Senate debates

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Statements by Senators

King Island District High School Green Team, Tasmanian Devils

1:11 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I'm standing in the Australian Senate today and I'm doing a shout-out to the King Island District High School Green Team and their Little Busters and Power Rangers programs. I love you guys. You're absolute legends. Keep changing the world. These guys, the King Island District High School Green Team—their teacher Duncan McPhee, I think, has been a power behind a number of these initiatives—are a student based, staff supported organisation with the aspiration to make a difference in our world by inspiring a greener and more sustainable way of life. Their role is to educate current and future generations on their island and promote change and develop ideas. They enjoy collaborating with staff, members of the council and other community organisations.

At the start of 2019, all used bottles and glass in King Island were going to landfill, so the Green Team got together and focused on the question: how is waste managed on King Island and how can it be better managed? They began a quest with a fact-finding mission at local waste management sites. After a group meeting, the team visited the council and presented their thoughts and ideas to senior council staff and later to a full council meeting. Following this meeting, with the assistance of the council, the Green Team developed a sticker to be placed on bins and developed a campaign aimed at getting the community to separate glass at home and then drop it at the transfer centre. At this meeting, the council agreed to purchase glass collection bins and continue to collaborate with the Green Team. The end result of this is that King Island glass is now being crushed and used on the island. As of June 2020, over 83,000 bottles had been crushed. The King Island Green Team have also placed radio advertisements about the initiatives they're doing and the need for better waste initiatives.

Little Busters is a campaign set up to educate students and their parents about the importance of reducing litter in the environment. The campaign is up and running, including beach clean-ups up and down the coast. Lastly, Power Rangers is a program aimed to educate students about the importance of reducing power consumption at home so they can educate their parents and help them to pay lower power bills. Here is an example of one primary school that is changing the world. I know kids do great jobs all around this country, but they are change agents. They can change their parents and they can change the world. Well done, guys. I'm really proud of you.

Unfortunately, the second story that I want to talk about today is not a positive story. It's been brought to my attention in recent weeks, by very distraught and desperate community members on the north coast of Tasmania, that, particularly around Smithton, Montagu and Marrawah, there have been some totally shocking and unacceptable deaths of Tasmanian devils. In the last three days, three more devils have been found dead on the roads around the Woolnorth property. It's really important to put this in perspective. Tasmanian devil populations have declined 80 per cent in the last two decades, and the last healthy devil population that is tumour free is in the north-west, in this area. There have been 14 devils found dead on the roads in just the last week in this area, and nearly 30 Tasmanian devils since January. This population can't afford to lose these numbers and the community are getting desperate—and, of course, they're desperately sad, because they're the ones who collect the devils and hand them in for pathology to the local Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.

This is very confronting, but I feel like I have to do this. I have a number of photographs here of dead Tasmanian devils. Each and every one of them were individuals in a healthy population and they can't be replaced. They can't speak for themselves; we have to speak for them, so I seek leave to table these seven photographs of Tasmanian devils.

Leave granted.

It's no good just coming into the Senate and making a statement that this is horrific without providing a way of changing this and a way to go forward. The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program was a joint initiative between state and federal governments. Unfortunately, the federal government pulled its funding for this initiative in 2017. No money is going from the federal government towards a species which is listed under EPBC law as threatened, endangered and protected. It's simply not good enough. In this area and in this community there are no mitigation measures to help protect devils from becoming roadkill. Obvious and simple measures could be taken. I've talked to the local government, I've written to Tasmanian agencies and I'll be writing to our federal environment minister, urging her to put money into the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.

This area in Woolnorth doesn't even have signs letting tourists, locals or people travelling through there know that it's a critical area of Tasmanian devil habitat. Devils face enormous pressure in this area from illegal land clearing as well as pollution—on-farm pollution and a whole range of other predations. But to have nearly 40 killed in a short space of time on the roads, when we know there are things we can do, is unacceptable.

Just on the other side of the Arthur River in the north-west is the Tarkine Drive. When that area was built and paved for the road just over a decade ago, a number of mitigation measures were put in place to help protect the devils, based on extensive studies of devil populations in the area. These were things like speed signs slowing traffic to 30 kilometres an hour in areas where devils are known; corrugations on the road to make noise alerting devils; and white areas on the road so that motorists could see the devils. There's devil-proof fencing in that area and a whole range of other initiatives that were taken to protect the devil. Even a mine site which was approved in that area by the federal government let the mine know that for every dead devil which was found to be killed by their trucks it was going to cost them $58,000. Personally, I don't think you could put a price on the life of a Tasmanian devil, but at least the company knew that there was an incentive there to be very careful and to make sure that their workers were educated about the need to drive slowly and be very careful about the Tasmanian devils. But just a few kilometres away, on the other side of the river, there's nothing. There's a gravel road and a sealed road but no mitigation measures at all. This is not acceptable and it has to change. I know that the local government wants to put in place more devil-proof fencing and I know that the community is happy to help with removing roadkill from the roads—that's another thing that's very important, so that devils don't go onto the road and get hit by trucks.

I want to finish by saying that the largest dairy farm in Australia, Van Diemen's Land, is in that area. The road where all these dead devils are found surrounds Van Dairy and their properties. When this property was purchased by a foreign investor in 2016-17, part of their undertakings to the federal government—to our Prime Minister at the time—was that they would put money into measures to mitigate the risks to Tasmanian devils. They haven't. In fact, I'd like to read from a statement on their website:

Van Dairy has a thriving and healthy population of the endangered Tasmanian Devil, and our properties also include some nesting sites for the magnificent Wedge Tail Eagle. We are working actively with the Tasmanian Government to protect these and other native animals that share our land.

I've come to know the locals very well in this area, and they tell me there have been no mitigation measures taken at all. That doesn't surprise me, because Van Dairy also pledged to the Australian people that they would invest $100 million to upgrade infrastructure on their farms, a better effluent system to deal with untreated effluent which is causing, I understand—I have commented on it recently in the Tasmanian newspapers—pollution issues in this sensitive area of devil habitat, just a kilometre away from the ICUN recognised Boullanger Bay/Robbins Passage wetlands. It is the most important shorebird habitat in Tasmania. These are very sensitive areas, and we have to do better in managing development and other activity in them, such as we've seen at Van Dairy. I would ask the owners of Van Dairy to put their money where their mouth is—to put money into the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program—and start helping out like they promised the Tasmanian and Australian people they would.


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