Tuesday, 15 March 2016
Biological Control Amendment Bill 2016; Second Reading
I rise today to speak on and totally support the Biological Control Amendment Bill 2016. Amongst a number of things, this bill amends the definition of an organism for the purpose of the Biological Control Act 1984 to specifically include viruses and sub-viral agents. It also omits the term 'live' from references to organisms.
One of the areas I am most passionate about in relation to this bill is the proposal to start the process for release of the cyprinid herpesvirus 3 for the control of common carp known as the European carp, Cyprinus carpio. I announced this initial program at the Australian Fishing Tackle Association gala dinner on the Gold Coast on 27 July last year. All of those assembled from the fishing industry were extremely excited, because it is an opportunity to get rid of the carp biomass which fills our inland waterways, particularly through the Murray-Darling Basin. At that time I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and had responsibility for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Everyone, from fishers to farmers to environmentalists—the community as a whole—supports this program. This virus is specific to carp—carp only. It does not transmit to our native species. The CSIRO and others have been doing exhaustive testing. It does not transmit to our native birds or mammals; it is carp specific. It gives us the opportunity to remove 80 to 90 per cent of the carp biomass from our rivers.
The carp introduced over 100 years ago have been detrimental to our inland rivers. As I travelled the Murray-Darling Basin, many people would say to me: 'I remember, as a boy, this river was clear. We used to go down there, and—whether it was catching the hardyhead or the Murray cod or the perch—there was no problem. Then the carp started to explode in their population.' The carp destroy the bottom; they create their own environment. Destroying the existing environment stops the breeding habitat of our native fish.
This program is critically important, but it probably still has two years to run before it can be fully implemented. A number of issues still need to be addressed in relation to the rollout. A benefit of this program is that we will we see a reduction in the turbidity of the water. Remember that most of this water is potable water, not only for our cattle but also for human consumption. If you have travelled these waterways, you will know that they are almost a soft lime green in colour as a result of the turbidity in the water. The carp destroy the bottom, they destroy the vegetation and they destroy the habitat and breeding grounds of our native fish. That is why we have seen a reduction in our native fish stocks, particularly throughout the Murray-Darling Basin.
Implementing this virus will reduce the number of carp. But that is perhaps where we will face the biggest issue. As we termed it at the time, it will need a 'Team Australia' approach. We have a selective rollout of this virus, and the effect on the carp will be such that it will take approximately two to four days to kill them. We need to get the carp out of the water. We cannot allow the carp to die and break down in the water in these volumes, because it will exacerbate the situation in relation to the potability of the water. It will not be good for the cattle. It might be good for farmers to put on their paddocks, with the increased protein, but it is not good for cattle and not particularly good for humans. If we do not get the carp out of the water, there will be an increased cost in treating the water so that it is fit for people to drink. So we need a 'Team Australia' approach. It does not matter whether you are the National Farmers' Federation, the National Irrigators' Council, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the recreational fishers or the tourists—we need the whole of the community to come together under a 'Team Australia' approach.
In the process and the plan put forward by the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, there is an education program to be embarked on. Whether it is using the whole of the community or indeed getting new people into a Green Army style project, we need to focus on individual areas, work backwards from the mouth of the river—because the virus will not travel as quickly upriver because of the flowing water—and get the carp out of the water.
It is estimated that there could be one, two or three million tonnes of carp. We also know that, roughly, the biomass of carp in our river system is about 80 to 90 per cent of the total, so it is a big problem. Once this virus is released there is no turning back. Once it is in the water, it is in the water. It has proven effective in other countries that have released it into their water systems for the removal of the carp. The issue that we have is getting the carp out of the water system. The process of evaluation has been ongoing. The process of education needs to begin and the process of building the teams to address the situation will become urgent.
Of course there is a cost associated to this, estimated to be at least $50 million. This $50 million is a lot of money, but I believe that it can be structured out of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan through the sale of Commonwealth environmental water. The excess water that they have could fund it. It could be addressed as part of a structural adjustment mechanism funding plan, because it improves the river and, as you improve the river, there will be a multitude of benefits downstream to all those who are involved. What we need to do, though, is not repeat the cane toad episode. That is why these measures and biological security controls are being put into place and it is why the exhaustive testing is being undertaken. We do not need to repeat the cane toad issue, but we do need to remove the carp from our water system.
A number of people that have come out particularly strongly, and one of the people who is very strong on this—who also happens to be one of my constituents—is a researcher with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries. He is an amazing young man named Matt Barwick. Matt Barwick is an expert on this and he has been studying the upside and the possible downsides. He has been a part of building the plan. He is one of the key organisers and orchestrators of this virus release control program.
They say it will be two years before it can be introduced. I do not want it introduced until we are 100 per cent sure and we know it will be effective, but I also do not want it delayed unnecessarily and in particular I do not want it delayed because of financial constraints. As I said, there is a possible cost estimated at around $50 million to introduce this. It is estimated that the economic impact of the carp in our river system is around $500 million a year.
I want you to consider a future with clean, healthy rivers. There is less cost in treating the water for a potable water supply—you do not get all the sediments and the suspended matter in there creating the turbid green water, so you reduce costs there. Importantly, you will increase tourism. You will increase tourism into our inland river systems, which benefits regional and rural Australia because people will go there fishing. They will go there fishing to catch their dream fish, the Murray cod. They will go fishing to catch their perch, their hardyheads or their redfin. I must admit, the redfin is a species introduced into Australia, but it is not creating the environmental damage that the European carp is.
As we increase the tourism in regional towns, it will actually help to pick up some of the slack caused by the cyclic peaks that occur with the agricultural industry. It provides greater continuity. It provides greater cash flow for all those businesses in those towns—not just the fishing tackle shops, but the camping grounds, the hotels, the restaurants, the fuel shops and, in fact, everyone in these towns. I cannot stress how important it is to put this control agent, the CyHV-3 herpesvirus, into our water as soon as possible.
The CSIRO, through their Australian Animal Health Laboratory, have been doing extensive research. They advise me that the virus does not threaten any native species. I know they have said that before, but what is important is that they have also tested 14 fish species, as well as crustaceans, mammals and birds, to be confident there will be no transfer to native species. These species include our iconic Murray cod, the silver perch and the golden perch, and a few more fish, amphibians and reptiles are currently being tested. What is also critical to understand, before people get excited about introducing this virus into the water, is that the virus is not able to be transmitted to human beings, and that is important.
What are the downsides? After fairly forensic examination of this whole process, the only downside is if we do not come together as 'Team Australia' and work to get the carp out of the water. There needs to be management plans put into place once these carp are removed—we do not want a stinking biomass sitting on the bank of the river. We need to look at ways of utilising them for fertiliser and perhaps for animal feed. We need to do something with them, but we need to plan ahead. We need to fund that plan and fund it effectively and efficiently so that there are no hiccups on the way. As I said, once the virus is released into the water, it will spread, so we have to step up to the plate, manage the situation and deliver a real outcome for all Australians.
There are many other positive aspects to this bill, particularly in relation to rabbits. As a young fellow growing up, I remember the plagues of rabbits as I would travel. They introduced myxomatosis, and that knocked them over for a while, but they got used to that. Then they introduced calicivirus, and that knocked a large number of rabbits over, but again they are getting used to the virus and developing measures within their system which stop it being so effective. One of the other parts of this bill is allowing for the introduction of a new strain or additive to the calicivirus, which will have further impacts on rabbits.
Australia would be a wonderful place if our forefathers had not introduced European carp, foxes and rabbits—or, indeed, deer—to Australia. These have all been destructive to our environment. Unfortunately it is hard to eradicate all of them, but where we have an opportunity, and particularly with carp, we must seize that opportunity. Or, as I said at the speech, what we have to have is 'carp diem'. We have to seize the day and we have to remove the carp. I strongly commend this bill to the House.
In dealing with the organisms and defining what we mean in the regulations pursuant to the various acts involved, previous members speaking on the Biological Control Amendment Bill 2016 have all talked about the problems of introduced species, and I have the unenviable task of representing in this place two of the worst fatalities to the Australian environment. Get a map of North Queensland's midwest plains, where you could drive for some 600 kilometres and just watch rolling, rich black soil plains as far as the eye can see, on either side of the road. The sun map of Queensland says that across this area are the best natural grasslands in Australia. The map does not now say that, because seven million hectares, an area the size of Tasmania, has been heavily infested with the prickly acacia tree. And I think we are now ready: the minister could take cognisance of the fact that although we have had a lot of fighting about how to go about eradicating this plant we now have it right, and the time to strike upon this pestilence is now.
The most endangered species in Australia—except for Australian farmers and railway workers!—is the Julia Creek dunnart. It is a pretty little fellow, a bit like a miniature kangaroo, if you like. It is a carnivore, and it eats insects. The insects lived on the Flinders and Mitchell grasses, the natural grasses for this area, which are excellent grasses for cattle, sheep, kangaroos or whatever. But the grasses have been replaced with the prickly acacia tree, which has no leaves on it for most of the year. It shoots a bit of green leaf, after the wet season, and then that's it; it lies dormant and is just a big mass of prickles for the rest of the year, so there is nothing for the insects to live on. The grass does not grow under these trees. So the insect is gone, and of course they are the food for the dunnart, so it is rapidly racing towards extinction.
And I cannot help but mention the colossal damage done by the green movement in this country. I took my grandchildren to the museum in Brisbane, where they had the most endangered species in Australia, and, quite rightly, it was the dunnart. It said that the danger to the dunnart was because of hard-hoofed animals 'pugging down the ground'. For a good laugh, it would be hard to beat this one. The ground is on all the geographical maps as vertisol soil—cracking clays. For 600 kilometres in the latter part of the year, if the ground is cracked open, down to a depth of two feet, it just cracks. And we have no less an institution than the Queensland Museum—it obviously got this information from some other ratbag organisation—saying that it is the pugging down of the ground that is destroying the habitat for the Julia Creek dunnart. Vertisol soils, which to a layman are cracking clays, by very definition cannot 'pug down'. This is all very funny, but it gives some dimension to how science in Australia has been raped and pillaged by the green movement in this country. If you go back 30 years, I think a lot of people like myself would probably have been regarded as a bit green, but never did we see or envisage the sort of extremism and antiscience that has set in. These are people for whom, if it does not fit in with their view of where Australia should be going, then it is wrong. They cannot see scientific reality, and here was a classic case of it.
The toads: I find that the only efficient way to dispatch with toads—my son bashes them on the head with a golf club or something like that, because they poison one of his dogs, continuously—is with an air rifle. That is the quintessential implement for removing a toad—nice, clean, quick, and away it goes. My wife has run around with plastic bags, and has poured disinfectant, and all sorts of weird and wonderful things, and that is not where we want to go here at all.
I think the most important, serious issue that continuously vexes us all over Australia—from the botanical gardens in Melbourne to the street of Cairns in Far North Queensland, but my home town of Charters Towers is one of the places that has been most devastated—is flying foxes. In Charters Towers some 50,000 of them harbour fairly regularly in a beautiful park that was on the best-selling Christmas card in Australia one year—the old Boer War memorial band rotunda in the middle of the park, with magnificent trees, some of them 130 or 140 years old, some of them towering up some 100 feet. They are all destroyed, all gone. No-one is game to set foot in the park, because the ground is covered by the flying foxes' droppings, and they are in the trees, so they can drop their droppings on you while you are walking around. And these animals are carrying the most terrifying diseases. The Nipah disease in the Malaysian isthmus is an Ebola-like disease. Around 250 people contracted the disease and 116 died of the disease. Those bats—flying foxes—from there carried the disease south into Indonesia, and Indonesian bats carried them south into Australia. So let's start with Nipah.
The SARS virus, which reportedly killed some 200 people in eastern Asia, is also carried by flying foxes. In some cases they are the delivering vector; in other cases they are the originating vector, but this we are absolutely certain of: the bats carry a lyssavirus. Every person who has ever contracted lyssavirus in Australia has died. The 60 Minutes program showed the agonising death of a little boy on an island where there are still bats. I hope and pray that someday somebody comes along and pursues the Minister for Health in the Queensland government and sues them personally under the criminal clauses of the negligence common laws of Australia. I have never been a person who has advocated putting people in jail, but when you know that this danger is there and you can remove it, and you do absolutely nothing, then you are responsible. I have no hesitation in saying to the Minister for Health in Queensland, whoever it might be: when people contract this disease it is your responsibility to remove those flying foxes from population centres. It is so simple. People in Charters Towers had terrible trouble and they kept their lawnmower running underneath the trees for two or three days. And God bless them, because we now know that is one sure way of getting rid of them. Put a radio in the tree and turn it on full volume. In the case of Charters Towers park, put radios in the trees. The beautiful centre of our town has been completely destroyed. Trees, some of them 150 years old, are completely destroyed. I would be very loath to allow children to run around in that park. In the days of my youth, we used to play football on it barefoot.
I will go through the diseases. Firstly, there is lyssavirus, which is a rabies type disease. Everyone who has got it has died. There is the hendra virus—it would appear that two out of every six people who have contracted the hendra virus have died. They tested 119 bats—most of the bats were ones that had fallen out of the trees or had been involved in an incident with human beings—and 16 of them tested positive for lyssavirus. In other words, they had had lyssavirus or, at that moment, still had the disease in their systems—a disease that is very transferable to human beings. So, you have hendra and lyssavirus and you have leptospirosis. I rang up one of the doctors—I think it is probably best if I do not mention the town—and, reading between the lines, I said, 'This looks like leptospirosis.' He said, 'The doctor diagnosed it as flu, and the symptoms were almost identical.' I said, 'Is that two?' and he said, 'No, it is three deaths in the last 15 months that I would have diagnosed as leptospirosis. They were not my patients, but if they were I am certain I would have diagnosed it as leptospirosis and they would be alive today.' I do not think it is an exaggeration to say we are probably losing five to 10 people every year in North Queensland from either (a) leptospirosis or (b) doctors misdiagnosing. I am not blaming the doctors, because it is very difficult to separate one from the other. Everyone comes in with a bout of flu. Are we going to test them for leptospirosis? Probably we should—I am just saying it is another disease. Salmonella is another disease, and in the countries just north of us they have Nipah, which killed 116 people in one outbreak, and SARS, which killed over 200 people in the last outbreak. All of them are being carried by this fairly dirty animal.
I am part of a family that have lived in North Queensland for 150 years or more—I am dark and come from Cloncurry, and I often claim that I have First Australians somewhere in the family tree—and we have no memory of flying foxes being in these numbers. I have been on the planet for going on to three-quarters of a century, and I have never, ever seen the proliferation of flying foxes such as is taking place today. I have heard the pathetic ravings of the green brigade. They will say, 'We have invaded their habitat.' In the days when these towns were little tiny hamlets of 100 people, there were no flying foxes. You would not see a flying fox in a million years in a place like Charters Towers. Its natural condition is very barren and arid. You will not find any self-respecting flying fox in the old, ubiquitous ironbark trees—that is for certain—or in the bloodwood trees. These are the local, natural species. You will not even find them in a black wattle tree. But you will find them in the mango trees and the fruit trees in your backyard and in the beautiful myriad of other trees that we grow for their beauty and their flowering. We human beings, homo sapiens, were the species that created a paradise there, and it is the flying foxes that have invaded that paradise. For the First Australians, the boomerang is actually an instrument shaped particularly for taking out a flying fox, but I do not have time tonight to go into that. (Time expired)
I join others that have contributed to the debate on this bill to amend the Biological Control Act 1984. Those of us that live in regional Australia understand the impacts of biosecurity threats, dealt with through biological control mechanisms, such as those outlined by the member for Kennedy and, certainly, the member for Paterson before him. They go to how important it is for our ability as a nation to produce food and fibre, and also protect the environment that we are indeed blessed with in this country. So I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the Biological Control Amendment Bill 2016.
The member for Paterson's contribution was specifically around the issues of cyprinid herpesvirus 3, for the control of common carp, which is relevant to my state and relevant to my electorate, where the only incursion of European carp has occurred in two lakes in Tasmania, those being the adjacent lakes Lake Crescent and Lake Sorell. Through the extraordinary work and passion of Inland Fisheries Services in Tasmania—John Diggle, Chris Wisniewski and others—although it was said eradicating carp could not be done, they are well on their way at Lake Crescent. I particularly thank Greg Hunt, the Minister for the Environment, for the support that the Commonwealth government has shown to the Tasmanian government to manage and continue the work to eradicate, through largely mechanical means, the carp in both Lake Crescent and, increasingly, Lake Sorell. It was said it could not be done, but, as I said, Lake Crescent is a living example that it can. It is expected that, within the next 12 to 18 months, the last of the European carp that have been found in Lake Sorell will also be captured and destroyed. It is no mean task, because you only need one fertile female for the infestation to start all over again, all of sudden.
They have used a number of mechanisms, from netting to tracking—putting tracking devices on key species to be able to identify where the fish are in the lake at any one time. Ironically, the very dry period that we are experiencing in Tasmania has added to the ability to get on top of and hopefully eradicate that invasive species, which is quite extraordinary. I had the opportunity a number of months ago to fly out of Hobart and see the very deep blue of the lakes that you typically see in the Central Highlands. Lake Crescent was clearly a lake that was recovering, the carp having been removed, and it was a different colour, and you could see the brownness, the muddiness, that was quite evident at Lake Sorell, which is still a work in progress.
I note also, within this amendment bill, the highlighting of gorse, which is an invasive species that has proliferated in Tasmania over a very long period of time and has caused huge economic losses to many landowners as well as environmental impacts, not least of all in providing a habitat for the rabbits that were introduced so many years ago into this country. There are strategies in place to remove gorse, but it has become truly an invasive species of the first order.
This afternoon I want to focus most of my comments on a really tragic situation that exists at the moment in Tasmania, and that relates to POMS, or Pacific oyster mortality syndrome, a virus known as ostreid herpesvirus-1 microvariant. The disease has caused very high mortality rates in farmed Pacific oysters in Europe, in New Zealand, in South Korea and in Australia—in New South Wales. It does not affect any other oyster species. But it has also recently been discovered in the south-east of Tasmania, with tragic consequences, in areas including, in my electorate, the lower Pitt Water, the upper Pitt Water, Blackman Bay, Little Swanport and Dunalley Bay; and, in the member for Franklin's electorate, Pipe Clay Lagoon. It has also been confirmed in a population of wild oysters in the Derwent estuary. There is a suspicion also of infection at Great Bay on Bruny Island. It is presenting a challenge not only to the oyster farmers, and the small businesses that most of them are, but also to the state government in terms of developing an appropriate response to a disease of this magnitude. It has attracted a great deal of media attention.
I had the privilege—dubious, I guess—of hosting a meeting at Dunalley on Tuesday of last week, along with my Senate colleagues Senator Abetz and Senator Parry, and Senate candidate Jonno Duniam, with representatives of the oyster industry in Tasmania, including Oysters Tasmania, represented by Neil Stump; Cremorne Pacific Oysters; Bing-i-Oysters; Marion Bay Oysters; Fulham Aquaculture and Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed, represented by Tom Gray; and Cameron oysters. Cameron's is a business that not only breeds oysters for sale but also operates one of the largest hatcheries in the state. This has affected their local customers as well, albeit that the biosecurity risk has been deemed such that the state government have allowed movement of oysters from the Cameron's hatchery to clean areas within the state. That is a really positive sign. In the past, 80 per cent of Australia's Pacific oyster spat has been provided out of Tasmania and at the moment the restrictions are still in place, most notably with South Australia. There are also Barilla Bay oysters; Oyster Lease No. 96; angasi oysters at Taranna; Blue Lagoon Oysters—Sue Madden and Phil Glover hosted us at their facility; Southern Cross Marine Culture, Dr Tim Pauley; and others. It was a very well-attended event.
A number of things came out of that. Indeed, the Commonwealth stands ready to assist in a number of different ways, when the industry is clear about its strategies. It really is about focusing on the future, and out of this adversity there will be the capacity to build a more resilient, more robust and more diversified industry that will be able to live with the reality of POMS being part of the industry in which they are involved. That is how the future must be. It will involve producing spat and breeding oysters that have resistant characteristics, and I believe that, with resolve and with goodwill and support from both state and Commonwealth governments, this industry can continue to thrive and be a very important sector for our state. As I say, a couple of key points came out of the briefing that I was privileged to host. I thank all of those businesses I have just mentioned for attending and for the time and the insights they provided me and senators and candidates who attended the briefing. It was about future proofing, if you will, the industry—the concept of the potential for a strategic working group comprising state, federal, industry and grower representatives, and looking at the long-term consequences for the industry and what facilities and catalysts for support are needed to rebuild a new and more robust industry with the knowledge from this experience that has been gained over the last few months, albeit a very difficult experience. We have to be cognisant that each business will need to have different strategies and the outcome has to be flexible to accommodate those different business operations where possible. There are indeed some talented people there, not least of all Dr Tim Pauley, who I am sure will be able to make worthwhile contributions to such a strategy.
The other suggestion that came out was a media campaign, or an education campaign, to encourage awareness about the fact that the consumption of those oysters that are available for sale present no concern for human beings. It is important to note that any oysters from Tasmania, or other areas of Australia, that have been impacted by POMS are as healthy and as tasty as ever. The impact that it has had on those fish—they are really just a hollowed out shell—is truly extraordinary. A lot of these people are significantly in hock to their financiers and so at this stage their lenders have been cooperative, they have been understanding and I think that that is testament to the quality of those businesses and I hope there will be an opportunity for them to continue to rebuild. An education and a media campaign can also highlight to customers and consumers that it is likely that there will be a price rise in these products in the near term. We can think about those foods that are a commodity—if you take a restaurant in Melbourne or wherever it might be, whether it is Crown Casino or somewhere else, if you think about the products that they order every week, there is seasonal fish and there are seasonal meats and different things but the staple is oysters. There is always a dozen oysters for sale at nearly every restaurant around Australia. I think there needs to be an awareness campaign about the fact that oysters may well need to be repriced as a way of supporting the industry. That is certainly not something that we would want to see those large purchasers of oysters taking advantage of. As I mentioned before, there has been a biosecurity restriction lifted for the movement of oysters around the state, and that is good news because none of the hatcheries in the state have tested positive at all to the virus. I mentioned that over 80 per cent of all Pacific oysters supplied in Australia come from my home state, and one would hope that no other restrictions are put in place by other states given that the biosecurity restriction has now been lifted.
The town of Dunalley went through bushfires in 2013 and that was indeed a tragic experience—over 30 per cent of the population left the area at that time. Already 70 people have lost their jobs in that region and we want to make sure that we can retain in the area the skills and the knowledge that those people have built up through their employment in the region. I am having conversations with Minister Hunt about specific Green Army projects that may well be able to engage those employees who have unfortunately, tragically, been put off to, for example, recover all the shells and do the clean-up work that needs to occur so we can retain them in the area and they can be the base of a new industry.
The Biological Control Amendment Bill 2016 makes the legislative amendments required to support national programs for the biological control of damaging pests and weeds. How many of us remember learning about the cactoblastis moth that was the biological control for prickly pear? Some of us first found out about the positive control relationship when studying high school science; others were only first acquainted when studying environmental biology at university. It allowed us to see the intricate and complicated life cycle relationships that can be beneficial for our environment. Ultimately, the agricultural base was helped by other initiatives in this biological control. Most of those controls related to the use of invertebrate and plant cycle relationships, and from that other strategies were developed which involved the use of natural virus enemies for different species.
The bill before the House clarifies the definition of an organism under the Biological Control Act 1984 to reflect the use of viruses and subviral agents or an agent organism to target organisms for biological control activities. This is consistent with the requirements of national biological control programs for pests and weeds that impact agricultural production and the environment; and it is aligned with the original intent of the act.
Viruses are known to be effective agents for biological control and have been used successfully in Australia to control wild rabbit populations. Rabbits were first brought to Australia as a ready source of food for the early settlers. They were far more used to catching and cooking rabbits as a meat source than they were trying to mimic the catching and cooking techniques for kangaroos and goannas used by our first peoples. They were a great food source and the rabbits were true to their description—they were admirably suited to the Australian environment and soon agricultural lands were being compromised because they 'bred like rabbits' and they were everywhere. The associated economic and environmental impacts needed to be addressed. The combined effect of myxoma virus, or myxomatosis, released in Australia during the 1950s and then calicivirus, the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus, which was released in1996, limits wild rabbit populations to about 15 per cent of their potential numbers.
In some scientific circles, the concept of a virus being considered as a living organism is yet a subject of debate. For anything to be listed as a living organism it must be able to reproduce; viruses need a host to reproduce. In light of this debate, the bill clarifies the definition of an organism for the purpose of this act, and omits the term 'live' to remove any ambiguity. The bill provides strengthened legislative authority for future biological control programs where scientific consensus recommends the use of viruses or subviral agents as an agent or target organism. By removing any doubt about the status of a virus under the act, the bill provides greater certainty for stakeholders who deliver and/or benefit from biological control programs, including government agencies, researchers, farmers, land managers and the general community.
The act only applies to the Australian Capital Territory, including Jervis Bay, which is a neighbourhood of Gilmore. The act is already supported by mirror biological control legislation in all the other states and the Northern Territory. So a very clear definition for biological control is that it is an important tool for managing these invasive pests and weeds that impact on agriculture and the environment by using the pest's natural enemies. Biological control agents include insects, fungi, bacteria and viruses that specifically target a pest. Typically there is also a need to have an active human involvement in the management role—that is, we usually have to introduce that biological control.
Unfortunately, biocontrol is not a silver bullet and will not solve all of Australia's invasive species problems, because effective agents are not always found. In the case of the two rabbit viruses—myxomatosis and calicivirus—virus-host co-evolution has led to a decline in effectiveness of the viruses over time, as rabbits have developed or attained resistance to them. This is similar to how bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics. As a result, we are continuing to search for new strains to counteract these effects. Government, in conjunction with scientific research, is applying skills to provide solutions for managing invasive species of national significance including: mammals, predominately rabbits; fish, starting with carp; weeds that affect agriculture and/or the environment; and invertebrate pests.
There are some significant case studies. CSIRO scientists, for example, are undertaking rigorous tests to determine the safety and suitability of the candidate biocontrol agent, cyprinid herpesvirus 3, in managing European carp numbers in Australia. Some may ask: so what? Carp was introduced quite a number of years ago to facilitate some of our European residents' love of this particular fish. It too has been a very disruptive and damaging environmental addition; it has out-competed many of our natural species by increasing the turbidity of rivers and creeks, as it is a bottom feeder and kicks up the mud. Our recreational fishermen and women find great joy in catch and release of trout on many of our waterways and sometimes they bag enough for a meal. There is a significant associated amateur fishing industry which brings seasonal tourism to many parts of Australia, particularly the inland, where this is a favourite past-time, but there has been a significant decline in the ability to hold such events as the species competition with carp has been extraordinary and has led to a decline in freshwater fish population diversity overall.
Jervis Bay, which is referred to in particular in this amendment to the bill, is a magnificent destination. Large tracts of the bay have been set aside as protected marine parks in order to preserve the species diversity and population number increase. There is no way that we should not be in a position to protect all the species in this environment with biological control, where applicable.
We as a nation still need to control rabbits, as they have developed some resistance. Initially, the release of the two rabbit biocontrol agents led to a dramatic reduction of Australia's rabbit population. That reduction has recovered more than $70 billion to the agricultural industries since 1950. There still needs to be a lot more research into the methods of overcoming that resistance. Even in the coastal villages in Gilmore we are overrun by rabbits and very often we run over them on the road, because they run everywhere.
Another school-learning memory is evoked when we mention the dung beetles, which in their behavioural pattern bury dung and, as a consequence, reduce bush flies. Now there is another dung beetle which will continue this amazing process. Of course, the economic gains are related to a reduction of fly attacks on our livestock and, as a consequence, a better value at the saleyards.
In 2014, CSIRO researchers released French and Spanish spring-active Onthophagus vacca and Bubus bubalus dung beetles in Australia's latest effort to improve dung burial. Burying dung improves pasture productivity, sequesters carbon and controls buffalo and bush flies. We are all aware that biological control is essential for weeds, and there is a growing demand by producers for an agent that tackles Crofton weed, also known as sticky snakeroot or Mexican devil. It has been smothering the native bush in Australia since the early 1900s, but now the release of a new biological control agent brings in hope to manage this invasive weed. During the 1990s, I was a part owner of land near Oberon. The previous owners had allowed serrated tussock, Yass tussock, blackberries, thistles and so many weeds to prosper that several paddocks could only carry three head of cattle. Manual and chemical removal were the only form of control. So there is much work to be done on further research against so many other species. Manual removal is slow and tedious, but so too is biological research.
When I moved to Gilmore, there was a delightful looking yellow daisy in many of the paddocks, yet others nearby were completely clear. This intrigued me until I spoke to some of the farmers. I was looking at none other than fireweed, a toxic plant that sterilizes a paddock until the plant is completely eradicated. We do actually have a program for biological research for fireweed—a cooperative venture with research in South Africa. Naturally, there is always a need for extended funding as it takes many seasons to establish effectiveness of any biological control method. There have been villages in Africa where the seeds of the fireweed have been accidently mixed with cropping seeds, ground and baked in native breads, and the whole village has become ill, with many dying as a consequence.
Initially, I pursued an unusual pathway for eradication of this weed. It involved the allocation of correctional service clients to carry out the task of manual removal. This could have had two major benefits: one was the eradication of the noxious weed and the other was a possible reduction in recidivism, because anyone who has had the task of removing fireweed would never want to be in a place where they had to do it again. However, farms are seen as private property, so, consequently, that was not a possibility. Biological control seems to be the best solution in this case.
This brings me back to the central focus of the bill at hand—amendments to include viruses as part of the spectrum of organisms for biological control. I have only touched lightly on the economic benefits of biological control. While the following quote relates specifically to the control of weeds, it is equally applicable to other aspects of biological control and lays a foundation for future research directions. According to R McFadyen's keynote paper written for the Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management, Return on investment: determining the economic impact of biological control programmes:
In >100 years of weed biological control, few economic impact assessments of biological control programmes have been undertaken, and all were successes. Yet biological control is still largely paid for by governments, who need proof of the return on their investment. Cost/benefit analyses can also be used to rank biological control against other management methods. A recent economic impact assessment of all weed biological control undertaken in Australia since 1903, including both successes and failures, demonstrated annual benefits of $95.3 million from an average annual investment of $4.3 million (Aus$, 2005 values), a cost/benefit ratio of 23:1. Even with the enormous economic impact of the prickly pear success excluded, the cost/benefit ratio of all other programmes was 12:1. The benefit came from 17 successful programmes: two, which are usually considered failures, in fact returned strongly positive benefits because small reductions in the weed problem nevertheless resulted in considerable cost savings.
The scarcity of economic studies has many causes: long period from commencement to full field results; difficulties in assigning monetary values to biodiversity and social impacts; and difficulties in assessing impacts of biological control. The Australian study demonstrated the economic returns from partial successes, where these reduce the costs of other management methods. It also demonstrated the importance of obtaining baseline economic data before starting biological control and at intervals during the agent release period. Seeking advice from economists at all stages of a biological control programme must become as routine as consulting statisticians.
But, in addition to the agricultural benefits, there are tourism opportunities, especially in relation to getting rid of carp from our waterways and protecting places like Jervis Bay from invasive species. Carp reduce our native populations, reduce our wealth of diversity and, as a consequence, severely degrade our tourism potential. It is, most definitely, not just the environment that benefits; it is the whole community on so many different levels.
I commend the Biological Control Amendment Bill 2016 to the House.
I rise to speak on the Biological Control Amendment Bill 2016, which is an important piece of legislation to both the agricultural industry and, of course, the environment. The bill is intended to clarify the definition of an 'organism' to specifically include viruses and sub-viral agents due to ongoing scientific debate as to whether a virus can be classified as an organism and as a living entity. Because viruses are incapable of reproducing without a host, the majority scientific viewpoint at this time is that they are not organisms. Some scientists, however, consider a virus to be an organism, and biological science, by its very nature, is constantly evolving in light of new knowledge and evidence. The amendments will provide greater certainty for stakeholders who research, deliver and benefit from biological control programs, including scientists, farmers, land managers and the community.
It is important to reflect on the important role that biological control plays in managing pests in Australia. Right now, pests are doing enormous damage to our flora and fauna. Feral cats are wiping out entire species, feral dogs are destroying livestock and feral pigs may well be eating to extinction our sea turtle eggs and hatchlings and, of course, the loggerhead turtle in my region. Mon Repos Beach, one of only two loggerhead nesting locations in the world, is right in the middle of my electorate. The turtle eggs and hatchlings are under threat not only from feral pigs but also from foxes. Between 2014 and 2015, foxes were responsible for the loss of around 66 per cent of turtle clutches on some beaches along the Woongarra coastline. The joint state and federal program, called the Nest to Ocean Turtle Protection Program, is providing $7 million over four years to help with fox detection work. In November last year 65 new fox dens were identified, with the use of fox-detection dogs, the Dob in a Fox campaign and searching targeted areas.
In Australia feral animals typically have few natural predators or fatal diseases and some have high reproductive rates. As a result their populations are not naturally diminished, and they can multiply rapidly if conditions are favourable. Feral animals impact on native species through predation, competition for food and shelter, destruction of habitat and the spreading of disease. They can also cause soil erosion. While domestic livestock can be removed from degraded areas until these areas are revegetated, it is much more difficult to keep feral animals out of these same areas. Feral animals can carry the same common diseases as domestic animals and are a source of reinfection of wildlife and livestock, which works against efforts to control costly diseases such as tuberculosis. Feral animals are also potential carriers of other animal diseases and parasites. It could be disastrous for our environment if there was, for example, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease or rabies in Australia.
It is not only feral animals that are a risk. There are strict biosecurity requirements in place to protect Australia from exotic pests and diseases that could seriously harm humans, animals and our economy—and for good reason. Let's look at the case of Johnny Depp's dogs Boo and Pistol, for example. They arrived in Australia on a private jet and did not meet the import requirements. Dogs imported into Australia must be accompanied by a valid import permit. They have to undergo relevant testing and health checks and be signed off by a government veterinarian from the exporting country to ensure pests and diseases from overseas are not brought here. Dogs can potentially carry a range of diseases, including rabies. Rabies is not present in Australia, but it can seriously affect some people.
It appears that there are no hard feelings. When Mr Depp was asked at the recent Grammy Awards if he 'still loves us in Australia', his answer was: 'Of course, I love Australia. I think that guy, Barnaby, invited me to stay at his house for some reason.' If Mr Depp does decide to visit the Deputy Prime Minister in New England, I would also urge him to consider popping in to Woodgate, Bargara or Buxton. I would certainly love to show him around. If our good friend Mr Depp needs a formal invitation, I am very happy to write to him on the Deputy Prime Minister's behalf and to invite him back to Australia to visit some of our cultural areas.
While it would be great if we could rid the whole country of these invasive pests, this is just not achievable in many cases. But there are a number of methods available to control feral animals. These methods include conventional control techniques such as trapping, baiting, fencing and shooting—and, of course, there is biological control. Biological control has been successfully used in the past and is an important tool for controlling pests and weeds and mitigating their impact on the economy, the environment and the community. Biocontrol agents can be bacteria, fungi, viruses or predatory organisms such as insects. They are highly specific and usually found in the native home range of the invasive species. Biocontrol is a cost-effective solution for managing invasive species and generally does not require reapplication once established, unlike chemicals or poisons.
Probably one of the most well-known, successful uses of biological control in Australia was the release of the myxoma virus, which causes myxomatosis. In the 1920s rabbit populations had got completely out of hand and rose to more than 10 billion across the country. Rabbits are absolutely detrimental to our environment, and their introduction to Australia was an absolute disaster. The release in 1950 of the myxoma virus—the world's first vertebrate pest biocontrol—killed 99.8 per cent of infected rabbits. Since its introduction resistance to myxomatosis has grown, and in 1996 the calicivirus was released. The combined viruses have contained wild rabbit populations to about 15 per cent of their potential numbers.
Without these biological agents controlling the rabbit population it would be a very different story. The annual cost to agriculture alone would be in excess of $2 billion, and, even with the biological control, rabbits are causing more than $200 million in production losses every single year. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that the cost of agricultural production losses attributed to pest animals was more than $620 million in 2009. A 2004 study estimated that the agricultural cost of weeds to be nearly $4 billion per annum.
Let's not forget that it is critical that the biological control agents introduced into Australia do not become pests themselves. The classic case of this is the cane toad. Cane toads were introduced into Australia in 1935 as a means of controlling pest beetles in the sugarcane industry. Since then the cane toads' range has expanded through Australia's northern landscape, and they are moving west at an estimated 40 to 60 kilometres per year. Cane toads reached Brisbane in 1945, the Iron Range on the Cape York Peninsula by 1983 and the tip of the cape by 1994. By 1995 their westward expansion had reached the Roper River in the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory. By March 2001 they had reached Kakadu National Park, and in February 2009 cane toads crossed the Western Australian border with the Northern Territory—over 2,000 kilometres from the site they were released 74 years earlier. To the south, cane toads were introduced to Byron Bay in 1965 and then spread to Yamba and Port Macquarie on the north coast of New South Wales in 2003.
Cane toads have an array of highly toxic chemical defences available to them at almost all stages of their lives. The toxins occur in their skin and organs and can be secreted by large glands at the back of the animal's head when it is threatened. As a result, toads will poison many predators that attempt to eat them. Although some may recover, many individual predators die when they are first exposed to cane toads, and populations soon start to decline. Unfortunately, there is no broadscale way to control cane toads, but scientists are developing a better understanding of the impacts they are having on the environment and the ways in which assets, such as rare and vulnerable wildlife, can be protected.
This bill does not change the existing basic scientific, technical or safety standards that are applied to biological control. Considerable testing is done prior to the release of biological control agents to ensure that they will not pose a threat to non-target species such as native and agricultural plants.
There are some great examples of biological control used to fight other pests such as prickly pear and Paterson's curse. In the 1920s the cactoblastis moth was used to control prickly pear which was, at the time, smothering large tracts of north-east Australia and spreading rapidly each year. Prickly pear is thought to have been introduced as early as 1788 and had spread to Chinchilla by 1843. The larvae of the cactoblastis moth eat the leaves and seed pods of the prickly pear. The release and spread of cactoblastis moth in Australia virtually destroyed the prickly pear population. A massive 24 million hectares of densely infested land was brought back into production after the moth was introduced. Remaining prickly pear infestations are now manageable using traditional chemical and physical techniques.
In my electorate of Hinkler a tiny wasp has been utilised to help save the iconic pandanus trees on Fraser Island. According to the Burnett Mary Regional Group, the island's pandanus trees have been devastated in recent years by Jamella, a small leaf-hopper insect. The leaf-hoppers were accidentally introduced to southern Queensland in the early 1990s via an infected plant from north Queensland. The predatory wasp did not survive the same journey, giving the leaf-hoppers an unchecked head start on the southern pandanus populations. The pandanus leaf-hopper sucks the pandanus sap from the leaf sheaths and exudes honeydew. This sugary substance encourages the growth of mould, and the terminal growth points of the leaves then rot, especially if the trees are already stressed by other environmental factors.
But the release of a sandfly sized native wasp in October last year at several locations on the island, as well as in Bundaberg, was the first stage of rescuing these iconic plants. The wasp lays its eggs in the leafhoppers' egg rafts, where immature wasps eat the developing Jamella, and it has been successfully used in the northern part of the state. Treatment of pandanus affected by the leafhopper has historically been through stem injection pesticide treatment. This is reasonably successful but extremely onerous, and it is difficult to access all plants in coastal areas.
It is important to touch on what could happen if this bill is not passed. There are a number of future opportunities to use viruses to control damaging pests such as the common carp. The bill supports the pending national release of a new strain of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus or RHDV—known as K5—for the biological control of wild rabbits. The K5 release is proposed for spring 2016 and is part of a $4.4 million national program funded by governments and industry, including $1.2 million of Australian government funding. A considerable amount of planning, research, development and community consultation is required prior to the release of K5. If the bill is not passed, it may impact state and territory governments, landholders and community groups who have prepared for a spring 2016 release, and it may also lead to additional costs for program partners. The benefit-cost ratio of the calicivirus program is estimated to be 563 to one.
The bill, if passed, may also be used to authorise the proposed national release of Cyprinid herpesvirus for the control of the common carp. Through the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, Australian scientists have determined that the naturally occurring carp herpes offers a genuine option for the biological control of carp. Following seven years of testing, scientists are confident that the virus is specific to carp and does not cause diseases in other species, including Australian native fish, birds and amphibians. Planning for a potential release of carp herpes is underway and the environmental, economic and social benefits of successful biological control of carp are likely to be considerable.
This bill is an important step in being able to continue to fight pests and weeds in Australia with biological control. I commend the bill to the House.
In summing up, I note that the Biological Control Amendment Bill 2016 amends the Biological Control Act 1984 to support national programs for the biological control of damaging pests and weeds. It will provide greater certainty for stakeholders who research, deliver and benefit from biological control programs, including scientists, farmers, land managers and the community. Biological control agents have been used successfully in Australia in the past and will continue to be an important tool for controlling pests and weeds and for mitigating their impact on the economy, environment and community.
The bill amends the act by clarifying the definition of an organism to specifically include viruses and subviral agents. The definition of an organism is a matter of ongoing scientific debate, and the amendments will remove any ambiguity, making it clear into the future that, despite scientific debate, the act is intended to support the declaration of viruses as agents and targets for biological control activities. Viruses are proven and effective agents for biological control: the combination of myxoma virus and calicivirus continues to suppress wild rabbit populations to 15 per cent of their potential numbers, saving our agricultural industries up to $2 billion every year.
The act is part of a mirror legislation scheme, and the Commonwealth will continue to work with the states and the Northern Territory to ensure that there is a nationally consistent approach.
There is broad community support for the use of biological control agents as part of an integrated approach to managing pest animals and weeds. The bill does not change the existing basic scientific, technical or safety features and standards applying to biological control. Biological control agents will continue to be subject to considerable testing prior to release in Australia.
The bill will support the Australian government's $1.2 million commitment to support the rollout of a new strain of rabbit calicivirus. This is part of a long-term national program to mitigate the significant environmental and economic impacts wrought by rabbits. That said, I commend the bill to the House.