Several of the resolutions passed at the annual conference of the Institute of Stock Inspectors last April were submitted to the Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Thorby) yesterday. It was explained that owing to the political situation since the holding of the conference it had been considered undesirable to submit the resolutions for consideration before.
As a practical farmer, Mr. Thorby was able to be very definite in most of his replies, and in some instances expressed views which, although contrary to those of the deputation, were finally endorsed by the latter.
Mr. F. F. Poster (Goulburn), as president of the institute, referred to what he classed as the "shandy-gaff" position of stock inspectors, who although almost entirely under the control of the stock branch, were paid by the pastures protection boards, attended their meetings, and carried out their instructions.
He subsequently submitted a resolution passed at the conference, urging the Minister to take over the control of the field staff of the stock branch.
The chief work of the inspectors, he said, was in regard to the Stock Diseases Act, and not the P.P. Act. The boards considered that the inspectors who were paid from their funds should be fully under their control, but the conference desired that the members should become fully fledged Public servants under the direct control of the Minister.
Mr. C. J. Woollett (Tamworth) said that the inspectors were by no means unanimous on the subject, some still preferring that the men who paid the salaries should retain control.
Mr. Thorby said that a big principle was involved in the request, and he believed that in most cases the present method was satisfactory. To dissociate the inspectors from the boards might necessitate fresh legislation to empower the boards to appoint other officers to do work at present undertaken by the inspectors.
"My ambition," added the Minister, "is to reduce the number of inspectors to almost nil. I even aim at making the rabbit inspector into an instructor with sufficient qualifications to assist stockowners in the extermination of the pest."
In reply to a request urging the discontinuance of the restriction of one month's pasturage of store stock before payment of railway rebates thereon, Mr. Thorby promised to discuss the question with his colleague, the Minister for Railways. Mr. Foster said that he represented Goulburn, the largest store stock market in the Commonwealth, and the restriction proved a big handicap in stock dealings. It also put inspectors in an awkward position when signing certificates, as it was often difficult to verify the statements.
One resolution was to the effect that in view of the continued attempts at cutting down t.s.r's. and the consequent infliction of hardship and starvation on travelling stock, thus predisposing them to the attacks of disease, the Department of Agriculture should have prior say as to their disposal instead of the Department of Lands. The deputation declared that the reserves had been cut down to far below requirements and illustrations were quoted of the necessity for the action indicated.
Mr. Thorby said that it would be a matter for negotiation with the Minister for Lands, but he could hold out no hope of that department relinquishing control. He admitted that in some districts it was desirable that no further interference with the reserves should be allowed, but where railways had been constructed many of the reserves formerly necessary could be disposed of.
The Minister acceded to the request that in the next amendment of the P.P. Act the office of inspector should be defined with the title of inspector of stock.
The suggestion that the earmarking of cattle be legalised, with penalties for mismarking or ill-using, found little favour. Mr. Thorby said that it would be very difficult to carry out, as it would mean the defining of districts and involve very considerable trouble.
The resolution that in the event of the abolition of P.P. boards, all inspectors of stock, irrespective of age, be appointed to the permanent staff of the Public service proved unnecessary. Mr. Thorby said that the Government had decided not to abolish the boards, although the P.P. Act would probably be amended.
In regard to the request that the Department of Agriculture should extend the system of tubercle-free herd-testing, the Minister stated that everything was being done so far as the finances would permit. Mr. Woollett said that there was no reason why the services of the stock inspectors should not be availed of, but the chief veterinary surgeon would not accept the certificate of anyone who was not a qualified veterinarian.
In regard to slight amendments of the P.P. Act, Mr. Thorby said that the present measure was in some respects unnecessarily harsh. It was futile for any man to put up a defence to a charge of failing to destroy rabbits, because he could not declare that he had "fully and continuously" destroyed them.
It was most essential that every man In a district should carry out the work of extermination at the one time. He hoped to amend the Act to enable boards to declare specified seasons when every landholder could be compelled to do his best to destroy the pest. Every settler would then be putting forth his maximum effort, and he as Minister would be prepared to support a heavy penalty when owners failed in this respect.
The deputation endorsed this suggestion.
The request for an amendment of the regulation in regard to the appointment of an examining board for stock inspectors suggested that the board should comprise "the chief veterinary surgeon, and senior veterinary surgeon, a stock inspector, and such representative stockowner as the Minister may from time to time appoint." It was claimed that the board should include a stock inspector, thus making the examination more applicable to the actual conditions in the country. Mr. Thorby was not prepared to give a decision off-hand.
The suggestion that the president of the institute for the time being shall be a member of all committees of inquiry into the conduct of stock inspectors was not compiled with. Mr. Thorby, however, promised to take steps to allow an advocate (not necessarily a legal man) to assist in protecting the interests of any inspector whose conduct was being investigated.