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Wednesday, 2 October 1974
Page: 1635

Senator Baume asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:

(   1 ) Has an application been made by medical students at the University of New South Wales for increases in their tertiary allowances from 1975.

(2)   Does the truncation of the medical course create less opportunity for students to obtain part-time work to help support themselves.

(3)   Does a longer academic year and extra expenses associated with the medical course justify a greater allowance.

(4)   Has inflation made the allowances worth less in terms of purchasing power.

(5)   Will the Minister give early consideration to the medical students' application.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follow:

(   1 ) There is no record of an application made by medical students at the University of New South Wales for increased allowances having been received by the Minister for Education or by his Department.

(2)   I assume that the honourable senator is referring to the opportunities for temporary employment available to medical students in view of the reduction of vacation time between years of the course. In earlier years of the course students in the Medical Faculty had the same opportunity as students in other faculties for undertaking temporary vacation employment. Reduced opportunity affects the later years only.

(3)   Living allowances paid under the Tertiary Allowances Scheme are based on a calendar year and not on the length of the academic year. It is not considered appropriate that differential rates of allowances should be paid to students on the basis of either length of academic year or costs associated with courses.

(4)   Both allowances and means tests have been periodically adjusted in recognition of higher living costs and income levels.

(5)   See (4) above. Allowances are reviewed regularly.

Mercury Levels in Whalemeat (Question No. 153)

Senator McLaren asked the Minister for Agriculture, upon notice:

(   1 ) What levels of mercury have been found in whales caught off the Australian coast.

(2)   What levels of mercury have been found in eggs and flesh of poultry fed meatmeal made from whale meat.

(3)   In which States is whale derived meatmeal used to supplement the diet of chickens.

(4)   What steps are being taken to protect Australian egg consumers from ingesting dangerous quantities of mercury.

(5)   What effect will excess mercury levels have on (a) the Australian poultry industry, and (b) the Australian whaling industry.

Senator Wriedt - The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1)   The mercury level in samples taken from sperm whales caught off the Australian coast range from 0.01 mg/kg in fat through 1 .8 mg/kg in meat to approximately 38 mg/kg in liver. These levels are comparable with those found in other large marine creatures including sharks and sword fish and are derived from natural sources.

(2)   There have been some experimental tests carried out by Western Australian authorities on the amount of mercury that might result from feeding whale meal at various levels but the results obtained could not be taken as typical for the products normally entering commercial channels. It is also understood that there have been certain investigations by authorities in Western Australia responsible for the condition of food placed on local markets and that the results from these have not given cause for concern.

A monitoring programme has been carried out by my Department over a period of years and the results are contained in (4) below.

(3)   Small quantities of whale meal are from time to time available for incorporation in stock feeds in all States. Whale meal and dried solubles production in Australia in 1972 was 4261 tons. Australian production of protein-rich concentrates from other sources for incorporation into stock feeds for the year 1972-73 was as follows:

Fish meal- 845 tons.

Blood meal- 6,400 tons.

Meat meal- 1 79,000 tons.

Oilseed meals- 65.000 tons.

In addition, substantial quantities of protein-rich concentrates were imported.

(4)   It has been known for a number of years that there are several potential sources of mercury that could find their way into eggs. Each year for many years, my Department, as part of its continuing pesticide residue survey has collected approximately 1 , 000 samples of liquid whole egg, liquid egg yolk and egg whites for analysis. With few exceptions, both the whole egg, the egg yolk and egg white have been found free of mercury when analysed by methods capable of determining 0.0 1 mg/kg of mercury. Those samples found to contain a trace of mercury did not contain more than 0.02 mg/kg.

A study of residues in the Australian diet carried out by the National Health and Medical Research Council in 1971 revealed that the diet contained no significant quantity of mercury. The dietary components containing eggs did not contain mercury above the limit of detection.

Eggs tested in Western Australia within the past three months have shown only low levels of mercury ranging up to 0.06 mg/kg. All but 2 of 18 samples showed less than 0.03 mg/kg.

(5)   It appears that the process of drying whale meat converts most of the methyl mercury, the form in which mercury occurs in fish and marine creatures, into the inorganic form which is less toxic and accumulates less in animals receiving it in their ration. The total amount of mercury including both methyl mercury and inorganic mercury present in all the whale meal processed in Australia is calculated to be less than 12 kg per year. This amount is insignificant by comparison with the amount of mercury available from all other environmental sources. It is not anticipated that the detection of this further source of mercury will have any effect upon the poultry industry or the whaling industry.

There is no reason to believe that abnormal levels of mercury will occur in normal practice and therefore the Australian poultry and whaling industries will be unaffected.

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