Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 15 June 1906

Mr WILSON (Corangamite) .- A great many matters have been discussed, but many others still remain to be discussed in dealing with this question. There is no doubt that the subject is one of grave importance to the Commonwealth, and its consideration should be approached with very great seriousness. One of the principal dangers confronting Australia at the present time is the spread of the rabbit pest.

Mr Watson - We are able to say that it can be kept under in the settled districts in New South Wales, but further wrest there is no doubt that the pest is spreading. of bacteriology. The Royal Commission to which I have referred came to the following conclusions: -

That responsibility for the destruction of rabbits,, whether on freehold or leasehold land, must rest on the landholder. That with respect *o unoccupied Crown lands the State must accept similar responsibility.

This introduces a matter of very great importance, and that is the neglect on the part of the States to deal with the spread of rabbits on Crown lands. Most of the land retained by the Crown in the various States is inferior in quality. It is let occasional lv at a very low rental, and the lessees gain so very little in return from the grazing of it that they cannot afford to go to any great expense in the extermination of rabbits. In many cases when landholders have cleared their lands from rabbits they have been almost immediately reinfested from the neighbouring Crown lands. There is. therefore, a duty resting upon the States Governments to deal with the rabbit pest on the areas in their possession, and they should, at least, see that those areas are netted off from the lands occupied by selectors and the smaller land-holders whose properties adjoin them.

M.r. Webster. - What would that cost?

Mr WILSON - The honorable member has ,put a very pertinent question, because there can be no doubt that the cost of dealing with rabbits on Crown lands in the various States would be very great. Still, every one must admit that grave responsibility rests upon the States Governments in this matter. The Royal Commission came to the following conclusions : -

That the rabbit pest has made the continuance of the system of annual leases of Crown lands impossible.

That no finality in rabbit destruction will be obtained without making the erection of rabbitproof fences compulsory.

The representatives of South Australia on the Commission pointed out that the compulsory erection of rabbit-proof netting would be sufficient almost to secure the extermination of the leaseholders of Crown land in South Australia. I think that all honorable members are agreed that wire netting in small areas is a most effective means of dealing with the pest. The Commission further says -

That there are very large areas of land so poor that the erection of rabbit-proof fences around individual holdings might cause financial failure. That the Department administering the Rabbit Destruction Acts should be empowered to permit the fencing of such poor holdings in groups. That in dealing with land of very poor carrying capacity, the State should show special consideration to the lessees in respect of tenure.

Mr Webster - That was done in New South Wales.

Mr WILSON - I am aware that the New South Wales Government gave effect to that recommendation. The Commission report further -

That in all infested country, but especially in such poor districts, simultaneous operations for the destruction of rabbits should be made compulsory.

That netting fences 3 feet high, with a mesh of i§ inches forms a practically efficient barrier against the incursion of rabbits.

I must say that practical experience has shown me that netting of this description is not altogether effective. I have spent a very great deal of money in the destruction of rabbits on a place I have, and when I started the erection of wire netting I used netting of if inch mesh, but I have found that it is not sufficient for the purpose. The mesh should not be larger than inch.

Mr Webster - Or inch.

Mr WILSON - That would be still more effective, because it would be impossible for a rabbit to get through a mesh of that size, but I have found that a. mesh of 1 1/2 inches is very effective if the wire netting is good. I have noticed that recently there has been some talk of the Governments of Victoria and of New South Wales adopting some means whereby landowners would be able to obtain wire netting under more advantageous conditions than it can be obtained! at the present time. There is a wire-netting factory established in New South Wales, and such a factory was established for a time in Victoria. I should like to see the industry encouraged so that Ave might manufacture our own wire netting in these States.

Mr Webster - And be saved from the operations of the ring.

Mr WILSON - There is no doubt that so.xe manipulation of the wire-netting rings in other parts of the world have made it impossible for us to obtain wire netting at a reasonable price. That, if possible, should be prevented, because the use of wire netting is one of the most efficient methods of dealing with the rabbit pest. I should like to direct the special attention of honorable members to this statement made bv the Royal Commission to which I have referred -

That the system of compulsory trapping with professional trappers and State bonuses is radically bad.

Later on, in their report, the Commission refer to the subject of compulsory trapping, and they say -

Rabbiting parties settle down in thicklyinfested country, and speedily kill multitudes of rabbits ; as soon as the numbers are greatly thinned, a longer stay is unremunerative. No attempt at extermination is made.

That is the point at which rabbit trapping fails.

The party moves on to another place favorable for its operation, leaving the remaining rabbits to multiply ready for its next visit. Large sums are paid to such parties fer capita. The station hands are demoralized. The State Treasury is depleted of hundreds of thousands of pounds, and with what result? The rabbits are as numerous as ever ; the operations of the trappers simply drive them more and more widely over the country.

It is well known to those who have any experience in the matter that rabbits frightened by the squeals of those that are trapped move on in front of the trapper, and in this way they are spread over the country. The Commission further say -

No good whatever is done' except to the rabbiters themselves, who fatten on a pernicious system. The Commission expresses its satisfaction that the Rabbit Department of New South Wales has resolutely turned its back upon this wasteful policy, .lt must not be inferred that the Commission objects to traps and trapping parties fer se. Trapping is without "doubt a useful method, but should be carried out by station hands, and with a view to the extermination of rabbits, not to profitable employment.

That is a point on which I should like to lay great stress. The members of the Commission went very carefully into a consideration of the various diseases suggested for the destruction of rabbits, including the disease known as sarcoptes cuniculi, or rabbit scab, which was supposed to be wonderfully efficacious in the destruction of rabbits in South Australia; the bladder.worm disease used in New Zealand, and the so-called Tintinallogy disease, which was known in New South Wales. All these were investigated, but perhaps the most important experiment was that made with chicken cholera by one of Pasteur's assistants, who visited New South Wales at the time for the purpose.

Mr Bamford - Where did the Commission sit?

Mr WILSON - The Commission sat in Sydney.

Mr Bamford - Was it a New South Wales Commission ?

Mr WILSON - It was appointed by the New South Wales Government, but perhaps it would be as well if I mentioned the eminent men who comprised the Commission. The members of the Commission were - Henry Normand MacLaurin, Esq., M.D., William Camac Wilkinson, Esq., M.D., M.P., and Edward Quinn, Esq., representing New South Wales; Harry Brookes Allen, Esq., M.D.. Edward Harewood Lascelles, Esq., and Alfred Navlor Pearson, Esq., F.R., Met. Soc, F.C.S.,A.I.C, representing Victoria; Alfred Dillon Bell, Esq., representing New Zealand; Edward Charles Stirling, Esq., M.D., and Alexander Stuart Patterson, Esq., M.D.. representing South Australia; Joseph Bancroft, Esq., M.D., representing Queensland; and Thos. Alfred Tabart, Esq., representing Tasmania. It was thought advisable also to appoint as a member of the Commission Henry Tryon, Esq., of Brisbane-. The Commission divided itself into special scientific Committees, by whom the whole of the questions involved in its investigation were thoroughly threshed our, an experimenting station being established at Rodd Island, in Sydney Harbor, where special steps were taken to prevent chicken cholera, or other infectious disease, spreading through the land, to the injury of human beings or domestic animals. The Commissioners were unable to find any evidence to warrant the belief that any known disease could be so employed as to exterminate rabbits. Thev said that Probably many diseases would be found useful auxiliaries in reducing the rabbit plague to manageable proportions, and recommended that1 further inquiry by competent observers into epidemic and parasitic diseases of rabbits should be encouraged, though, in their opinion, even when much fuller information is obtained, it will still be necessary to continue the methods now adopted for reducing the pest, subject to such improvements as may, from time to time, be discovered. It is well known that the Pasteur Institute did the greater part of the experimenting on that occasion, in its desire to secure the reward of £25,000 offered bv the Government of New South Wales, by proclamation, on the 31st August, T887, to any person or persons who should make known and demonstrate- at his or their expense any method or process not previously known in the Colony, for the effectual extermination of rabbits ; of course, subject to conditions. The Pasteur Institute failed to secure the reward, and no remedy has since been found, the experiments now proposed being supported by private enterprise. Some eighteen months or two years ago, when the matter was first mooted, I was asked to express my opinion on the proposal, and I was then, as I am now, somewhat sceptical as to the possibility of an epidemic disease being discovered which would completely exterminate rabbits. I feel, however, that whatever disease is experimented with, must be handled with the greatest care. As other honorable members have said, it is the paramount duty of the Government and of Parliament to consider, first of all, the health of the people, and especially of the poorer classes. Persons of means are always able to obtain medical advice, and to study their health when purchasing food stuffs;, but poor people are often unable to get the best advice, and do not know what are. or cannot purchase, wholesome foods. Therefore, the State must assist them bv requiring that all food products sold shall be wholesome and fir for human consumption.

Mr Fowler - This is rank Socialism.

Mr WILSON - It is not Socialism. I did not expect such an interjection from the honorable member, because I regarded him as so full v informed of the aims and desires of Socialists, as to be capable of recognising the difference between Socialism per se and State aid and control.

Mr Watson - Is it not all socialistic?

Mr WILSON - No. Socialism is State ownership; what I propose is State control. Many honorable members who call themselves Socialists are not true Socialists, but are putting forward a. Socialism of their own.

Suggest corrections