earning less than £1 per week.

Mr Frazer - Any number of pastoralists do not pay their men £1 per week.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Applications for permission to enter holdings in which I have an interest are made to me almost daily, for the purpose of trapping rabbits, and in most cases those concerned tell me that they earn less than £1 a week in that occupation. The pastoralists are, of course, taking every step which they think likely to be effective to keep down these rodents ; but even when they are able to reduce the numbers on their own holdings, there are so many bred on the adjacent waste lands of the Crown, that, even when wire netting is employed to keep them out, they burrow underneath. The rabbits must be eradicated, and ultimately the work must be taken up by the Government. Money has been provided by private subscription for carrying on the experiments, and it now remains for Dr. Danysz to produce a culture that will have the desired effect. He has brought out certain cultures, and if they fail he will endeavour to develop one that will answer the purpose. There is no difficulty in carrying on work of this kind, which, is an every-day matter in the laboratories of the Pasteur Institute, and even in those of the Agricultural Departments of New South Wales and Victoria. Dr. Danysz is an expert, and thoroughly knows his business. Should he fail to produce an effective culture he will not venture to disseminate a dangerous disease. So far, many impediments have been thrown in his way, and the Government are not to be complimented upon having yielded to the pressure of the Labour Party in. this matter.

Mr Ronald - Would the honorable member like to see a. culture produced that would destroy the Labour Party?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The Labour Party are all right, but they are acting unfairly in bringing undue pressure to bear upon a Government that is dependent upon them for its political existence. I think it is undesirable that undue restrictions should be imposed upon Dr. Danysz. If Broughton Island should not prove suitable. Lord Howe Island, or some other similar location might be chosen. There is no reason why a large area should not be enclosed with wire netting to afford the experimentalists the fullest scope. Some time ago experiments were carried on upon Rodd Island in Sydney Harbor, and areas similar in extent on the mainland could be used in various parts of New South Wales. If Dr. Danysz's experiment prove success ful the work of spreading the disease will have to be performed quickly, because otherwise the rabbits may become immune. Dr. Danysz does not think it possible toabsolutely exterminate the rabbits, although he thinks that all but a very small percentage can be killed. If it be possible for the rabbits to become immune, any other r animal that might by chance be infected would also become immune. I do not think that we need be afraid of any special risk to human life in connexion with the dissemination of disease among the rabbits, because the experiments are to be carried on under the supervision of Professor Anderson Stuart and Dr. Tidswell. It appeared to me that the honorable and learned member for West Sydney did not devote sufficient attention to one aspect of the question. He told1 us that from fifteen to twenty thousand men found employment in the rabbit industry, and that the rodents were being destroyed at the rate of four millions or five millions weekly. No doubt the industry is of paramount importance to those who have embarked their capital in rabbit-freezing works, but some consideration must be paid to the pastoral industry, in which millions of money have been lost, and in which tens of millions more will be expended in vain unless the pest is got rid of. The rabbits are now spreading in all directions. They have already reached the more settled areas, including the wheat-growing areas- round about .Dubbo, Narromine, Trangie, and Wellington, and are becoming, such a pest that the livelihood of thousands of men is being jeopardized. Yet the Labour Party raise a plea on behalf of men who are now engaged in trapping. They represent that these men were previously unemployed, and that, but for the rabbit industry, they would be starving. I decline, however, to believe that the rabbit trappers are entirely drawn from the city unemployed. I know of scores of men who have been deprived of their living, owing to the ravages of the rabbits, and who have taken to trapping as the only means by which they can earn a crust, until the pest is effectively dealt with. It must be remembered that a large area of New South Wales is held under lease, or conditional purchase, and that the lessees or conditional purchasers are not able to keep up their payments to the Government, owing, to their properties having been overrun by rabbits. If the pest were effectively dealt with, the smaller settlers would be especially benefited, and it behoves us to give t:very encouragement to those who are now endeavouring to cope with the evil. When the experiments have been concluded, the Government should take, action without waiting for the approval of Parliament. They should not shirk responsibility, as the Minister for Trade and Customs seems 'n,clined to do. They should not appeal to Parliament for a decision.

Air. Frazer.- - I think that they are taking up a very proper position.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - If the honorable member desires to retain responsible government, he will look to the Ministry to administer the Acts which have become embodied in the statute-book, without waiting for parliamentary approval.

Mr Frazer - A truly responsible Government should carry out the wish of Parliament.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - A Government which awaits a decision of Parliament before discharging its administrative functions, is no more to be commended than one which appoints Commissions to report upon questions upon which it has not the courage to declare its policy. Some reference has been made to the necessity of cutting up large estates, arranging for their closer settlement, and' having all the holdings enclosed with wire netting. Honorable members who indicate this as a means of coping with the rabbit pest cannot know anything of the great expense involved in erecting wire netting. Thousands of small settlers would have to throw up their holdings if they were called upon to enclose them with wire netting. The netting itself is very expensive ; the work of erection is costly, and a boundary rider has to be employed to keep the fences under close inspection.

Mr. TFRASER We are in favour of holdings around which a man could walk.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - For such holdings, so much more wire netting would be required. The only chance we have of using wire netting effectively against the rabbits is bv enclosing large areas. A ring fence round too square miles would cost much less than the fencing required to enclose 100 areas of one square mile each.

Mr Frazer - The honorable member would prefer to see one squatter settled upon land that should support a thousand families.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The honorable member does not understand that a large. proportion of the country in the Western District of New South Wales is suitable only for grazing purposes. It is absurd to talk about agriculture in the far western districts.

Mr Frazer - I was born in those parts.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Then the honorable member must have been a shepherd, because the agricultural holdings there are insignificant. They are confined to a few favoured tracts along the river flats or along the railway line, in the direction of Trangie and Narromine. The honorable member for Darling referred to Cobar, but from that district we get, not wheat, but copper, silver., and gold.

Mr Frazer - Would the honorable member endanger the lives of the whole of the people in Australia for the sake of a few squatters at Cobar?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The squatters and agriculturists are the life-blood of Australia. They have spent millions of money in developing our natural resources. They have leased' land where they could, but have in many cases been compelled to buy it from selectors. Scores of men have gone into the pastoral districts, and have taken up land with a view to blackmailing the squatter. Under the land laws of New South Wales, a man could take up a holding under conditional purchase, and before any fences were erected by him, could impound any stock which strayed on to his property. Many selectors have taken advantage of the law to such an extent that they have compelled the squatters, in order to get rid of them, to buy out their holdings at fictitious prices.

Mr Wilkinson - Many of the squatters have been made rich by dummying the land through selectors.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The squatter did not want to buy the land', but he was often, compelled to do so. Where a squatter could get a square mile of country for ?3 per annum, he would not elect to pay ?t or ?2 per acre by way of purchase money, and submit to an interest charge of 4 per cent. There are many bond fide small settlers in the eastern and central districts who could not afford to wire-net their holdings.

Mr Hughes - What does the honorable member call a small 'holding?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - These men may take up forty acres if they choose to do so, or they may occupy a square mile of country. The honorable and learned member for West Sydney was in the New South Wales Parliament when the Act was amended from time to time, and he is very well acquainted with its provisions. Although many respectable men are engaged in rabbiting, there are others whom it is undesirable to have on a run, and I have seen the carcass of a sheep, from which a leg has been torn, left on the ground to rot. As a class, rabbiters makes a precarious living at the best. Upon an average, I venture to say that thev earn less than £1 per week, notwithstanding the estimate of the honorable and learned member for West Sydnev that they make double that amount. t wish to protest against the Government shirking the responsibility of administering the Act which is in operation to-day. They have an expert to assist them, in the person of Dr. Tidswell. Let them abide by his advice if it is reliable, and if it is not, let them a.ct upon their own initiative. But by all means, let us know that we have responsible government. Even if the experiments to be conducted bv Dr. Danysz are successful, the author of this motion will still wish to prevent the extermination of the rabbits, because he claims that that would be tantamount to the stamping out of an industry. I say that it is most unfair for the Labour Party to endeavour to prevent the eradication of this pest, which is so destructive in New South Wales. In that State tens of thousands of pounds have already been lost as the result of the ravages of rabbits, and hundreds of people have been ruined bv them. I know of persons who have forsaken their former holdings along the railway line between Sydney and Melbourne, and who have gone to the Darling Downs to make another start, because of the havoc worked by the rabbits.

Mr McDonald - There are millions of rabbits on the Darling Downs.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Doubtless, there will be in the near future. The rabbit likes good land and sweet grass, and he will, find both upon the Darling Downs. I regret that the Labour Party should be found throwing obstacles in the way of the conduct of successful experiments for the extermination of the rabbits. Thev are endeavouring to bring pressure to bear' upon a weak-kneed Government, instead" of giving the experiments a fair trial.

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