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Friday, 15 June 1906

Mr KELLY - My information is partly derived from a gentleman for whom the honorable member for Gwydir entertains a very great regard. Within the past couple of years a new condition has arisen in the western district of New South Wales. There the binding of the soil has been absolutely destroyed, and the rabbits are preventing the grass from growing again. The soil in the western division of New South Wales practically moves about in dry seasons, so that in a very short period the wire-netting of a fence is completely buried.

Mr Lee - The honorable member for Darling made the same statement last night.

Mr KELLY - So far as these unsettled portions of Australia are concerned, wirenetting is absolutely ineffective as a means of preventing the spread of rabbits. Consequently, we must introduce as many methods of dealing with the pest as we possibly can. The fact seems to have been entirely overlooked bv honorable members opposite that the New South Wales authorities are taking extreme care to thoroughly test the method proposed to be adopted by Dr. Danysz before allowing the microbes to be generally used. The Minister of Lands in New South Wales, Mr. Ashton, who never speaks without weighing his words, is reported in the Daily Telegraph of 4th June last, to have said -

One of the conditions of the experiment was that it should be under the strictest supervision of lending Australian scientists, in the interests of public health, and both the Federal Government and the various States had been asked to nominate experts to co-operate with the Government bacteriologist, Dr. Tidswell, who was our first authority on such matters, in order to insure, beyond the possibility of doubt, that there would be no risk whatever to the public health. Dr. Tidswell left Sydney to-day to confer with Dr. Danysz and th: Federal Government as to the character of experiments. Dr. Danysz, in a letter to the Government eighteen months ago, said it was a question whether any microbe would be satisfactory for the purpose of freeing the country from the rabbit pest.

The question as to whether it would be prejudicial to public health, or innocuous to other forms of animal life in Australia, is dependent to some extent upon local climatic conditions, but that the Government or any Minister in his senses ever dreamt of allowing experiments in such a. serious matter to be conducted outside the four walls of the laboratory was absolutely preposterous. Dr. Tidswell had said that under no circumstances could the health authorities allow the disease to be transferred outside the laboratory, until it had been irrefutably demonstrated in the laboratory that the microbe was innocuous to human and other forms of life. The Government was not composed of absolute lunatics, to take any risk in such a serious matter, and 1 think a lot of the emotional agitation that has been exhibited in certain quarters is due entirely to a misapprehension as to the intentions of the Government. In 1888 similar experiments were made, and as a result25,000 was offered by the Government for the discovery of a microbe that would destroy rabbits. There was no particular uproar then as now, although in the first case the trial was made on Kodd Island, within Sydney Harbor, amid thick population, instead of on solitary Broughton Island. If no alarm was felt then about the prejudicial effect to the public health by microbe culture, why this uproar now? Wild statements had been made at a public meeting at Gundagai, that the Government had made a grave error in not consulting theBoard of Health. Why, it was a condition precedent to the engagement of Dr. Danysz that any experiments with a rabbit microbe must be under the supervision of the best bacteriologist in the State, and there never was the remotest intention even then of allowing any microbe loose unless clearly proved to be innocuous to other forms of animal life. There is also the Noxious Microbes Act, which provides that where the Minister is satisfied by inquiry or experiment that a microbe would be destructive to any particular pest, he may issue a licence, after notification in the Gasette, which must lie for 30 days before both Houses of Parliament for ratification.In the event of objection being raised in Parliament, permission to introduce the disease could not be given. This apprehension about the Government's attitude in the Danysz matter was entirely premature, as shown by the fact that Parliament must give consent before a microbe can be introduced. Parliament can be I rusted to do the right thing, and see the public health completely safeguarded.

That is the opinion of a responsible Minister in New South, Wales, and I. think that the Parliament of that State is quiteas capable of looking after the health of its people as is the Commonwealth Parliament.

Mr Brown - But this Parliamenth as to consider the health, of the Commonwealth as a whole, and not merely that of a Stale.

Mr KELLY - That statement is absolutely correct, and the New South Wales Government is acting from that point of view. But why is it necessary for us to discuss a motion of this character?

Mr Wilson - If we once relinquish the power that is vested in us we cannot regain it.

Mr KELLY - Some honorable members appear to regard the State of New South Wales in the same light as they would regard a criminal. That is not the function of the Commonwealth Parliament. It is because of the interference of the Commonwealth in all sorts of matters which do not concern it, that the Federal authority is so unpopular throughout Australia to-day. Instead of co-operating with the State of New South Wales, this House is taking steps which savour of a gratuitous insult to its responsible officers. Mr. Ashton further said -

They could rely upon the Government taking no risk likely to endanger public health, also that in reading the State Act he thought that Dr. Danysz's experiment could not be carried out except in an enclosed area.

I should like to remind the honorable member for Canobolas that the Minister of Trade and Customs has already stated that his action was intended to insure that the proposed experiments in the first place shall be confined within the walls of a laboratory. But we are told, upon the authority of the Minister of Lands in New SouthWales, that the experiments will be conducted within a laboratory, and the Minister himself has been asked to co-operate with the State in supervising those experiments. Where, then, is the necessity for all this parade and fuss? The fact is that the employment of a large number of persons who are engaged in rabbit trapping is threatened, should this microbe prove destructive to the pest. My honorable friends in the Labour corner, who are always alive to political opportunities, wish to pose as protectors of this class.

Mr Webster - As protestors of the public health.

Mr KELLY - I have just read voluminous quotations from Mr. Ashton to show-

Mr Webster - We have our responsibility as well as has Mr. Ashton.

Mr KELLY - What concerns the honorable member for Gwydir more than does the public health of the State is the votes of the rabbit catchers.

Mr Webster - I do not think that they have any votes.

Mr KELLY - They will have votes before the next election.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - There are no rabbits in my electorate.

Mr KELLY - There are none in my own, but there are some Socialists. I

Mr Webster - How is the effectiveness of the microbe brought to Australia by Dr. Danysz to be demonstrated in practice ?

Mr KELLY - The honorable member probably knows that all sorts of animal life has been placed upon Broughton Island, where the proposed experiments are to be conducted.

Mr Webster - The climatic conditions which prevail at Broughton Island are not anything like those which obtain in the interior of New South Wales, where the rabbits are to be found.

Mr KELLY - I think that we may safely trust the intelligence of the scientific gentlemen who have been deputed to deal with this matter. We all bow to the knowledge of the bush possessed by the honorable member, but he ought to bow to the superior knowledge of scientific experts.

Mr Watson - But scientists, like doctors, often differ.

Mr KELLY - All that the Minister of Lands in New South Wales asks the Commonwealth to do is to co-operate with the State Government in insuring that the proposed experiments are properly safeguarded. I desire to see every possible precaution taken for; the conduct of these experiments.

Mr Watson - That is all that is necessary.

Mr KELLY - Exactly. If this motion be altered to meet that position-

Mr Watson - The mover has agreed to an amendment in that direction.

Mr KELLY - Then I think that the proposal should pass unopposed.

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