Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Lord Howe Island
One of the best things about being the member for Sydney is the fact that I get to represent Lord Howe Island, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth. A major issue in recent years has been the rodent infestation on the island. There is estimated to be between 63,000 and 150,000 rats and between 140,000 and 210,000 mice on Lord Howe Island and its associated islands and rocky islets. The rats are implicated in the extinction of at least five species of endemic birds and 13 species of endemic invertebrates.
Every resident of the island wants to get rid of these rats and mice, but there is a debate on the island about the best method. In April 2016, the Lord Howe Island Board applied for a licence to use the rat poison brodifacoum throughout the island through a series of special airdrops and baiting. After first undertaking a feasibility study on this proposal in 2001 and first obtaining funding in 2011, the idea was to do it once and do it properly to eradicate the rats and mice from the environment, as other invasive species have been eradicated and as has been done on hundreds of islands around the world.
The licence was approved in August 2017 by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, but, due to issues with the permit and the legal enforceability of some conditions around non-target species, the board was requested to surrender their permit. They did so on the understanding that, when the new application was submitted in November 2017, it would be dealt with expeditiously, allowing plenty of time for the poison drop to occur this coming winter. Sadly, this had not occurred despite this being a program which the agency has previously approved.
In March this year, I wrote to the CEO of APVMA seeking an assurance that the licence would be issued promptly to allow the bait drop to occur this winter. On 16 March, I received a response from the CEO, who was unable to confirm when the licence would be issued, only that it would be dealt within a six-month time frame. Of course, that is too late. In light of this response and the delay, the Lord Howe Island Board decided last week that it would not have time to proceed with the planned winter drop in 2018. Once again, this puts this program under a massive cloud of doubt. The irony, of course, is that about 4¾ tonnes of poison, including brodifacoum, is already used every year by the board and private residents on this island covering about 10 per cent of the island. The only difference is the delivery mechanism. All residents accept that the drop must be done carefully to protect humans and non-target species. However, this delay is inexplicable, given this poison is being used so extensively already.
As was reported in TheSydney Morning Herald on 24 March, the reason for this delay may be the forced move of APVMA to Armidale by the former Deputy Prime Minister, which has meant that some staff have had to work from the local McDonald's in order to access wi-fi. This decision to move this agency has caused underresourcing, disruption and uncertainty in the agency. This delay will cost a great deal of money, and the environmental costs are incalculable. For example, the Lord Howe Island phasmid cannot be released back into the wild from its breeding program until the rats and mice are eradicated.