Natural Resources: Invasive Species Inquiry


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (11:26): I would like to just say a few words about this report. I was very pleased to be part of the committee that put this together. The member for Ashford (our chair) did say at the outset that recent rains have made this a far more pressing issue than it has been. This has always been a pressing issue, obviously, for decades. I am pleased that it is getting more attention at the moment.

The rains that we have had throughout South Australia in the last two years now have been thoroughly welcome. They do far more good than bad, but they certainly encourage everything that lives in our state to thrive and do better and that includes pests and weeds, and that has made this a more pressing problem than it probably has ever been recognised before in South Australia.

I would like to just touch on a couple of the recommendations from the report and highlight a few of them. I certainly do not want to say that these are the most important ones but, in the available time I have, I just want to highlight a couple of them. It was recommended that the minister direct DENR to establish a rolling fund specifically for NRM boards to access in times of emergency in order to tackle invasive species outbreaks.

I think that that is incredibly important, because there is enormous knowledge, enormous goodwill and a strong desire throughout all segments of the community to address issues as they arise but if the funds are not there, it just will not happen and it does seem to be putting the cart in front of the horse to recognise the problem and then have to hunt for scarce funds. We all know that funds for whatever project it happens to be are very scarce at the moment. By then, it is probably too late and, if it is not too late, your opportunity to have greater impact has certainly gone if you cannot get onto these problems quickly, so annexing some funds for that I think is very important.

Another recommendation to the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Environment and Conservation is to direct DTEI and DENR to work together with local councils to prepare a manual clarifying responsibility for weed management on road verges, road reserves and other corridors taking into account biodiversity and fire management. Again, I think this is incredibly important because typically these tracts of land are considered to be public land and that cuts both ways. It means that everybody has a responsibility and sometimes nobody takes the responsibility.

These tracts of land are vectors for the spread primarily of weeds but certainly for other pests as well. I think that even just clarifying the responsibilities—and hopefully that manual could include some recommendations for management and perhaps even some directives for management—would go a long way because I think, whether it is in a metropolitan area or a country area or even in a remote outback area, the public roads tend to act similarly with regard to allowing pests and weeds to spread more rapidly in those sections than they might in other areas.

Another recommendation which I would like to highlight, and with a bit of a positive stance, is to review the policy of withholding assistance to farmers affected by mouse plagues. That is a big issue in country areas. I suspect at the moment that people in metropolitan areas are also struggling with mice in their homes, but it is certainly a big issue for farmers. There has been some action on that, and I compliment the government on that. The bait mixing stations are a positive step forward, but on a personal level I recommend that mice be declared as a pest. I think that would go a long way towards helping this problem, too.

Another recommendation is to encourage relevant NRM boards to upgrade their public education campaigns about cane toads to assist early detection. To me, this is possibly the most important recommendation because it is possibly the one where we have the most opportunity to make an impact in South Australia. I am sure there is the odd toad hopping around that has come in a vehicle or container or something like that in South Australia, but broadly we consider ourselves to be free of cane toads in South Australia. I think that it would be incredibly foolish of anyone to expect that it will remain that way if we do not take some very positive and strong action.

These cane toads will work their way down the Murray. I think it would be incredibly hard to stop them, but we need to try. They will work their way down the Cooper Creek and Diamantina River as well, and I worry about those areas as well because, as many in this chamber would know, while some of those waterholes do not progress down to Lake Eyre continuously, some sections of them never dry up and so we will never get the cane toads out of them if we let them in, and they will ravage those environments. I see that as a recommendation where we actually could achieve the most by getting onto that problem before it is too late, putting resources towards that to try to stop the arrival of cane toads, rather than trying to manage them, deal with them, exterminate them, after they are here, which is so often the difficulty we face with these sorts of issues.

Another recommendation I would like to highlight—again, with a positive spin for the government—is to allow land managers to trial aerial baiting for non-domestic cats, dingoes and foxes south of the dog fence. Everybody here knows that is a campaign that I have taken on very vigorously, and I appreciate the fact that the government has given permission to private landowners to aerially bait below the dog fence for dingoes, and I think that is a very positive step. I think there is a lot more support that could be given to remove dingoes from below the dog fence but I am pleased to highlight that that recommendation has already been surpassed, let alone taken.

The last recommendation is with regard to Biodiversity SA, the Eyre Peninsula NRM Board, the Northern and Yorke NRM Board and interested committee groups, including Port Augusta Coastal Homes Association Incorporated, to seek ways of halting the spread of the native pearl oyster in the Upper Spencer Gulf around the Port Augusta area. There is an example of a situation where they are out of control. I think it would be silly for us to assume that we will get rid of them, but that is an incredibly important recommendation to at least contain them and stop them where they are. I appreciate that some work is going into that. I would also like to thank the Port Augusta Coastal Homes Association Incorporated for the good work that they have done addressing that issue over approximately 20 years, but particularly with regard to their written and in person presentations to our committee.

I would like to touch on the issue of resources, addressing these problems again. Resources is a vexed issue, and I started out by highlighting the recommendation for a rolling fund and, as members know, I support that strongly. Resources are a difficult one, and I would like to give an example. I have seen several cases on boundaries between private farmland and national parks in the electorate of Stuart where there are more weeds on the national park side than there are on the private landowners' side. I am not having a crack at national parks or staff or DENR, because it is an incredibly hard job and sometimes these areas of land might be in prime focus for the landowner but they might be at the back of the park or one of the areas that DENR or parks staff have not been able to get to.

What tends to happen is that there is a directive given to the landowner: 'You must address this issue.' The responsibility is the same for the land manager whether it is public land or private land, but the private landowner is told, 'You must address this issue and, if you don't, we will employ a contractor and we will get the job done and we will pass the cost on to you.' Often when the private landowner says, 'But, parks, what about your side of the fence?' The answer is: 'But we haven't got the resources.' The private landowner says, 'Well, I haven't got the resources either. I can't afford it. You can't afford it, but you're going to get it done and send me the bill, but you are not going to address the issue yourself.' I would like to put that on record as a problem that does exist.

I am not saying for a second that DENR staff should be doing any more than they can possibly do, because they typically do work extremely hard and address as much as they possibly can, but there is a very good example where the expectation is the same on both sides of the fence, but the application is not the same on both sides of the fence. I encourage the government to consider that example when considering recommendation No. 2 of this report about a rolling fund.

Lastly, I would like to thank the Natural Resources Committee staff, who have worked incredibly hard on this significant report, and the people who put in submissions—as the chair said, there is an extraordinary amount of information out there in the world. People work incredibly hard, whether they are private landowners or people living in their residential homes in the city who get out and about. Whether they are in the metropolitan or a rural area, they put their time and effort towards this problem, and we are very thankful for all their contributions. We would not achieve as much without their support.


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