Thursday, 25 October 2018
I rise to add my voice to recent calls to better protect wildlife and endangered species both here in Australia and overseas. On the very first opportunity I had to speak here in this parliament, I expressed my enduring passion for Australia's wildlife and environment. Having custodianship of a continent as well as a country means Australians have both significant opportunities and significant responsibilities. In so many ways, Australia is a sanctuary from the challenges and ills from the rest of the world, including for our wildlife. We need to take greater care and make greater efforts to preserve and foster everything we love about this continent, our sanctuary.
Taking responsibility means awareness, respect and effort, but it also means serious ramifications for individuals who do the wrong thing—that tiny minority of people who let the rest of us down. Like most Australians, I have been greatly distressed and disgusted at some of the recent horrific incidents we have seen involving deliberate harm to our native and iconic species. We have seen recent examples of kangaroo killings, emus being run down by a four-wheel drive vehicle, and the killing of wedge tailed eagles. We saw the killing of more than 400 of those beautiful birds. These are iconic Australian species. Two of them are on our coat of arms. Yet we should bear in mind that animal protection is not about the megafauna, the cute and cuddly animals and the relatable species; we have to think equally of the smaller and less glamorous species that can play an even more important role in our ecosystems.
Today I'm calling for greater penalties and nationally consistent penalties for those who kill or harm Australia's wildlife, whether through deliberate acts or what mistaken people might think is silly, harmless fun. The current situation with our laws is that the penalties vary greatly between different states, and some of the laws are quite weak. I'll give some examples. In Queensland, we have escalating fines starting in the range of $13,000 or $29,000 limits. In Victoria, it's a fine only of $7,900 or up to 6 months imprisonment. In WA it's a fine of up to $50,000. Remember, these are the maximum sentences. The actual sentences handed out are much less, and, sadly, sentencing is just not very common. There are some more serious penalties and sentences at a federal level: a maximum penalty of imprisonment for two years or $210,000. However, bear in mind that the federal laws only apply to species listed on the threatened species list, so it doesn't cover common species like kangaroos or, indeed, those wedge-tailed eagles.
In effect, the current laws and penalties are not serious enough to ensure that society or law enforcement agencies consider animal cruelty to be a top-order priority. Community expectations are not being met. The community in Brisbane, for one, wants a stronger response to the recent horrific acts we have seen in the news against those kangaroos, the emus, those wedge-tailed eagles and more. There are also enforcement options to consider here. More serious penalties could ensure that the crimes become eligible for additional or different police investigative powers. We're talking of options like phone interceptions to help gather evidence when there are suspected acts of cruelty.
On a related topic, I also want to express my support here today for the recommendations recently made to this parliament on a proposal to ban the importation of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn here in Australia. The recommendations were handed down recently by the Joint Committee on Law Enforcement. I want to note the very good work in recent years of my colleague the member for La Trobe on this issue and related issues. He was also the driving force in the recently successful push to achieve a similar ban on the importation of taxidermied lions, hunting trophies and lion parts.
I think that these issues should be put on the next COAG agenda in December later this year, to bring the states and the Commonwealth together to get serious. People hate seeing our native wildlife brutally killed for fun or for other reasons, and the people of Brisbane have reinforced that hatred to me in their representations on this very critical issue. I'm calling for stronger laws and harsher penalties. That's what the people of Brisbane expect. This should be core business for a country which has the custodianship of not just a country but a continent, and we have here some of the most unique and iconic wildlife in the world.