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Tuesday, 14 September 1971
Page: 1288

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - I enter the adjournment debate for a specific purpose but I must say, following the remarks made by the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairbairn), that my colleague the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Foster) at present is in Adelaide on unavoidable urgent personal business. I know that he would like to have been here to deal with the Minister's reply. I want to say this on behalf of my absent colleague for no-one would be second to him in his dedication to the country or in his desire to serve it. In fact, the honourable member served this country in a fine and distinguished capacity in the greatest moment of challenge that it has ever had. I think he shares with many members of the Parliament resentment that he read in a book that none of us has read and published in the United States of America by a man of whom we have never heard, about an installation in Australia about which we know very little. I think this was. the criticism that the honourable member made, and I make it myself, because I do not have the information and neither have my colleagues. I make that point as a prelude to a statement which I think will bring the Minister for Defence slightly closer to me. In fact, we have neighbouring electorates. 1 am delighted that the Minister for Defence is here because I did refer this matter today to the Minister for the Army (Mr Peacock). I am delighted also to see that he has now joined us in the chamber.

A fresh disaster faces the hard pressed rural sector in New South Wales and Victoria. A massive plague of locusts threatens to crops and farms damage totalling many millions of dollars. If the plague is allowed to strike with full force it will mean literally the financial end of many people in the front line of their attack. It is for this reason that I appeal for the urgent intervention of the Army which has the manpower and the means to move into the threatened area. I have already asked the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) by question on notice to apply himself and his officers to giving aid to the efforts of New South Wales and Victorian authorities. The urgency is such and the information now so precise and definite that there has been a call for at least Army help and, if necessary, some of the resources of the Royal Australian Air Force. Officers of the New South Wales Department of Agriculture and of the Pasture Protection Boards in the areas of Balranald, Hay, Deniliquin, Jerilderie and Narrandera have confirmed and pinpointed the extent of the menace.

Hatchings have already begun in the egg beds spread through the 20,000 square miles of the south west region, touching on my electorate and the electorate of Darling. State specialist in locust control, Mr Max Casimir, has told emergency meetings of officers and landholders that nothing can now stop the eggs hatching this spring - there is enough moisture in the ground now. Compounding the problem is the fact that in the region concerned we are experiencing uniquely a drought, semi drought and a good season. This means that we could be faced with progressive hatchings of the winged hordes. They are already emerging. The South West Plague Locust Committee headed by Mr George Hanna of Hay is already moving to coordinate the counter-attack. Shires have put their bush fire brigades on the alert and authorised use of equipment but councils without money just have not the cash to do all that needs to be done and bush fire brigades depend on volunteers. A headquarters, office to co-ordinate the counterattack will be established at Griffith; several thousand gallons of lindane spray are being provided by the State Department of Agriculture; and I understand Victorian authorities are contemplating the formation of an air force to pursue the counter-attack over the Murray into New South Wales.

I mention these things to show that there is no lack of effort by all concerned but the very magnitude of the problem has to be understood. In a square foot there are 180 egg pods, each capable of hatching hundreds of locusts. Once the locusts take to the wing there can be up to 100 million locusts in a fair size swarm covering a square mile. But at the critical stage for attack - the crawling stage - there can be up to 3 million locusts to an acre. So ground control is more effective and cheaper, and we want to hit them now. Some locusts are emerging now. In the next 2 or 3 weeks they will all be out - the first 7 or 8 days is critical - and then they get into marching bands. They will not reach the winged stage until midNovember. If we let them fly and lay eggs the plague will be strengthened by further hatchings in January and autumn.

The weakness in the situation is the fact that the Act under which all must work places the full responsibility on landholders. This is where the Army is needed. Nearly all the properties are without labour; some of up to. 60,000 acres have no-one outside the family left working on them, while others of more than 100,000 acres in extent have perhaps one man only. The days when the areas themselves could produce their own army and their own supplies from their own numbers and resources have gone with the rural depression. The Army can move in with the necessary manpower; the Department has the spray and equipment; the Pasture Protection Boards have the supply lines; and a command has been set up to co-ordinate the attack. Yesterday the Chamber of Commerce met at Griffith and adopted the following resolution:

That this Chamber view with grave concern the imminent threat of a massive plague locust outbreak on the MIA and the districts north and west of Griffith and the potentially serious effect on the economy of this region:

It then submitted that in view of the probable shortage of manpower to combat the expected outbreak while the hoppers are in the crawling stage, it supported any move to secure the help of the Army and Royal Australian Air Force units and aircraft. To help again it has called on the Wade Shire, which is the most closely populated shire in the State, to appeal to the people to volunteer assistance where possible and to the farming community to volunteer assistance with suitable equipment and manpower. I mention these matters to show again that there has been complete mobilisation of sentiment, of opinion and of the units within the region. So there are volunteers from the irrigation areas, and there are beds of locusts surrounding the irrigation areas at Merriwagga, Yenda and Warburn. The challenge is clear. The danger is imminent. The need for Army and perhaps RAAF help is vital at this time and I hope that it will be given. This is one occasion on which honourable members from both sides of the chamber would be happy, I am sure, to vote unanimously for a military operation, and I would hope that perhaps this might be possible in view of the threat to the entire economy in vital regions of both States.

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