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Senator Ian Campbell
Parliamentary Secretary to the Federal Minister for the Environment
Monday, 8th July 1996
Great Keppel Island
As Parliamentary Secretary in the Environment Portfolio, I am delighted to have this opportunity to open this, the 4th International Conference on Fertility Control for Wildlife Management.
As Parliamentary Secretary to Senator Robert Hill, the Minister for the Environment, I have the great pleasure of assisting him with his crucial portfolio at a very challenging time. I also have policy and administrative responsibility for the Australia Antarctic Division, the Bureau of Meteorology and the exciting Green Corps proposal.
He has asked me to address this conference as he is on his way to Geneva representing the Australian Government at a major green-house conference.
I am particularly pleased to be representing the Minister here today, on one of Australia’s, and perhaps one of the World’s greatest natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef. Indeed, this has been recognised with the listing of the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage area in 1981.
Many of you will know of the recently released State of the Environment in Australia Report. It was the first ever independent and comprehensive study linking land, water, air, plants, animals, human settlement and how we value them.
The State of Environment Report indicated a number of positive messages.
The report shows that Australia has a beautiful, diverse and often unique environment which is a priceless heritage and should be a source of great pride to all Australians.
Some aspects of the Australian environment are in relatively good condition by international standards. In some areas our approach to environmental management has won international recognition.
Australians are among the most environmentally aware people in the world according to this report. Most sections of the community now recognise the need to do more to tackle environmental issues.
The State of the Environment report also shows that Australia has some very serious problems. If we are to achieve our goal of ecological sustainability, these problems need to be dealt with immediately. Perhaps, most importantly, the report indicated that most of our problems do have solutions.
One area in need of urgent attention that does have a solution is the conservation of bio-diversity. One way to conserve bio-diversity is to ensure that there is adequate control over animal populations in Australia.
Australia is a country that has a great need for wildlife management. We have a long and unfortunate history of introductions of species that have taken a heavy toll on native flora and fauna and have imposed an economic burden on our primary producers.
We also have a range of challenging issues related to our native fauna.
In some areas populations of native species have benefited from the modified landscapes created since European settlement. Populations of these species have increased to levels where control is sometimes required to mitigate their impact.
(Conventional Control Techniques)
The environmental and economic impact of pest animals is currently controlled primarily through culling, exclusion (using fencing) or the use of biological control agents.
Conventional approaches have been effective in particular areas in reducing the impact of introduced species on native plants and animals.
For example; In Western Australia the use of widespread 1080 poisoning to reduce fox numbers has seen the Woylie, a once critically threatened species of small wallaby removed from the Commonwealth list of endangered species. The first of hopefully many.
Another example can be seen in the culling of buffalo in the Northern Territory. As a result, there has been widespread recovery of important wetlands and a significant reduction in the risk of tuberculosis and other exotic diseases to the northern pastoral industry.
Currently conventional methods are the only cost effective ways to control the impact of pest animals. The main issues surrounding conventional methods of controlling animal populations are;
(What is required?)
It is clear that to maintain Australia's unique environment and the productivity of our primary production we need to be able to control the impact of pest animal populations. At the same time we must ensure that we are using the safest, most cost effective and most humane methods available.
Achieving these dual goals requires a commitment to constantly assess the effectiveness of existing control methods and to support the development of new techniques.
Australia is playing a leading role internationally in developing new approaches to the management of wildlife through fertility control.
The scale of the problem is so monumental, Australia has turned to genetic and other scientific research in the hope to find biological control agents for our pests.
The CRC for Vertebrate Biocontrol and the CRC for Conservation and Management of Marsupials bring together a number of Australian and New Zealand research agencies to focus on this issue.
The staff of these CRCs bring considerable expertise and experience to deal with these initiatives.
The CRC for Vertebrate Biocontrol which was established in 1992 has made considerable progress on some of the key research issues which surround the fertility control of foxes and rabbits, which are two of Australia's key environmental threats.
The CRC through its broad focus on reproduction, virology, immunobiology, modelling and well designed ecological experiments has provided a strong base from which to advance this work.
More recently the CRC has been able to genetically enhance a laboratory strain of a mouse virus and has shown that female mice infected with this virus become permanently sterile.
This along with other work undertaken by the CRC confirms that it may be possible to prevent the periodic eruption in mouse numbers which are a significant threat to agriculture in some areas.
The CRC for the Conservation and Management of Marsupials which was established in 1995 has only just begun to develop its work program.
The work program of this CRC is particularly important because it carries the dual goal of enhancing the conservation of those marsupials that are threatened and developing techniques to control those that require management.
The CRC program offers the promise that contentious issues such as the Koala population on Kangaroo Island can be humanely resolved.
Koalas were introduced to Kangaroo Island in 1923 and 1925 from French Island in Victoria. Koala populations have increased considerably since then and there are now estimated to be 3000 - 5000 koalas, occupying all suitable habitat.
The current major pressure is in the Cygnet Valley population of some 1740 koalas where approximately 80% of a favoured eucalypt species has lost more than half of its canopies. It is understood that an initial reduction of 80 animals is required followed by 200 animals per annum.
If not managed the overbrowsing by koalas will not only kill trees and result in land degradation but will result in a food shortage for koalas resulting in their starvation.
Fertility control is one of a number of options for management of the Koala population on Kangaroo Island being considered by the task force. Other possibilities include translocation to areas of suitable habitat on the mainland and revegetation and habitat restoration projects.
It is a strange irony that an animal listed as endangered in New South Wales is considered by many to be a pest on Kangaroo Island.
(The need for robust public debate)
As many of you will know, the Conference has been co-sponsored by the following groups;
The cooperation of these groups demonstrates a strong commitment to promoting debate and discussion on this important issue.
As with all new techniques it will be important that there is timely community debate about the prospects for and consequences of using fertility control techniques to manage wildlife both introduced and native.
There are significant and substantial issues which require a commitment to communicating the issues to the Australian community at large. The recent uncontrolled release of the Rabbit Calici Virus is an example where greater communication would have been preferred.
(Need for ecological work)
Much of the work that will be presented and discussed at this conference is very complex and at the cutting edge.
Those involved are leading the world in understanding the reproductive biology of animals and how it can be used to manage these species both humanely and effectively.
It will be important to look beyond the simple question of can it be done, to address the broader and equally complex issues of can it be applied in the field.
The ecology of many of the species that will be discussed during this conference is poorly understood.
It will be important that as we look at the development of fertility control techniques in the laboratory that we also look at what the ecological and behavioural effects of controlling fertility are on wildlife populations.
(Our Natural Heritage)
Earlier this year, the Howard Government recognised the urgent need to undertake enormous capital investment into our environment.
The Government announced what is arguably the most comprehensive and ambitious environmental policy in Australia’s history. The policy was aptly named....Saving Our Natural Heritage.
The Coalition’s policy involves the establishment of a $1.15 billion National Heritage Trust responsible for the implementation of the new Government’s environmental package. This package includes:
Within the area of feral animal control, the Coalition recognised that the problems associated with the abundance of feral animals had grown to such a degree that a comprehensive approach needed to be taken.
Over 70 introduced vertebrate animals have become established since European settlement, including 26 species of wild mammals. Introduced mammals now make up 10 percent of Australia’s fauna.
Wild pigs, feral cats, buffaloes, rabbits, goats, foxes and brumbies are all playing a big part in the destruction of valuable grazing land, the death and often extinction of native fauna, and the destruction of our natural habitat.
The Government announced that a significant part of our policy would include a National Feral Animal Control Strategy.
The policy recognised that no single program could be expected to deal with the enormity of the problem.
The provision of $16 million over four years will allow the development and implementation of a comprehensive strategy, combining many individual programs and techniques.
It may be that ideas, techniques and programs examined during this conference will be incorporated into the Government’s National Feral Animal Control Strategy in due course.
The Government believes that this program, and others in our environment policy, represent an investment in Australia’s future.
I am sure that our international guests here today can tell you that a crucial issue facing each and every government in the world today relates to the ability to make funds available to environmental programs.
Likewise governments have also been under increasing pressure to function in a financially responsible manner. The Australian Government, like most others, must examine alternative funding arrangements beyond that of taxation or borrowing.
The Australian Government will fund this investment in Australia’s environmental future, with the partial sale of the Government-owned telecommunications network, Telstra. It is proposed that one third of Telstra will be made available to Australian business and investors.
This will inject a commercial philosophy into the company, encourage it’s modernisation and assist it to become an internationally competitive multi-media company.
The remaining two thirds of Telstra will be retained by the Government.
What we are essentially doing is transferring funds from one government asset to perhaps Australia’s most important asset, and the asset in the greatest need of maintenance, our environment.
The financial returns from the sale will not be immediate. It is a long term investment, an investment for Australia’s future, an investment for the generations to follow.
The State of the Environment Report clearly indicates what we as a nation must do to address the environmental degradation of past generations. The sale of Telstra will provide long-term and an identifiable source of funding, free from the vagaries of the Treasury in future.
An unreported, and perhaps not so controversial aspect of the Telstra sale, relates to the very environmental nature of Telstra itself.
A significant benefit from the partial privatisation of Telstra is that it is demonstrably bad environmental practice to have a large inefficient government-owned enterprise.
Inefficient enterprises of any size are bad for the environment, they waste both human and physical resources. An enterprise the size of Telstra that is inefficient logically wastes massive amounts of these resources.
This waste can and will be significantly reduced through the partial privatisation of Telstra and will deliver additional significant environmental benefits.
Finally, may I leave you with this thought on the Telstra issue;........When government ownership of a telecommunications company is balanced against an environment in desperate need of rehabilitation, it is my view that our responsibilities toward our environment far outweigh the desire to maintain a one hundred percent government ownership of Telstra.
You would think that people genuinely sensitive to our environmental needs would agree with this statement.
At present, the minor parties, including the Greens, have indicated their intention to block the sale of Telstra. Needless to say, if they maintain this approach there will be no additional funding for the National Feral Animal Control Strategy.
It is my sincere hope, that the minor parties who hold the balance of the power in the Senate, base their decisions upon Australia’s environmental needs and future, and not upon an outdated ideology that the Australian Government must wholly own the telecommunications network.
May I take this opportunity to thank you all for attending this conference.