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Friday, 15 June 1906

Mr SPEAKER - The question is the proposed introduction of certain microbes to destroy rabbits, and, therefore. I cannot now allow a. discussion of the meaning of Socialism.

Mr WILSON - I apologise for having been drawn aside by the interjection of the honorable member for Perth, to which I should not have paid attention had it not been that I could not, for the sake of mv personal comfort, allow to pass unnoticed the suggestion that I am a Socialist, because I feel that it would be a political degradation for me to class myself with the Socialists.

Mr Brown - In this matter, at any rate, the honorable member is a good Labour Socialist.

Mr WILSON - I am trying to deal with the question in accordance with the dictates of common sense. I wish to see the people of Australia safe-guarded, and I hope that the recommendations of the Commission to which I have referred will not be lost upon us. The Government should take every precaution to see that all experiments with germs are carefully watched, and that no disease is spread through the community until its nature has been fully demonstrated in the laboratory to experts appointed by the Commonwealth Government, or by that Government acting with the Governments of New South Wales and the other States. Because this is not a question affecting the State of New South Wales only. It affects the whole of Australia. Only imaginary lines divide New South Wales from the other States, and of them the rabbit takes no notice.

Mr Fowler - I wish there had been rabbits in the country when I was out in the West.

Mr WILSON - It will not be a good thing, for Western Australia, a few years hence, if the rabbit establishes itself there, because, wherever the rabbit gets a hold, the primary industries of the country are ruined.

Mr Maloney - Rabbits make a pretty good food.

Mr WILSON - An excellent food : but, if they were got rid of, mutton and beef would become much cheaper. Unfortunately, not only is the flesh pf the rabbit an excellent food, but every other portion of it is of value. As the honorable member for Darling pointed out yesterday, a preparation similar to bovril is made. from its flesh; while the fur makes excellent hats, and the pelt can be turned into gelatine. Unfortunately, however, the rabbits have so multiplied as to become a fearful pest. The Commission to which I have referred says that suggestions for the destruction of rabbits by disease were received from 115 correspondents. Of these suggestions, 26 caine from New South Wales, 8 from Victoria, 3 from South Australia, 3 from Queensland, 6 from New Zealand, 2 from Tasmania, 1 from Fiji, 15 from England, 4 from Scotland. 1 from Ireland, 12 from France, 3 from Belgium, 2 from Germany, 2 from Switzerland, 2 from Spain, 1 from Italy, 1 from Austria, 1 from Roumania, 17 from the United States, 1 from Canada, 1 from India, 1 from Netherlands India, and 2 from South Africa, showing how world-wide is the interest in this subject.

Mr Bamford - Is the reward still being offered ?

Mr WILSON - No. The money which is being expended in connexion with Dr. Danysz's visit is being provided by the Pastoralists' Association of New South Wales. The nature of this microbe is not exactly known. As the Minister of Trade and Customs pointed out, it is described as a pasteurella, a class of bacteria which' have only been differentiated within the last few years. There are different forms of the microbe, and the particular form which Dr. Danysz maintains that he has isolated, and which he claims will prove effective in, the destruction of rabbits, is one which does not affect other rodents. Dr. Danysz in his original letter, which I have read, shows that he i.s fully alive to the difficulties of the task before him, and the danger attached to the dissemination of disease.

Mr Fowler - Would he not be naturally prejudiced in favour of his own proposal ?

Mr WILSON - Probably he would, and that is why I say that we should take every precaution to safeguard human life and domestic animals.

Mr Kelly - In other words, the honorable member agrees with me ?

Mr WILSON - No, I do not agree with the honorable member at all points. I am in agreement to some extent with honorable members on the other side, but I may say at once that I do not approve of the suggestion of the honorable member for Gwydir that the true remedy is to be arrived at bv means of the imposition of a confiscatory land tax. That is one of the most outrageous proposals I have ever heard of. If we could administer to the rabbits a little dose of progressive land tax they would probably die of very shame. I would prefer to see Dr. Danysz's microbes let loose upon this Continent rather than that .1 confiscatory land tax should be imposed. Such a. measure would prove harmful to all the producing interests of Australia. In the first place, the experiments should be conducted in a laboratory under -the control of such men, as Dr. Tidswell and Dr. Cherry, and perhaps other experts appointed bv the other States Governments.

That course was adopted in connexion with the previous Commission. Only a few weeks would be required to determine whether any danger of contagion with domestic animals or human beings was to be apprehended. The laboratory tests woul'd be complete. For instance, rabbits would be infected with the disease, and would be put in cages with other animals, and perhaps some birds, to ascertain whether there was any danger of the spread of the disease to other animals.

Mr Spence - Could we not put a pastoralist into the cage?

Mr WILSON - Perhaps we might do that, and also select a member of the Australian Workers' Union for a similar purpose. I should like to point out to the honorable member for Darling that the men whose interests he so strongly advocates are suffering to perhaps a greater extent than any others owing to the ravages of the rabbits.

Mr Spence - They are making a good living by trapping them.

Mr WILSON - I cannot understand why the honorable member should say that. He must know very well that if we had no rabbit pest we should be able to graze a considerably larger number of sheep, and thus afford much more employment for shearers and others. I shall endeavour pre.sently to show the difference between the value of the products of the rabbit industry and the extent to which we are prevented from increasing other products owing to the ravages of the rabbits. As I have pointed out, the experiments should be first conducted in the laboratory. If they prove successful, the method adopted on a previous occasion should be followed. The rabbits should be taken to an island, or some other isolated spot, and the microbe should be subjected' to a thorough test under such conditions as prevailed on Rodd Island some fifteen years ago. I should like to quote from the report with regard to the former experiments, to indicate the nature of the precautions taken at Rodd Island. The report says -

A description of the station is given in section VII I. of the detailed report, so that here it need only be said l/hat the island is surrounded by a broad belt of water; that the general enclosure, in which animals are kept measures nearly a quarter of an acre, with stalls and pens, an aviary, artificial burrows, &c, the whole enclosure, with every outlet from it, being protected by fly-proof gauze, the drainage being conducted into disinfecting tanks, and a furnace being provided in which dead carcases and all infected matters may be burnt. A well-equipped laboratory is provided, with quarters for the experts and servants. All these works were completed in less than two months, and thus, at a comparatively small cost, provision was made for the experiments to be performed under the direction of the Commission.

There we have a description of what was actually done in connexion with a similar experiment, and' there is no reason why we should not follow the same course on this occasion. The report goes on to say -

And when its work is ended, a permanent bacteriological station will remain, in which, from time to time, the communicable diseases of animals can be studied with facility.

Shortly after the experiments were completed, a large section of the buildings was destroyed by lire. If we desire to keep pace with the onward march of events, we should establish a permanent laboratory on a scale sufficiently large to enable us to deal with matters affecting our commercial interests and the health of the people. The suggested test upon the island would give sufficient assurance that the microbe was not dangerous to human life, or to domestic animals, and the third stage of the experiment might then be safely entered upon. On the former occasion, an area of 500 acres on the mainland was securely enclosed with wire netting, and used for experimental purposes. It would be necessary to select a badly infested tract of country, and allow the disease to do its work under natural conditions. Domestic animals should be placed in the enclosure, and workmen should be permitted to carry out such duties as they would be called upon to perform under every-day conditions. If, after a reasonable time, the experiments proved successful, we might rest assured that there was no danger to be apprehended. Still, as a further precaution, it would be well to permit of the use of the contaminating influence in respect to rabbits only within wire-netted areas. Then, if, after a time, it were found that the microbe would not attack domestic animals or human beings, it might be allowed to pass into general use, particularly in areas in which it is now difficult to cope with the evil. We have in every State large scrubby areas, such as are to be found in the Portland. Cape Otway, and Westernport districts, and also in the hilly country in the north-west of Victoria. The Chief Inspector under the Vermin Destruction Act in Victoria states that the greatest difficulty is experienced in destroying the rabbits in these areas. It is there that the foxes do so much towards keeping down the pest. Although the foxes have proved to be a great nuisance in many places, the Chief Inspector maintains that they are responsible for the destruction of 60,000,000 rabbits annually. The honorable member for Gwydir has referred to the pests which have been introduced amongst us. Honorable members can scarcely conceive of the number of pests with which we are surrounded. Upon one occasion when I was the Demonstrator of Bacteriology at the London Hospital, I selected two gelatine plates, and exposed them for ten seconds in two separate rooms at the entrance to the Hospital. I then carefully covered them, and conveyed them straight away to the incubator. Three days afterwards, I found upon one of the plates 150 separate colonies of germs, and upon the other plate 57 colonies - that showed the difference between the two rooms in which the plates were respectively exposed. After separating these colonies of germs and placing them in tubes, I found that in the . 150 colonies on the one plate 37 different kinds of germs were represented.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2 p.m.

Mr WILSON - When the sitting was suspended, I was giving some particulars of an experiment which I undertook in London some years ago, with a view to showing the manner in which we are surrounde d by unseen germs. But if we were to be constantly worrying about these invisible foes, life would become almost unbearable. The honorable member for Gwydir has asked me to give him some information as to the nature of the germs that were revealed in the plate which I exposed. I have forgotten the names of most of them, and there were some which could' not be classified at that time, but I know that I did isolate the germs of diptheria. Honorable members must know that there are myriads of germs floating about in the atmosphere. But Providence has provided us with a method of resisting their evil influences. Honorable members will recollect that someyears ago Professor Metschnikoff. of Paris, made some very interesting experiments upon this subject. He propounded a theory that the large white blood corpuscle, which he called the phagocyte, has the power of absorbing germs, and of thus entirely destroying them. It is by means of what is known as phagocytosis, that we are rendered immune from many diseases to which we are otherwise liable. About the time that I made the experiment to which I have referred, within the walls of the London Hospital, a friend of mine exposed a similar plate at the corner of Oxford-street and Tottenham Court-road. By an exposure of ten seconds he obtained no less than twenty-three colonies of germs. These facts show that it is very easy to arouse the public to an apprehension of dangers which are more imaginary than real. Upon the present occasion there has been a good deal of fear created in the minds of the people by the agitation which has taken place. I am not .going to say that that agitation has not done a certain amount of good, because it is our duty, as representatives of the people, to safeguard the public health as far as possible. It is for that reason that I am disposed to support the motion with the amendment which has been accepted by the honorable and learned member for West Sydney. It has been said - and there is no doubt a great deal of truth in it - that much of the agitation against the introduction of the microbe brought to Australia by Dr. Danysz, has been aroused by the exporters of the products which are derived from rabbits. I do not say for one moment that these people are not acting rightly in endeavouring to safeguard their own interests. I think that they are. I believe that the rabbit trappers, too, have a perfect right to look after their interests. Indeed, it is for all parties to take an interest in every form of commercial advancement in Australia. Throughout the Commonwealth rabbits are regarded as vermin, and if, whilst destroying them, we can convert them into a valuable commercial product, there is no reason why we should not do so. At the same time, we should recollect that the rabbit-trapping industry is carried on at an enormous cost to our staple industries. Whilst- the rabbittrapping industry provides a certain amount of employment, that employment is not to be compared with what would he provided by these other industries if the rabbit pest were eradicated. At this stage I desire to quote a few words from a letter which was addressed bv the late Dr. Pasteur to the Chief Inspector of Stock in New South Wales in 1888. The letter is in French, but, broadly translated, it reads -

The public of Australia, anr! the Government of Australia must not allow dust to be thrown in their eves by persons ignorant or interested.

I think that honorable members will agree with me when I say that Professor Pasteur was one of the most eminent and practical bacteriologists that the world has ever known. Up till the time that his life closed he had accomplished a very great deal for humanity, and it is interesting to us to know that he wrote the warning which I have quoted. I would also point out that the municipal association of Victoria recently waited upon the Premier with a request that experiments with Dr. Danysz's microbe should be permitted only under stringent conditions, to be approved of by a committee of scientists representing the States of Australia. Their request is set forth in 'the Age of 22nd February last, and reads -

That the Executive Committee of the Municipal Association of Victoria, whilst recognising the importance of fully investigating any suggestion which appears to offer a means of more successfully combating the rabbit pest, is strongly of opinion, in view of the possibility of danger to other forms of animal life, that experiments to ascertain the practicability and efficiency of the method proposed by the Pasteur Institute, of eradicating rabbits b)' the introduction of the virus of some epidemic disease, should only be permitted under stringent conditions, to be approved by a committee of scientists, representative of each of the States of Australia.

That is the position which we are taking up at the present moment, and I maintain that it is a sound one. On nth January last an article appeared in the Age, which lays certain facts before, the public that are well worthy of consideration. The article first discusses the question of the practicability of dealing with the rabbit pest bv means of a disease. It argues that this work should not be undertaken lightly, but that every care should be exercised to safeguard the health of the people. It continues -

We have no wish to deny that the rabbit pest is a serious one. The pest is increasing of late in consequence of the abundance of feed. Tt is calculated that some 8,000,000 rabbits are frozen in their pelts and exported yearly. In addition to this, 12,000,000 skins are snipped abroad, and £12,000 worth of rabbit fur is used up every year in the manufacture of hats. The rabbit trade is said to be worth from ^250,000 to ^300,000 a year. We do not say that it is worth preserving at the cost of the sheep and cattle whose food it destroys. But it is not by any means certain that the rabbit is incapable of suppression on sane lines, and bv decent means. Whole stretches of country which used to bc overrun are now so bare of the rabbit that the farmer cannot get one for his pot. The trouble arises where settlers are adjacent to large areas of Crown lands and forests, or near to the water shed reserves, where it is almost impossible to exterminate rabbits. In such places settlers lose heart, because as fast as they clear their lands of the pest, there are irruptions from the Government territories. But that should not be without a remedy. We spend in Victoria some £16,000 a year in rabbit extermination. Could nol much more be done with the money if the Crown were to securely fence off all its forests wilh wire netting, and help the settlers, whom it has wronged, to do the same.

Still another article appears in the same journal of 26th May, and I imagine that the information which it contains was derived from one of the best authorities in Australia upon the question of how to deal with the rabbit pest. That article shows the cost at which the rabbit industry is maintained . It states that the value of the industry to the State of Victoria is ^350,000 per annum, and asks very pertinently, " What price are we paying for this return"?

Mr Webster - The writer has underestimated its value.

Mr WILSON - That amount is an estimate of the value of the industry in Victoria only. The article continues - lt is now conceded that as a means of extermination trapping for the market has little or nothing to commend it. Lands trapped over one season are as thickly infested the next, and instead of working himself out of employment, the trapper finds that there is more work to be done with each succeeding year. It is occasionally asserted that he takes good care to maintain the supply; that he sets free all young and half-grown rabbits that are not marketable, and that he is tender-hearted enough to regard the miseries of the "bunnies" enclosed by wirenetting. Considering that he depends upon the spread of rabbits for his livelihood, recourse to these tactics would, perhaps, be only human. Hut, even supposing that each trapper is a disinterested philanthropist and patriot, it is now pretty well certain that his operations most frequently tend to promote the evil he is supposed to cure.

With that I entirely agree, and at enormous cost to myself, I have had considerable experience in dealing with rabbits. Trapping is absolutely valueless as a means of eradicating this pest. The writer of this article proceeds -

The Victorian Vermin Destruction Department and many land owners are convinced that rabbit destruction unci the rabbit trade cannot go together. In New South Wales it is asserted that while the rabbit trade is worth no more than £600,000 a year, the rabbit as a pest reduces the carrying capacity of the land by about 40 per cent., and accounts for an annual loss to the primary industries amounting to about ;£ 1 3,000,000.

I should like honorable members to compare these two sets of figures.

Mr Bamford - How is the ^13,000,000 arrived at ?

Mr WILSON - By estimating the number of rabbits and assuming that eight rabbits will "eat as much grass as will one sheep.

Mr Webster - That is not correct.

Mr WILSON - I am prepared to place the opinion of Mr. Frank Allen, Chief Vermin Inspector in Victoria, against that of the honorable member for Gwydir on this subject. Mr. Allen has made a study of the question ever since rabbits became a pest in Victoria, and understands the question thoroughly. He estimates that eight rabbits consume as much grass as one sheep.

Mr Kennedy - That is so.

Mr WILSON - I am sure that the honorable member for Moira, who is a practical farmer, and knows what rabbits will do, and the honorable member for Grampians, will bear out that estimate.

Mr Webster - If that were an accurate estimate, there would not bs a sheep left in New South Wales.

Mr WILSON - The honorable member for Herbert has asked me how the figures I have quoted have been arrived at. The writer of the article assumes that eight rabbits will consume as much grass as one sheep, and that eight sheep or sixty-four rabbits consume as much as one bullock. It is therefore easy to make the calculations which are here set forth on that basis. The article continues -

In round figures, the number of rabbits killed in Victoria every year does not fall far short of 140,000,000. As already observed, the export trade accounts for 20,000,000 - a number that might, easily be increased', for there is a large percentage of rejects. It is estimated that the work of destruction - digging out, fumigation of burrows, &c. - accounts for 60,000,000, and Mr. Allen, head of the Vermin Destruction department, reckons that another 60,000,000 are killed by foxes.

Mr Page - Who brought all these rabbits here?

Mr WILSON - If the honorable member had been present this morning, he would have heard the statement made that they were introduced by persons who thought thev would be of value to the State, and did not know that they would become a pest.

Mr Wilkinson - The same mistake might be made by the introduction of microbes.

Mr WILSON - That is so, and that is why we are asking that their introduction should be safeguarded. The article further states -

This last calculation will doubtless give rise to a little wonder. The number of foxes killed annually is set down at 100,000. On 50,000 of them the Government and the municipalities pay a bonus of 2s. 6d. a head. There are said to be at least 200,000 foxes still at large, and that, as they are to a great extent shut out from the lambs and the poultry yards, they are forced to live on rabbits.

The next question asked, and it is a pertinent question, is this -

What number of sheep could be raised on the lands despoiled by this vermin if the pest were annihilated ? A proportion of the rabbits doubtless feed upon the worst of the unalienated Crown land - dense bush country and rugged heights, unsuitable for sheep - but comparatively few, for the best country is always the most thickly infested. Of the 25,000,000 at least 20,000,000 exist on lands, mostly freehold or leasehold, - that are eminently suited for sheep farming. Eight rabbits require as much grass for their support as one sheep, so that, according to a rough calculation, if the rabbits were exterminated, 2,500,000 sheep could be raised in their stead.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Cook.- - In Victoria alone? Mr. WILSON.- Yes.

There are now about 12,000,000 sheep in the Stale, and consequently the carrying capacity of the land is reduced by at least 20 per cent.

I have shown that the carrying capacity of the land has been reduced by 40 par cent, in New South Wales, and in the report of the Royal Commission to which I have referred, it is shown that tha reason for that is that the rabbits have eaten out the salt bush and other edible shrubs, which were found in the infested country in that State, but which are not found to any very great extent in Victoria. The writer proceeds -

In New South Wales, as already observed, the estimated reduction is 40 per cent. Assuming that the wool and sheep industry is now worth £5,000,000 - in jy.04 it was worth £4.073, 7S0 - the rabbits cost the country in this way alone fully £1,000,000.

That is what it costs Victoria.


Mr WILSON - Yes, that is the cost for each year.

The amount of loss they occasion to the cultivator, dairy farmer, and horticulturist is relatively large. In addition to this, over £750,000 is annually spent - chiefly bv landholders - in the work of destruction. The affairs of the State in account wilh the rabbit may be approximately set forth thus -

I should like honorable members to pay particular attention to these figures, because they show the enormous destruction which .is wrought by rabbits, and the tremendous effect which their depredations must have upon the interests of the working men of the community.


That is an enormous loss, and these figures show that we are now dealing with one of the most important questions which have to be considered in Australia. I have shown the enormous annual monetary loss, but there is another loss which must also be considered. The rabbit is an animal that destroys the land on which it lives, and is thus depreciating our chief national asset, the land. On the other hand, it is well known that the depasturing of sheep and cattle on land improves its value. The breaking up and working of land in the process of agriculture also improves it, but the improvement of the land by these means cannot go hand in hand with the existence of rabbits. We have to set the money earned by those engaged in the export of rabbits against a loss amounting in Victoria to over _£r, 000.000 a year, which has to be borne by every individual in the State.

Mr Webster - Even- one regrets that fact.

Mr WILSON - I am sure that the honorable member does, but the facts in connexion with this matter must be borne in mind. We must do all that is possible to safeguard the health of the people, but I think that we should permit these experiments to be carried out as I have suggested, first of all in a laboratory, then in an enclosure or an isolated island, later in an enclosure on the mainland, and then in wire-netted areas of greater extent. If that course is adopted, I think we shall have sufficiently safeguarded the interests of the people. What we desire to do, and what we must do, is to rid Australia of the rabbit. The microbes' proposed to be introduced by Dr. Danysz will not do everything. I do not say that thev will do anything, but they mav do something, and if thev will render assistance to this great work of the extermination of rabbits we shall have done something for Australia in introducing them. We must continue the work of rabbit destruction, because the pest is at present a grave national danger to Australia. Having seen other parts of the world, I can speak from personal knowledge when I say that Australia is one of the finest countries on the face of God's earth. It is a part of our work to preserve it for the people who are already here, and to introduce as many as possible of a good stamp of the Anglo-Saxon race. In this respect the question has some bearing on the question of immigration, and we shall be adopting a means to that end by improving the carrying capacity of the lands of Australia, not only for sheep, but for human beings.

Mr. JOSEPHCOOK (Parramatta) [2. 27 J. - I regret very much the tone of some of the speeches made during the debate on this very important matter. I particularly deprecate the introduction of politics into a discussion on the question of the destruction of a pest. Nothing could more degrade the consideration of a question like this than to give the discussion, upon it a political tinge. I believe that the honorable member for Gwydir this morning advocated the imposition of a land tax as> a remedy for the rabbit pest. By so doing the honorable member reminds me of the action of his leader in going about the country advocating a land tax, and. telling the people that it is anything but what it really is. The honorable gentleman has told the people that it spells immigration, the land for the people and the people for the land j that it means defence - that, in fact, it means anything but what it really does mean.

Mr Bamford - Why should the honorable member introduce politics?

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